ESCANABA - Mike Nagy of Manistique had a special interest in watching the U.S. Open from The Olympic Club in San Francisco last week.
Nagy, who will turn 19 next month and is preparing for his freshman season with the University of Tennessee golf team, was watching closely as 17-year-old high school senior Beau Hossler made a strong contending run.
"It was nice to see a kid my age play like that," said Nagy in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I tried to put myself in his shoes, how he was feeling. It is hard to imagine that. He was sitting on the putting green next to Tiger (Woods)."
(Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
Nagy claimed his third Upper Peninsula high school medalist championship recently, taking Division 1 at Ishpeming Wawonowin Country Club. He also took D-1 honors as a freshman at Escanaba Country Club and captured the D-2 title at his home course, Manistique Indian Lake Golf and Country Club, in 2011. In 2010, he lost at Munising Pictured Rocks on the second playoff hole to Carter Hendricks of L'Anse.
Nagy, who won the Michigan Junior Golf Association championship in 2008, said he had heard of Hossler but does not remember him ever playing in the same American Junior Golf Association tournament the past two years. Nagy is not playing the AJGA schedule this year because he will be ineligible at age 19 and travel expenses and time would not be viable for the few weeks left at that level.
He hopes to run up against Hossler, and U.S. Open low amateur Jordan Spieth, who will be teammates at University of Texas.
Hossler briefly led the U.S. Open in round two but faded down the stretch Sunday and finished at 9-over 289. Webb Simpson won at 1-over 281.
Nagy said he drew inspiration from Hossler's performance and indicated it may adjust his future goals to perhaps get a shot at qualifying for the Open.
"It changed my thinking a little bit," he said. "I'm just excited to go to Tennessee and start in trying to improve my game there and see how it goes."
Escanaba High School coach Brian Robinette, who played nine holes with Nagy last month, believes Nagy is ready for the next step.
"He just makes good golf swing after good golf swing," said Robinette, a two-time U.P. Golf Association men's champion and recent inductee into Olivet College's Sports Hall of Fame. "He has no weaknesses. All parts of his game are strong."
Before he departs for Knoxville in the middle of August, he will try to defend his Highland Open title July 7-8 and will play in the U.S. Amateur qualifier in East Lansing July 16. Then he has the Michigan Junior Amateur tournament in late July and he may play in the UPGA men's tournament at Iron Mountain Pine Grove Aug. 9-12, but timing will be a factor in that decision.
He is eager to face the challenge of playing at Tennessee, which just signed Australian Oliver Goss, who is the No. 22 amateur in the world.
"It will be more competitive than I'm used to but I'm excited for it," he said. "It will make me a better player and help push me along. Up here I can play not that good and still win most of the tournaments. Down there if I don't play steady golf it will not be good enough."
He is really excited about having one of the best college practice facilities in the country and the opportunity to work with Tennessee assistant Casey VanDamme, a Perkins native who has given instructions to Nagy over the years.
"My swing is not perfect. I need some help with it," said Nagy. "There is some room for improvement. I can always tighten things up and get the swing better. I feel pretty consistent with the swing but I can get a little more consistent, more complex things with the ball flight, moving it both ways and high and low."
Having an excellent driving range will be helpful because Indian Lake does not have a range. To compensate, Nagy has pounded balls into a net in his garage for many years during winter, but that does not provide the view of a long ball flight and its reaction to conditions.
"Once I start practicing even more, it will help me improve," said Nagy, who has an incredible work ethic. The northern climate also limits his golf season, compared to someone like Hossler, who is from southern California.
After his many rounds against some of the country's top young amateurs in recent years, Nagy is confident he has the game to play at the Division 1 level. "In tourney golf you learn what better players do and what you have to do to play well," he said. "You've got to hit the ball straight, but everyone can hit it far enough. Most of the time it comes down to the short game, making six-foot putts or otherwise you're giving strokes to everybody."
Nagy said he realized a couple of years ago he needed work in that area to get more consistent, so he devoted much of his practice to that phase.
He has also learned how to insert a fade into his swing "so I can hit it a little straighter under pressure," he said. "It is a lot different getting under the gun and having to start hitting straight shots."