On July 22nd, Mark Strickland (left) shot 72-68 round the demanding Tumble Creek course at Suncadia to win a qualifier for the US Amateur and punch his ticket for the Atlanta Athletic Club, scene of three PGA Championships, a US Open, and a US Women's Open.
The Western senior (though he wasn't wearing Viking colors and was introduced simply as Mark Strickland of Mukilteo, Wash.) shot 76, 79 in attempting to advance to the matchplay section of the tournament, coming up well shy of the cut-line. The experience though of playing against the best amateurs in the world was amazing, he says, and he can barely wait for the opportunity to try and qualify again next year.
What with the US Amateur, the Bellingham Amateur, preparing for the new school year, and two tournaments in the books already for the WWU team (a win and a fourth place for the team, two individual top-tens), Strickland has been a busy man these last few weeks. But yesterday, BellinghamGolfer caught up with him at last to ask about what it was like teeing it up in what is surely the most prestigious amateur event in the game.
As the tournament approached, were you thinking just what a thrill it would be, or that you could win it?
A little bit of both. I had never competed on that kind of stage before so the whole experience was a thrill, but I also knew that I had the ability to win.
How did you feel when you arrived - nervous of course, but good nervous or bad nervous?
I would describe myself as more anxious than nervous. I really wanted to play well and show my capabilities as a golfer which did put a little more pressure on my game. I think all nerves are 'good nerves' though. Even if they result in a bad performance there is always so much that can be gained by experiencing pressure situations.
Did you like the courses (both the Highlands and Riverside Courses were used for strokeplay qualifying)?
There is only one word to describe them - perfect! They were both around 7,400 yards, and the ground was fairly moist so they were playing very long. The Bermuda rough was pretty thick which made missing the fairways very penalizing. Greens were running 13.5 on the stimp, aka 'lightning fast'. I loved both of them. It was just too bad I happened to hit my driver poorly both days which cost me a lot of strokes.
How did you feel after your first round 76? Did you believe you could still advance or did you think it was out of reach by that stage?
I thought I had a chance to make the cut if I played really well the next day. I thought six-under or something near that might get me in.
What about round two - did you begin with high hopes, and it just didn't happen?
Yeah, my first round made me question the game plan I had set out. I knew I had to do something special so I played a little more aggressive. After the front nine, I knew the cut was out of reach. Those final nine holes were actually very enjoyable. My father was caddying for me, and we were really able to embrace the whole ambiance when we stopped trying to grind out a good score. I didn't score well on that back nine, but I did hit a lot of fun shots that I wouldn't have hit if I were in contention.
How did you feel at the end of the two rounds? Did you feel like you didn't do yourself justice?
I had gotten over most of my disappointment by the middle of the second round. After I made my last putt, I just remember looking over and seeing my family. I couldn't help but smile knowing that I had their comfort and support, no matter the end result. I definitely didn't do myself justice though. My tee game just left me at the wrong time. I am not going to let two rounds of golf define me as a player. I'm eager to put myself in similar situations in the near future.
On another day, do you think you could compete with the 64 that made it through?
What was it like having your dad on the bag?
Awesome! He taught me how to play golf and knows my game better than anybody. It was a great bonding experience I know we will always look back on. Hopefully we get to do it again next year.
Do you think your experience at the US Amateur will somehow affect your play for Western this year? Not many of the other schools will field US Amateur competitors.
It will affect my play a little. The US Amateur gave me a lot of confidence in my approach to playing the game, mostly my course management. Being decisive and confident with every shot is crucial if I want to shave more strokes off my game.
How do you feel about the Western team this season - how far can it go?
I feel great about the team this year. We are off to a decent start, winning our first event by six last week at the SMU Invitational and just taking fourth in our home tournament with a three-round total of twelve-under-par. We are just warming up. None of us have been playing great, but we are still shooting sub-par rounds. If we play to our full potential, there is no question we can win the NCAA Division II National Championship this season. As long as we continue to improve every week and our young guys get used to competing at the collegiate level, we will be a force all year.