Mike McCoy is the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and was a member of the 2015 Walker Cup team. We sat down with McCoy for a chat about being one of the oldest amateurs on the team, why he likes USGA setups and memories from the 2014 Masters.
You played college golf at Wichita State. Did you ever consider playing professionally?
I did. I went to tour school twice right out of college. But back in the mid 1980s, there really weren’t any secondary tours. It was either go to Asia, or get your tour card. Today, obviously, there are a lot more options. At the time, you had to turn pro [to go to Q-School], and I wouldn’t have done that today. I would have gone as an amateur. But anyway, I gave it a try, and going overseas didn’t interest me, so I got my amateur status back and started my career. And along the way, kept playing golf and kept improving. And the rest is history.
You’re an insurance executive in Iowa. How much was your career path dictated by having accessibility to golf?
Well, it’s important. No question. You have to put in the time. And insurance did give me the flexibility. I talked a lot to Jay Sigel at the time, who was in the insurance business, and others that I looked up to. And then along the way I became real close friends with John Harris, who won the U.S. Amateur, and he was in the insurance business, and we formed a great friendship. They helped me along the way in terms of finding my way in the amateur game.
A lot of people focus on trying to achieve a work-life balance, but you’re in a unique position because you have to balance work, life, and golf. How much time does it really take to maintain your game?
A lot. (Laughs)
I can imagine.
Yeah, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a big commitment. You spend your free time hitting balls. I don’t play a lot of social golf because I play so much competitive golf. Most of my golf is played on the road and then I’ll practice in the evening, hit some balls, chip and putt. You can’t take many days off if you want to stay sharp. So I make a point to get the work done.
Have you played any golf with fellow Iowan, Zach Johnson?
I have. Yeah, I played with him even when he was in college. The year I played in the Masters, we played a few practice rounds together. We’re friends. We don’t talk too frequently, but we touch base periodically. He’s certainly the greatest golfer to ever come out of Iowa. And we’re all proud of him.
Well, you’re the most decorated amateur golfer in Iowa history. You were Low Am in the U.S. Senior Open two years in a row. You’re 52 years old. Would you ever consider making a run at the Champion’s Tour?
No. (Laughs) I don’t think so. I really never gave it too much thought. I’ve worked hard to establish myself in the amateur world, and I’m involved in the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association. I look forward to going to the places I like go to. And I’ve got a lot of friends doing the same thing. So I think I’d be giving up an awful lot. And I just don’t want to give it up.
You’ve said you like USGA setups.
That can be a rare opinion.
Yeah. Well, they’re difficult. And it takes the whole golfer to deal with it. You have to have certain things right. You’ve got to drive it straight. You got to be able to deal with the firm greens, the longer rough. But more importantly, you have to have the patience. It’s a whole examination, if you will. After you’ve played in about 60 of them, you start figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
We’re seeing a lot of players peaking later in life. Would you say that’s the case for you? Do you feel like kind of a late bloomer?
Yeah, I do. No question that I played my best golf into my 40s, and that decade of my 40s into my 50s.
Why is that?
I took a lot of lessons. I’ve worked hard on my technique and I competed a lot. So I think it was the combination of improving my technique and getting tournament tested. Getting tournament tough. And I think it was a combination of just hard work and experience probably that led me to play better. I wasn’t a natural.
You won the Mid-Am two years ago, which got you into the 2014 Masters. What stands out most to you about your experience in Augusta?
Just how well they treat the amateurs, and how welcome the amateur is. The tournament committee, the chairman, the members, the staff all go out of their way to make sure it’s a great event for the amateurs. There’s a very special amateur dinner. And obviously the golf course is pretty spectacular as well. But in general, the most exciting thing for me was having my son inside the ropes caddying for me. That was pretty memorable.
How big is the gap between being an elite amateur and a tour pro?
You might think not too much because some of these guys go right from the elite amateur game, to the President’s Cup team. If you look, it wasn’t long ago Jordan Speith was playing on a Walker Cup team. And Rickie Fowler and Chris Kirk and Webb Simpson. And of course I’ve played with all those guys, but there’s no question they’ve all taken it to a whole other level. And if you could figure that out and bottle it, we’d have something. They were all great amateurs, but they rather quickly established themselves as world-class players. So I don’t know what the difference is, but there’s a difference. (Laughs) They’re definitely better.
Speaking of the Walker Cup, you were the third-oldest player in the Cup’s history as a member of Team USA this year. It seems like everyone comes away from that experience, win or lose, saying it was the best thing that’s ever happened to them in their career. What is it about the Walker Cup that makes it so great?
I think, one, it’s just the anticipation, the preparation, the journey to make the team. Because it’s really a two-year process. So obviously that’s your goal. And you go through two years of traveling all over the country, sometimes all over the world, to distinguish yourself and play well enough in places that you’re considered for the team. I think also, it’s just the huge commitment it takes to make the team. And then obviously when you do make the team, that’s the opportunity to come together with a group of players—and in my case they were all younger—but there is definitely a bonding that occurs when you spend a few weeks together. So it’s that bonding, it’s the camaraderie, it’s the laughs, it’s all of that. It’s the captain. Just everything. It’s a very special opportunity and privilege to play for your country.
You said this was your last chance to make the team. Why?
I would just say that at age 50, soon to be 53, and nearly 55 when the next team comes around, you have got to be realistic.
You were only the third oldest, don’t forget! You’re not the oldest!
I’m not saying that if I win the Mid-Am next year, or the U.S. Am, that I won’t make another run, but I haven’t even wanted to think about it, quite frankly. It’s just such a huge undertaking. And I’ll play some more golf, but next year I think I’m going to do some things differently, go to some places I haven’t been able to go to and have a different type of schedule. And just take a step back, maybe. I think, but we’ll see. Again, it’s too early to really think about it.
You had a great showing in the stroke play portion of this year’s Mid-Am, and got to the round of 16 in the match play. Do you consider this year’s performance a success?
Yeah. Certainly would have liked to have stuck around a couple more days, but you can’t control what happens in every match. But certainly looking back on it, it’s better than missing the cut and going home. (Laughs) I’m going to have a number of other opportunities down the road, in future Mid-Ams. So I’m looking forward to staying competitive, playing some senior amateur golf and keep chasing it.
So, what’s next for Mike McCoy?
That’s interesting. I’ll continue to work hard on my game. I’ll keep trying to improve. I’ll try and stay healthy and I’ll try and win the Senior Amateur. Obviously, I love what I’m doing. I love amateur golf, I love competing, I love practicing. I think it keeps me young, it keeps me around younger people. It keeps me connected to my sons, who love to play. I don’t think I’m going to take up fishing, I’m going to just keep playing golf. It’s the greatest game in the world and I’m going to keep enjoying it.