Bolivian Sebastian MacLean requested an invitation to the Porter Cup after finishing tied for 31st in the St. Andrews Links earlier this month. Rebuffed, MacLean asked again after making the Round of 16 at the British Amateur.
Denied again, MacLean showed up for Monday's Porter Cup Qualifier at Niagara Falls Country Club, if only because his girlfriend, Lucy Nowakowski, grew up in Orchard Park. And now he'll be back next month, having secured the tournament spot he coveted by fashioning a 4-under 66 Monday to share the qualifying medal with Zachary Bates of Cleveland.
Also playing their way into the field were Jake Katz of Williamsville (67), Garrett Rank (68) of Elmira, Ont., and MacKenzie Hughes (68) of Dundas, Ont. Katz, who plays at Binghamton University, qualified for the second year in a row.
Five golfers were tied at 69 for the final three spots. Nicholas Powell (Toronto), Andrew Lane (Fairport) and Braeden Cryderman (Huntsville, Ont.) made it in by parring the second playoff hole (No. 18). Michael Carrig of Buffalo and Matthew DeJohn of Geneva bogeyed the hole to miss out.
MacLean grew up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, a country with four golf courses. Because his father, Percy, was a member at one of them, and an accomplished player as well, MacLean had a golf club in his hand by the age of 3. He developed an instant affinity for the sport.
"I reached a certain level and knew that to get better I would have to leave the country," MacLean said.
He received a scholarship to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Sarasota, Fla., which is where he spent his senior year of high school. When no colleges showed an interest, MacLean sat out a year and lived with his mother, Victoria Velasquez, in Houston, before coming to the attention of Xavier golf coach Doug Steiner. A solid freshman year was followed by a credible sophomore campaign. But since MacLean lacks national amateur experience, it's no wonder that Porter Cup director Steve Denn, who receives inquiries from all over the world, was unmoved by MacLean's request for an invitation.
Nowakowski admits she knows little about golf, but her Western New York roots sprouted a familiarity with the Porter Cup. Since she and MacLean were planning a trip to Orchard Park for Independence Weekend, she suggested they come early so he could tackle the qualifier. The result was beyond impressive as the two made their way around the course with Nowakowski steering the pullcart.
MacLean birdied two of toughest par 4s, Nos. 9 and 17. He also had birdies on Nos. 2, 8 and 11 before a bogey on 18.
"The course fits my game pretty well," he said. "I'm hitting the ball really straight and long. I was around 10-12 feet a lot, and I wish all the putts could have gone in. I would have been really low. I hit 16 greens and left five or six putts on the edge."
MacLean's game was in the doldrums before the recent trip to Britain. Last week he won the Tony Bloom Metropolitan Amateur Championship outside Cincinnati, a match-play event.
"I've been struggling with my attitude and how I envision golf," he said. "I'd get tired of practice. It was a matter of going to practice with a purpose. I had to be more committed to the game."