James Mastaglio was known for his defense on Princeton University’s basketball team in the late 1990s, often picked to guard the best player as the Tigers won three Ivy League titles and two NCAA tournament games.
The 39-year-old principal and founder of hedge fund Hemlock Capital LLC in Garden City, New York, says he brings that tenacity to the golf course.
Mastaglio is among the 256 golfers who will compete at the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco from Saturday through Wednesday. The two-player team competition is the first new addition to the U.S. Golf Association’s championship lineup in 28 years.
“I fall back on basketball in that you’re not always going to have your A-game, but you can always find a way to win,” Mastaglio, the club champion at Cherry Valley Club on New York’s Long Island four of the past five years, said in a telephone interview. “There’s not a lot that can translate from the team game to the individual game like in golf, except maybe that ‘grind mentality.’”
Mastaglio is part of a diverse field that ranges from caddies and college golfers to past U.S. Mid-Amateur champions, Wall Street millionaires and former UCLA quarterback Drew Olson, who had a brief stint in the National Football League. Phil Mickelson’s brother Tim, the head golf coach at Arizona State, is competing, as are nine brother tandems, three father-son duos, and competitors from ages 15 to 59.
The tournament starts with 36 holes of stroke play the first two days. The field will then be cut to the low 32 teams for five rounds of match play at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, which hosted the most recent of its five U.S. Opens in 2012. The semifinals and 18-hole championship match are scheduled for Wednesday and will be televised by Fox Sports.
“As an amateur weekend golfer who only plays the occasional tournament, these USGA events are for sure our Super Bowl,” said Brian Gillespie, a former Philadelphia Amateur champion playing in his sixth USGA championship.
Gillespie, 39, gets in about 60 to 80 rounds of golf a year, mostly on weekends, while working as a financial adviser at Boenning & Scattergood in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
“Whenever you qualify for these events, it’s a dynamic thing,” Gillespie, who played golf at Penn State University, said by phone. “You have to make sure your boss is OK with it. I could be back Monday, I could be back Thursday.”
Other competitors can make their own schedules.
Ken Bakst, who competed in golf’s 1998 Masters Tournament after winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title the previous year, is a developer and the owner of Friar’s Head golf club on Long Island’s North Shore. Roger Hoit, who has won multiple championships at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, is a managing director at global investment bank Moelis & Co.
The men’s and women’s amateur four-ball championships replace the U.S. Public Links events, with the USGA making the switch because the two-person team competition became a popular format for state and regional golf associations in the U.S.
The last time the USGA added to its roster of national championships was in 1987 with the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. The women’s Amateur Four-Ball will be held May 9-13 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon.
Mastaglio’s teammate this week in San Francisco is 44-year-old Timothy Schmitt, whose father, John, was the starting center for the New York Jets’ Super Bowl-winning squad in 1969. The younger Schmitt is an insurance executive from Garden City who has played in two U.S. Amateur championships.
Schmitt is among 20 entrants who have played in the U.S. Amateur. Another 28 have played in Mid-Amateur championships -- for golfers 25 and above -- while five competed in the Public Links events, eight participated in either the USGA’s senior or junior championships for amateurs, and two were members of the American Walker Cup team in 2013.
“There’s some pretty damn accomplished guys out there,” said the 6-foot-4 Mastaglio, whose college basketball teammates included Steve Goodrich and current Princeton men’s coach Mitch Henderson. “I’m certainly like the ugly duckling if you were to talk about golf pedigrees.”
Mastaglio said if he and Schmitt can advance to the match play portion of the competition “anything can happen.” He likened his 1-on-1 competitiveness to that of Ian Poulter, who has helped Europe win five Ryder Cup team titles with a 13-3-1 record in the biennial match-play competition.
Mastaglio’s biggest concern has been finding enough time to prepare for the event between running a hedge fund and balancing family demands. His daughter, Olivia, is three years old and his wife, Bridgette, is eight months pregnant, with a due date two weeks after the final match at the Four-Ball championship. He hadn’t known the tournament’s date when he initially qualified.
“I certainly want to do the right thing by the family, but she plays golf, she understands how important this is,” Mastaglio said. “But if a birth were to happen when I was out in San Francisco playing golf, that’s something I’m sure I’ll never live down. It would be a story to tell the baby someday. It’s worth it to go out and play in a tournament like this.”