NEWPORT BEACH — Stewart Hagestad stared at the leaderboard at Big Canyon Country Club and his name was on top.
For a moment on Monday, everyone at the U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier looked up at the 6-foot-5 golfer from Newport Beach. The majority of the field was not in yet.
Hagestad said he felt the lead slipping away before he learned of other scores. An hour later, Ray Biggerstaff of Newport Beach walked in with the same score as Hagestad.
"It is a playoff," predicted Hagestad, who began playing the waiting game. "I didn't want to do this. I would love to have been relaxing right now. I'm kind of tired."
Thirty-six holes in one day was not enough golf for Hagestad or Biggerstaff. Their lead was short lived as John Young Kim of Los Alamitos walked in with a winner's smile. The 18-year-old placed first after recording a two-round total of four-under-par 140.
Costa Mesa resident Amit Chopra finished right behind at two under. Only the top three finishers advanced to next month's U.S. Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash.
Hagestad and Biggerstaff battled for the final spot in a sudden-death playoff. Tied at one under, the two teed off from the first hole.
One player was 351 yards away from moving on.
Biggerstaff started first on the par-four hole. He found himself in a tough spot after his second shot went past the greens, while Hagestad's ball found the greens. Fifteen feet away from edge of the greens, Biggerstaff's chip shot eventually made it on to the greens, but 30 feet away from the hole.
Hagestad putted from about 20 feet out and saw the ball roll inches away from the hole. He easily tapped the ball in to earn his second trip to the U.S. Amateur Championship in three years.
Third place belonged to the member of Big Canyon, who recorded a par to Biggerstaff's bogey. Hagestad and his father hugged before Biggerstaff asked for another chip shot from the same spot he missed badly.
It is too bad it did not count because Biggerstaff nailed the shot this time.
Biggerstaff and his caddy shook their heads when the ball went in. Hagestad could not believe it either.
"Now my heart really goes out to him," said Hagestad, who really dedicated the one-day tournament to his mother, Merry Hagestad.
Hagestad said his mother was in Boston, but she really was with him. Hagestad marked his ball with his mom's initials, "MH." The two talked after Hagestad rose out of bed at 4:45 a.m.
Fifteen hours later, Hagestad's first phone call after leaving the course was to you know whom.
"She'll be ecstatic to hear from me," Hagestad said of his mom. "I knew she was rooting for me."
Many at Big Canyon backed Hagestad, an incoming sophomore at USC. Playing on his home course is not easy because practically everyone expected Hagestad to reach the U.S. Amateur Championship.
Someone even offered to hand Hagestad an outline of the Chambers Bay Golf Course before the U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier.
"It's stressful," Hagestad said of the pressure of qualifying.
The former Sage Hill School student delivered. He recorded seven birdies, shooting a two-under-par 70 in the first round and a 73 in the second round.
In his two U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifiers, Hagestad is two for two.
The qualifier was Biggerstaff's third straight. He is one of the two alternates. The other is Will Tipton, the men's champion at Big Canyon, who finished even par at 144.
Tipton shot lights out in the first round, scoring a four-under-par 68.
"I kind of snuck up on a 68," said Tipton, who birdied his final three holes to finish with the best score in the opening round.
Tipton's run at his first U.S. Amateur Championship appearance since 1988 ended when he birdied only once in the final round and bogeyed five times.
Out of all the golfers, Chopra's day began with bad news. The starter had no caddy for the 39-year-old, so Chopra lugged his bag around for 36 holes.
"I think that got me mad in the morning," said Chopra, who birdied six times to advance to the U.S. Amateur Championship for the second time since 2003. "Maybe it helped me calm down.
"I don't usually play 36 holes carrying my own bag. I think the last time I did that I was in college."
Kim isn't even in college yet and he prevailed in his first U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier. Kim said he's playing for the University of Tulsa next season.
The event featured high school players, recent graduates, college players and some older players.
Other locals in the tournament that placed in the top 15 included Newport Beach's Don DuBois (ninth place, 146) and Michael Carpenter, who tied for 13th with three other players at 149.