The magnetic pull for most golfers of Stewart Hagestad’s caliber is simply too strong to resist.
The path usually goes something like this: Play in national-level junior tournaments, secure a scholarship to a top-25 university golf program, and upon graduation play anywhere checks are offered to prepare for that first shot at the Web.com Tour Qualifying School.
If success is not immediate, keep grinding until you break through or run out of cash and desire. If lucky, you don’t completely loathe the game when it’s over.
Hagestad was the rare young hotshot who waved the smoke away from his face long enough to see the burnt wasteland that might lay before him. The Newport Beach native figures that moment arrived around his sophomore year at USC.
“It’s not quite as glamorous as people make it out to be,” Hagestad said. “It’s a really cool thing to think about and to fantasize about. But in reality … I’m a very good player; I will say that. I also know how good those guys are.”
For a 28-year-old who never went to Q School or officially made a dime in golf, Hagestad continues to show up in some of the game’s most prominent places.
Two years ago, it was the Masters. Hagestad qualified as the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, made the cut and won the Silver Cup for being low amateur.
That summer, he qualified for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, Wis., and in the fall of 2017 played for the victorious U.S. team in the Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club, where he is a junior member.
Last year, Hagestad qualified for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, N.Y., and this week he’s back for a third straight Open — the 119th edition — at Pebble Beach. He emerged from last week’s Sectional in Newport Beach, where he’s been a member at Big Canyon Country Club since childhood.
On the Monterey Peninsula, Hagestad will reunite with friendly foes from his junior golf days such as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. That pair already has 20 PGA Tour and four major victories between them before reaching their 27th birthdays.
There are many more players from those junior days who are eking out a living in pro golf, teaching lessons or selling insurance.
“I have a lot of friends who play for a living,” Hagestad said after his 36-hole day at the Sectional. “It’s difficult to watch — that joy of playing kind of leaves. It’s not just that. You get to 34, 35, 36 … you’ve lost that love. Your skill set is not as developed as some of your peers.”
Give Hagestad a free pass for three years on the tour, then maybe …
“But that’s not how it works,” he said. “I was really lucky to grow up with amazing parents. They kind of helped me make those decisions along the way.”
The more Hagestad progressed off the golf course at USC, where he got a finance degree from the Marshall School of Business, the less appealing a pro career became. He joined a fraternity, made friends outside the game and saw a broader future.
It probably didn’t help that he never rose above the middle of the pack in the Trojans’ golf lineup.
It’s hard to quibble with his vision. Hagestad previously worked at Oaktree Residential, a real estate management company in New York, and did his most recent work as a financial analyst with Crescent Capital, a West L.A.-based investment firm.
At both jobs, Hagestad was able to take leave to practice his golf game in advance of big events. After this week, he’ll concentrate on trying to make the Walker Cup team that will represent the U.S. at England’s Royal Liverpool in September.
“We’re really proud of him,” said Merry Anderson, Stewart’s mom. “It’s real easy to get sucked into [playing pro golf]. A lot of people are asking what you’re doing, why you’re not going pro. That is his decision. The life of a pro is really hard unless you’re really, really good.
“He’s phenomenal, but those [pros] are on a different level.”
Hagestad’s results in the U.S. Open are evidence. He’s missed the cut in two appearances, shooting 77-75 at Erin Hills in 2017 and 81-74 at Shinnecock Hills last year.
At Pebble Beach this week, Hagestad returns to the famed course on which he enjoyed his best U.S. Amateur experience last year.
After six failures to reach the match-play portion of the Am, Hagestad fired a 66 in the second round at Pebble (after a 76 at Spyglass Hill), made the top 64, and eventually reached the round of 16 before being eliminated.
Hagestad hadn’t played Pebble Beach before last year.
“You get more comfortable and more familiar with being there,” he said. “I would hope that would be the case.”
For an amateur in modern times, winning the U.S. Open is virtually unthinkable. Five have done so, but the last was John Goodman in 1933. The last amateur to hold a 54-hole lead was Jim Simon — 48 years ago.
There are 16 amateurs in this year’s field, and for them to reach the Open is the triumph.
Hagestad said he believes an amateur’s career is defined by appearances and wins in U.S. Golf Assn. and Royal & Ancient events, as well as selections to Walker Cup teams.
“All I’m trying to prove,” he said, “is that I’m one of the best amateurs in the country.”