The Azalea Amateur is typically a late-March affair at the Country Club of Charleston (South Carolina). Lukas Michel, the reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champ, originally planned to use it as a warm-up for the April Masters. That plan, like everything else in 2020, went out the window mid-March when the Masters was postponed.
The Azalea now will be played Oct. 29-Nov. 1. Michel will still be there, and so will a collection of the top amateurs and collegians in the game.
After the Masters announcement, the 26-year-old returned home to Australia, where his golf game endured weeks of COVID shut-downs. The next time Michel played stateside was the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes. He hadn’t touched a club for a week before that and had to get a special visa to remain in the U.S. these past three months.
“It was all very complicated,” he said of figuring out those details. “It would have been easy just to skip the U.S. Am but I wanted to play that at Bandon Dunes, such a cool course. And it was a good experience.”
Tee times: Azalea Invitational
In addition to the U.S. Amateur, where he missed the cut, Michel played the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last month. After the next few days at the Country Club of Charleston, Michel plans for his final Masters tune-up to take place at Pinehurst.
“Do a little bit of prep there, which should be a good spot to work on my game,” he said.
Michel’s caddie, friend and fellow U.S. Mid-Am competitor Will Davenport, is also teeing it up at the Country Club of Charleston. Davenport picked up the bag for Michel midway through the U.S. Mid-Am after he bowed out himself, and now will carry it at Augusta National.
Another Masters competitor is also in the Azalea field: Abel Gallegos, the 2020 Latin America Amateur champion. Gallegos already played the Junior Orange Bowl, Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur in the U.S. in 2020.
Aside from those three names, here are five more to keep an eye on.
Did anyone author a better amateur summer than Strafaci? Take COVID craziness into consideration and Strafaci’s 2020 body of work is even more impressive. After victories at the North & South Amateur, Palmetto Amateur and U.S. Amateur, Strafaci could very realistically bag another title in Charleston.
The 18-year-old owns a major summer amateur title of his own from the Sunnehanna Amateur, but he still splits his time between the amateur and junior circuits. Most recently, Summerhays finished sixth at the Junior Players Championship and ninth at the Ping Invitational. Sandwiched in between? A U.S. Open start (as the reigning U.S. Junior champion).
The Country Club of Charleston is White’s territory. The Spartanburg, South Carolina, resident was an Azalea winner back in 2015 and tied for second in 2017. White doesn’t compete nationally quite as much as he used to, but the 52-year-old still stands in Walker Cup lore for playing a crucial role in a U.S. win in 2013 at National Golf Links.
Another formidable local. Behr, 27, was a second-team All-American at Clemson and a first-team All-ACC selection, and more recently was the stroke-play medalist at the 2018 U.S. Mid-Amateur – the first one of those for which he was eligible. Behr, who was born in Charleston but now resides in Atlanta, never turned professional, but don’t let that fool you about his game.
We all got to know Aman Gupta, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, in his run to the semifinals at the U.S. Amateur. The South Carolina native played only one major stroke-play event since, finishing 53rd at the Colonial Collegiate, but went 4-0 in Big 12 Match Play. It’s a bit of a shame there’s no head-to-head component at the Azalea.