McIver ready to defend State Amateur golf title

2014-07-17T20:30:00Z 2014-07-18T21:39:12Z McIver ready to defend State Amateur golf titleBy BILL BIGHAUS bbighaus@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Brandon McIver is No. 258 in the latest World Amateur Golf Rankings.

While that’s pretty lofty status worldwide, the 20-year-old Billings golfer is more focused at the moment on remaining No. 1 in Montana.

McIver, coming off an unforgettable appearance at the U.S. Open and a solid sophomore season at the University of Oregon, will be the man of the moment at the 97th Montana State Amateur next week as he looks to defend his championship on the North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “Every tournament I play in, the expectation and the goal is to win. This tournament won’t be treated any differently.”

Over the past few months, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound McIver has prepared himself in extraordinary fashion to battle many of the state’s top amateurs.

First, he helped the University of Oregon golf team advance to the NCAA championships in Kansas. Shortly after that, McIver qualified as the last alternate for the U.S. Open, which took place at the historic Pinehurst course in North Carolina.

Following the State Am, he will make a straight shot to his second consecutive U.S. Amateur Aug. 11-17 at the Atlanta Athletic Club (Highlands Course) in John’s Creek, Ga.

“It has been hectic, extremely hectic,” McIver said of his schedule. “It’s been a lot, but that’s kind of what comes with playing competitive golf.

“It doesn’t bother me by any means. It has been extremely fun, but it’s nice when you can kind of take a week off and be able to breathe a little bit.”

In getting another opportunity to showcase his tournament savvy and ball-striking ability, the refreshed and ready McIver will certainly be the player to beat after he won his first State Am last year by eight strokes at Green Meadow Country Club in Helena.

“I was playing really well at that time and I felt comfortable on that golf course,” McIver said. “I was driving the ball really well and holing some putts. It happened to work out for me, but that doesn’t mean that’s going to happen again this year.

“It’s going to be a hard-fought tournament, I think. I’m just looking forward to it.”

This year’s competition, which begins Thursday, has been shortened to 54 holes in an attempt to attract more participants. One hundred and twenty four golfers have entered, which is a few more than last year when McIver led from start to finish.

Among the players with a chance to contend include McIver’s best friend, Jake Hedge of Billings, who caddied for him at the U.S. Open.

McIver didn’t make the 36-hole cut at the U.S. Open, but the former Billings West star shot a 3-over 73 during the second round, matching Phil Mickelson’s scorecard and surpassing the showings of other major champions, Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell.

“It was a special round, for sure,” McIver said. “Under those circumstances, with the golf course playing as difficult as it was, I was really proud of that round. I tied and beat a lot of major tour guys.

“That doesn’t really mean too much, especially when you’re a really competitive golfer, because anyone can beat anyone on any given day. But it does give me confidence and it kind of sheds some light on just what I can do, where my game can go and how I can get better.”

Some have gone as far as calling McIver’s 73 at the U.S. Open the finest round ever shot by an amateur player from Yellowstone County.

McIver likes the sound of that, adding: “It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.”

Last year’s victory at the State Am is another highlight for him.

“For me to win it, it’s a great honor,” McIver said. “I’ve enjoyed the last year being the state champion, but I’m ready to go back and try to defend my title against a lot of good players. The golf course should be a good test.”

McIver has been spending his time wisely while playing and practicing at Yellowstone Country Club, where he grew up. Members approach him to offer their congratulations on his U.S. Open performance and wish him well in future events.

“I think it has just kind of added fuel to the fire,” he said of the attention he has been receiving. “I’m very grateful and lucky to have a lot of support. A lot of people follow me and I appreciate that.

“It’s always kind of in the back of your head that you want to keep playing well because you have that kind of reputation or just those standards,” McIver said. “I probably have higher standards for myself than anyone else. That’s a trait that makes me work hard and probably makes me do well a lot of the time. I love practicing and getting better.”

Through all of the hard work and coaching, his golf swing has become more powerful and stable. He is constantly refining his short game to keep from wasting strokes, and striving not to get too emotionally attached to every shot.

“I do think I’m playing well,” he said. “I think I’m playing at a high level. My game has just really kind of expanded. I’m more versatile. I can control the ball, and hit more shots.”

This will be McIver’s second consecutive trip to the U.S. Amateur. He missed the cut by five strokes a year ago in Brookline, Mass.

There are two rounds of stroke play at the U.S. Amateur, then the top 64 players out of 312 move on to match play.

“Once you get there anything can happen,” McIver said. “Getting to match play would be an incredible experience. That’s definitely my goal for this U.S. Amateur.”

First up, though, he’s got to conquer Montana, again.

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