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US Mid-Amateur champ Stewart Hagestad ready for the Masters

By Steve Virgen
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Breakfast was served at Big Canyon Country Club, where Stewart Hagestad sat, ate and talked about his amateur golf life mostly in a self-effacing tone as his biggest date with the game approached.

It was Saturday morning and Hagestad was fine with talking about the Masters, and even more. He was in Newport Beach for a week, as he left for the hallowed Augusta course on Thursday to play in the event he has always dreamed about.

Throughout an hour's worth of conversation, the 25-year-old who grew up in Newport Beach and at Big Canyon showed no nervousness, no anxiety. He was calm and appeared ready to mix it up with golf's greats.

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"I'm nowhere near as nervous I was about this as I was back in October," Hagestad said. "I'm going to prepare the best way I know how. My mentality going in is treating it like any other golf tournament ... I'm not the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world and I haven't won web.com events, but, dude, you treat it like any other event. Why would you show up for anything other than trying to win?"

That's not to say Hagestad is downplaying what is about to take place this upcoming week. He admitted to relentless stress after winning the U.S. Mid Amateur Championship in thrilling fashion on Sept. 15. He also said he's felt a sense of pressure because he's had to answer the same questions.

Ever since winning the U.S. Mid Am, Hagestad has basically lived the life of a pro. But the questions come and it's only another reminder that the Masters are approaching.

When do you find out about who you're paired with?

"After I register."

When are you going to Augusta?

"I just got back and I'm leaving [March 30]."

Who are you playing your practice rounds with?

"I'll most likely play with [friends from junior golf days] Justin [Thomas] and Jordan [Spieth]."

"I'm not nervous, but I feel that there is pressure there after the same questions," he says. "I'm like guys, c'mon!"

All this seems rather normal for an amateur about to play in his first Masters. But then again, nothing is really normal about Hagestad, who played at USC where he also did his best to gain a typical college experience. He pledged Sigma Chi.

His golf teammates playfully teased him by calling him, "Van Wilder." Hagestad was also the only Trojan golfer to be in USC's Marshall School of Business.

"I had to prioritize on a daily basis," Hagestad said.

But he loved USC, he said, and enjoyed avoiding what he described as what can be a lonely life for college athletes, especially golfers.

Hagestad, who's been single for a little over a year after a four-year relationship ended, can never be described as lonely. It seems as if everyone knows him at Big Canyon, where a photo of him winning the U.S. Mid Am is prominently displayed in the hallway before the dining room.

The morning after defeating Scott Harvey by winning four of the last five holes and forcing a playoff that he won with a birdie, Hagestad's phone was blowing up.

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He had turned off the phone after winning because he wanted to take time to enjoy the thrilling victory with family. His phone never seemed to stop chiming when he turned it back on.

Seven-hundred and sixty-four text messages, he said, came through.

For over the next three weeks, Hagestad took time to respond to each one.

So, it makes sense that all of Big Canyon, and every golf fan in Newport Beach is rooting for their favorite player. No offense to Big Canyon's newest resident, Fred Couples, but everyone would love to see Hagestad play well. They just might throw a parade if Hagestad made history and became the first amateur to win the Masters.

Hagestad knows it would be really great if he could get a late tee time on Sunday at the Masters. He enjoys saying that.

For those close to Hagestad that feat would not come as much of a surprise. Count Bill Kesler as one of those who would not be surprised.

Kesler, a Big Canyon member and a Hagestad family friend, has known Hagestad a.k.a. John Stewart Hagestad III, since he was a baby.

Kesler remembers watching Hagestad put in all the work as a kid and into his teens. When Hagestad was 16, Kesler watched and heard as Jim Flick gave Hagestad the ultimate blessing.

Flick, who worked with some of the game's greatest, told Hagestad that there might have been other young players with more talent, but they didn't have the mental strength that Hagestad possessed.

"Jim was very confident that Stewart could have a career in golf because he had that mental part of the game," Kesler said. "That was a real moment."

Said Hagestad: "It's still something I remember to this day. But I think at the time I was a little too young and stubborn to understand. At the same time, that was a good thing. I didn't let it go to my head."

Hagestad's competitive fire has been seen on the course, especially while winning the U.S. Mid Am. But it's also proof that Hagestad is a different person away from the golf course.

He has an intelligent way of compartmentalizing.

His father loved the way his son celebrated the win after sinking the birdie, but then composed himself to calmly shake hands with Harvey.

John Hagestad II is also one who knows his son well. After the son spent one year at Sage Hill School, the father listened to his son's new idea of going away to a prestigious golf academy in South Carolina. The father said to make sure that this is what he wanted because there was no turning back.

There were no regrets, Stewart Hagestad said, because that led him to landing at USC, where his father went and where he always wanted to be.

The father remains proud of his son and believes his son isn't nervous about playing in the Masters. But he is among many who know that's easy to say until he is there at the first tee on the first day of the event.

But Stewart Hagestad is doing his best to prepare. That's all he can do. He is grateful that he has worked for two great firms, in real estate finance, that have allowed him to pursue that training in golf.

Hagestad, though he never turned pro, has always possessed a strong love for the game.

He was allowed a break from the most recent firm, Oaktree Residential and Management, so that he could prepare. After USC, where he met his girlfriend Francesca Nestande, he went to work in New York.

Nestande, also from Newport Beach, majored in broadcast journalism and international relations at USC and also went to work in New York, for Fox News, and now Hannity.

Nestande remembers Hagestad never putting down the game. He would sometimes ride a train to play at a course, or if the weather didn't allow, he was hitting at a simulator at Golf & Body NYC.

Though their relationship ended, they remain friends, as Nestande was one who sent a congratulatory text after he won the U.S. Mid Am and a spot in the Masters.

"I totally outkicked my coverage," Hagestad revealed, complimenting Nestande's beauty. "She's a sweetie."

Hagestad admits golf was among his highest priorities while in New York. It seems it's always been that way.

Hagestad, whose birthday, April 10, sometimes takes place during the Masters was asked one time by Nestande for what he wanted to do on his birthday. Hagestad once said he just wanted to sit on the couch and watch the Masters all day.

"He is very ambitious," Nestande said of Hagestad. "Ambition is his No. 1 quality. He is severely loyal to his friends, family and teammates. He is kind. Stewart has a bigger heart than anyone. When he won the Mid Am, he said he was so sorry he didn't get back to me sooner. My dad left him four voice mails, and Stewart got back to him. He will take the time to make sure he gets to everyone."

Hagestad was a bit uncomfortable to admit that he did get back to each of the text messages. He admits it won't always be like that. For instance, this upcoming week, don't bother texting him. He'll be too busy to respond.

This article is written by Steve Virgen from Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.