By Benjamin Block
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Stewart Hagestad's response to how he's handling the lead up to the 117th U.S. Open unintentionally trailed off into a neatly generic answer ending in, "and I just try and focus on the things that I can control," at which point the articulate 26-year-old immediately scoffed, acknowledging his canned gaffe, and lowered his guard.
"I'm trying to talk myself into believing it, and that's just the best way I know to prepare," a backtracking Hagestad told WFAN.com.
The 6-foot-5 wiry American, who tees off at 7:29 a.m. Thursday (local time), will be playing as an amateur in his second major of 2017, and his first-ever U.S. Open.
Despite earning the distinguished honor of low amateur at this year's Masters, and regardless of his outcome at Erin Hills this week, he continued to shoot down any grumblings of turning pro, at least in the near future.
"I love golf and I love competitive golf, but I don't want my entire life to revolve around that," said Hagestad, a financial analyst who plans to pursue his MBA. Although he did surrender to the idea of life as a professional, saying "I feel like it'd be fun for two or three years."
The Newport Beach, California, native conceded that he intends to put the clubs away and relax following a potential Walker Cup bid in September and Mid-Amateur championships in October.
Hagestad has left nothing to interpretation about his aspirations and goals and how they go far beyond well-struck drives, magical sand saves and tournament-clinching putts. Yet, fully invested in being the best golfer he can be right now, he didn't mince words about the sometimes unfair stigma associated with amateurs competing amongst tour professionals.
"Amateurs hit it north of 300 yards and chip and putt it like tour pros," snapped the reigning Mid-Amateur champion.
"All those guys have shot in the low 60s before and they shoot in the 60s on a routine basis. The ball doesn't know who you are," he added.
Someone who knows Hagestad well and knew of his dreams outside of the sport is USC men's golf coach Chris Zambri.
"Stewart's always been interesting to me as a golfer because early at his time at USC he made a decision that he didn't really want to be a professional golfer, which was definitely a unique stance for a player on our team," recalled Zambri.
Struggling to find the right words to explain Hagestad's rise since his college days, Zambri spoke about a "half-in, half-out" Hagestad when it came to the team. Zambri described Hagestad as someone who "had a lot of interests outside of golf" and as a player that didn't have a "normal existence within the team," but the former coach couldn't be prouder now.
"I'm probably getting past the point of kind of being surprised by him doing good things because it's become pretty apparent that he's just really, really good," Zambri said, adding, "What he's doing is so cool."
For Hagestad — whose country club exterior, complete with the preppy look, is packaged in a blue-collar work ethic — everything stems from a tight-knit supportive family.
"My mom told me pretty early on that if I want anything bad enough, anything's achievable," remarked Hagestad. Praising both his parents for allowing him and his siblings the opportunity to succeed in life, Hagestad, the oldest of four, humbly claimed, "I'm by far the least impressive sibling of all the kids."
Younger brother Richard is a walk-on, redshirt freshman safety for the storied USC Trojans football team and maintains a GPA average just north of 3.5.
But this week, the focus in the Hagestad household rests squarely on Stewart, who explained how he'll look to his experience at Augusta National to quell any jitters.
"Obviously, having the Masters under my belt and looking back on that experience, I'm a little better prepared versus a couple months ago, but at the same time, I'm sure that I'll be super nervous, excited and anxious all at the same time, and adrenaline will be going," Hagestad said.
U.S. Opens historically reward good ball strikers who keep it in play and putt very well, all of which are aspects that depict Hagestad's game and strengths. And Zambri likes how his former player's game fits the challenging Erin Hills course.
"The way he's been playing quite frankly for a while now, but especially in the last 10 months, I don't see why he can't go there and play well," Zambri said.
But no matter how well Hagestad plays, an announcement to turn pro will not be forthcoming from this amateur.
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