And then there were four.
The United States Golf Association was out this week with the latest updates to a 2020 championship schedule that has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest casualties were: The U.S. Mid-Amateur, which was scheduled to be played Sept. 12 to 17 at the Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va. and Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, Va.; the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, which was scheduled to be played Aug. 29 to Sept. 3 at the Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, S.C.; the U.S. Senior Amateur, which was scheduled to be played Aug. 29 to Sept. 3 at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.; and the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur, which was scheduled to be played Sept. 12 to 17 at The Lakewood Club in Point Clear, Ala.
For now, the plan is to still try to play the 120th U.S. Amateur, scheduled to be played Aug. 10 to 16 at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore., and the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur, scheduled to be played a week earlier from Aug. 3 to 9 at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md.
You’re probably already aware that the 120th U.S. Open will still be played at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., but the traditional June dates have been changed to Sept. 17 to 20.
And the 75th U.S. Women’s Open will still be played at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas with its planned May dates changed to Dec. 10 to 13. Maybe a little women’s golf action to watch after doing some Christmas shopping.
Having said all of that, the really bad news is there will be no qualifiers in 2020. Not just for the two cancelled Mid-Am and Senior Am championships, but no qualifiers for the four events that will be played, the two Opens and the two Amateurs.
I will offer the same disclaimer I’ve made in addressing all of these USGA postponements and cancellations: The logistics of running national championships with nationwide qualifiers is just too difficult in the face of the uncertainty brought on by this crazy global pandemic.
So, in the absence of USGA qualifiers in 2020, I come to praise them. And nobody bemoaned the loss of the qualifiers more than John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s senior managing director of Championships.
“As you can imagine, this was an incredibly difficult decision, as qualifying is a cornerstone of USGA championships,” Bodenhamer said in the USGA release that announced the latest changes to the 2020 schedule. “We take great pride in the fact that many thousands typically enter to pursue their dream of qualifying for a USGA championship and we deeply regret that they will not have that opportunity this year.
“But this structure provides the best path forward for us to conduct these championships in 2020.”
I’ve caddied in two USGA championships, for Jay Cudd, an assistant pro at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio and born and raised in Augusta, Ga., in the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course, and for Michael Mitani of Irvine, Calif. and a one-time junior standout in Southern California, in the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall’s twin Tom Doak designs. Yes, those two assignments were 35 years apart.
Cudd and Mitani both were qualifiers. I have a memory that Cudd had been the medalist in his sectional U.S. Open qualifier, although I’m not positive that’s true. Mitani told me he had to be talked into teeing it up in a Mid-Am qualifier at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles by a buddy, but he put together a good round when it mattered and earned a trip to his first USGA championship. Mitani was one of the survivors in a five-man playoff for the final four tickets to Stonewall at Hillcrest.
Cudd failed to make the cut at Merion in 1981 and Mitani did not reach the match-play bracket at Stonewall in 2016. My conclusion, though, from watching both guys compete is that if you are good enough to qualify for a USGA championship, you can play. You’re a player.
There are tons of good players out there and many ways to measure whether somebody is a player or not. But qualifying for a USGA championship makes you a player in my book.
I’ve probably been involved in more U.S. Amateur qualifiers over the years, covered a few, live-blogged a couple and caddied in a couple more.
I’ve mentioned in a post before that I stumbled into carrying Jay Sigel’s bag in the Merion half of a U.S. Amateur qualifier circa 1972, or thereabouts, during my 12 years of looping at the Hugh Wilson masterpiece in the Ardmore section of Haverford Township. He had played a morning round at Llanerch Country Club.
A day earlier, I had Sigel in a practice round in which he was joined by a young player he was mentoring, one George “Buddy” Marucci Jr., who was carrying his Maryland Terrapin bag.
My abiding memory of caddying for Sigel, probably the second-best amateur golfer behind Bobby Jones in the history of American golf, was that, by the end of the two days, all my yardages had been confirmed. This was long before range-finders, but if you told Sigel he had a 140-yard shot, he hit it 140 yards. All day.
Sigel had yet to win the first of his two U.S. Amateur crowns, but he easily qualified for the U.S. Amateur that day. And that is no easy feat.
When there was a local U.S. Amateur qualifier at Overbrook Golf Club and Radnor Valley Country Club in 2013 while I was still working at the Delco Daily Times, I snuck over to Sproul Road and covered it.
My favorite memory of that day was the sheer joy exhibited by recent Episcopal Academy graduate Sean Fahey. An Overbrook member, Fahey had struggled on his home course in the morning before going across the street and setting a competitive course record at Radnor Valley to earn a trip to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. (“Having a course record anywhere is pretty cool,” Fahey said in the afterglow, getting all sorts of congratulations from the Overbrook members gathered on the porch).
Pretty sure he was excused from his first week of orientation at Dartmouth to go tee it up in the U.S. Amateur.
The round I saw the most of that day was that of Stephen Seiden, also at Radnor Valley. The former Strath Haven standout, part of a talented core of players at Llanerch, scratched and clawed his way to a hard-earned ticket to The Country Club. A pharmacist by trade, Seiden was always quick to remind you that he worked for a living.
The point being he was basically a weekend golfer, but a guy who worked at it hard enough to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. A player in my book.
With the 2005 U.S. Amateur coming to Merion, I couldn’t pass up covering the local qualifier held at Llanerch, the underrated site of the 1958 PGA Championship, and Rolling Green Golf Club, the William Flynn gem in Springfield that played host to the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Some of this area’s best amateur golfers were dying to make it to a U.S. Amateur at Merion, but that day belonged to a bunch of kids, many of whom I had covered on the high school scene the previous couple of years.
I was particularly happy to see Adam Cohan, whom I had watched win the 2002 PIAA Championship as a junior at Radnor, qualify. He was coming off his freshman year at Georgia Tech.
Last summer when Cole Willcox grabbed the opening-round lead in the Pennsylvania Open at Waynesborough Country Club, I recalled how Willcox, about to enter his senior year at Malvern Prep, had survived the qualifying gauntlet that day and earned a U.S. Amateur berth at Merion.
And I certainly can’t forget the disappointment etched on the face of Michael McDermott, who had grown up playing a Llanerch, but pushed his tee shot out of bounds on his final hole, the ninth at Llanerch, to just miss a trip to Merion.
McDermott is a member at Merion, among other prestigious golf addresses, these days and won the last of his three BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship titles on the East Course, site of five U.S. Opens, in an epic battle with a friend and rival in Jeff Osberg in the 2016 final. The Philly Am, as old as the U.S. Open, is the most prestigious event on the Golf Association of Philadelphia calendar each year.
Later that summer, McDermott stood on that ninth tee at Llanerch, pretty much in the same position he was 11 years earlier. This time he was trying to earn a berth in the 2016 U.S. Mid-Am at Stonewall, a course he knows well. This time, McDermott drove it over the trees on the left and into the 10th fairway. No way this tee ball was going OB.
McDermott thought a little local knowledge might be really helpful at Stonewall’s Old Course. He was right. He reached the quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Stewart Hagestad.
Earlier that summer I took a ride over to New Jersey’s Hawk Pointe Golf Club for the local qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Amateur because several of the area’s standout women whom I had covered on the high school scene the previous few years were geared up to get a shot at playing a home game at Rolling Green.
And two of them made it, former Lower Merion standout Alessandra Liu and former Pennsbury star Jackie Rogowicz punching their ticket to Rolling Green a day after Hawk Pointe had been deluged by four inches of rain. The place was so drenched that every bunker on the golf course was declared ground under repair.
Rogowicz, coming off her freshman season at Penn State, survived a playoff to get the final spot up for grabs, although the other player involved in the playoff, Christine Parsells of Bernardsville, N.J., eventually got in at Rolling Green as an alternate. Liu had just wrapped up a standout college career at William & Mary when she earned a spot in the Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green.
About 45 years after caddying for Sigel at Merion, I again found myself on the bag in a U.S. Amateur qualifier, this time at Stonewall, 18 on the North, a pretty fair test in its own right, and 18 on the Old Course.
My man was 16-year-old A.J. Aivazoglou, a junior at The Haverford School whose name I was familiar with as I’ve followed the Inter-Ac League pretty closely in this blog. A member at Rolling Green, Aivazoglou struggled on a day that was delayed at the start by heavy overnight rains, got hot and steamy in the middle, was delayed again by a drenching thunderstorm and finished nearly in the dark.
It was the kind of day the USGA loves because it knows only the strong will survive. Aivazoglou didn’t earn a ticket to the U.S. Amateur that day. Was he a better player for having tested his game in such difficult conditions? Absolutely. He's at Fordham now after helping the Fords win back-to-back Inter-Ac titles in 2017and 2018.
I’ve made the USGA qualifiers a staple since I expanded the blog in 2016 after my journalism career came to a sudden end.
The GAP-administered ones are easy to follow because of the great job Marty Emeno and his crew do in covering them on the GAP website. I’ll often add a little touch for a player I’m familiar with, particularly the scholastic standouts, past and present.
It was pretty darn exciting to see a kid like Chris Crawford, the former Holy Ghost Prep and Drexel standout, make it through local and sectional qualifying for not just the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in 2016, but the 2017 Open at Erin Hills the following year while still an amateur.
Pretty sure “Golf’s Longest Day,” with sectional qualifiers all around the country, would have been June 1 this year. I’ll never forget calling up the USGA page in 2016 and seeing a picture of Crawford celebrating after his 40-foot birdie bomb on the 18th hole at Canoe Brook Country Club’s North Course punched his ticket to Oakmont.
In an attempt to fill the considerable golf void earlier this spring, GAP ran a bracket-style tournament on Twitter, asking golf fans to vote for the top moment on the local golf scene in the last decade or so.
Crawford’s accomplishment of making it to the National Open two years in a row out of local and sectional qualifiers beat out the tremendous McDermott-Osberg 2016 Philly Am final to win the mythical title. I think the voters got it right.
A year ago, Chris Fieger, at age 56, earned a berth in his first USGA championship when he shot a 69 at LuLu Country Club in a qualifier for the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship. He easily qualified for match play at Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C. before falling in the opening round in a 21-hole thriller.
I remembered Fieger, a Dallas, Lancaster County resident, as a scholastic standout, pretty sure it was the early days of Strath Haven, but it might have still been Nether Providence, when I was covering high school golf at The Mercury in Pottstown in the 1980s. Fieger was a perennial contender in the District One Championship.
And he never forgot how to play. He’s a player because if you can qualify for a USGA championship, you’re a player. Don’t know if Fieger planned to take a shot at a return trip to the U.S. Senior Am at the Country Club of Detroit this summer. It’s a shame he won’t get that opportunity.