Monday, March 16, 2015

Lees finishes firstt at Junior Tour opener; O'Hair is back

   Agnes Irwin’s Kaitlyn Lees has been  one of the top players in the Inter-Ac League for a couple of years, so it seems odd to consider that she’s still only in ninth grade. Lees won the Inter-Ac’s individual title as a seventh-grader two years ago and was the runnerup to Baldwin’s Caroline Rosen last spring.
   It appears all systems are go for Lees as she tuned up for the Inter-Ac’s spring campaign by finishing first in the Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour’s inaugural event of the year, held Sunday at Vineyard Golf at Renault in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
   Competing in the 16-to-18 division even though she’s certainly eligible for the 13-to-15 division, Lees fired an 83 over the 5,323-yard, par-72 Vineyard Golf layout. It was chilly and blustery, but there is no surer sign of spring than the kids getting out there to hit the ball around in a Junior Tour event. Lees’ round was highlighted by a birdie at the par-4 11th hole.
   Lees finished five shots ahead of Esther Park, a player out of Wilmington, Del. who, like Lees, is eligible to compete against the younger girls. Lees is in the class of 2018 at Agnes Irwin while Park is listed as class of 2019.
   Brianna Marmorstein of Havertown finished second in the 13-to-15 division with a 93. That left her a shot behind division winner Camille O’Halloran of Northfield, N.J. who carded a 92.
Wayne’s John Updike got his year off to a good start with an 83 that gave him a fifth-place finish in the boys 13-to-15 division. Division honors went Jacob Hanzel of Sewell, N.J. Hanzel’s 77 left him a shot ahead of Brian Isztwan, the Penn Charter freshman who claimed the Inter-Ac boys title last fall.
Nicky Scarpone of Havertown finished 13th in the division with a 119.
   Forrest Swisher of Hopewell, N.J. took top honors in the 16-to-18 division, his 79 a shot better than Vinay Ramesh, the Pennsbury senior who won the PIAA Class AAA title last fall.
   Among the nine-holers, Ryan D’Ariano of West Chester took top honors with a 39, besting Brian Isztwan’s younger brother Patrick by a shot. The Isztwan brothers are Huntingdon Valley residents and members at Hungtingdon Valley Country Club. Kathleen Mark of Media finished 11th in the division with a 66.

Banner weekend for O’Hair

   About the only thing that didn’t go right for Sean O’Hair, an adopted son of Delco, in the final analysis of the Valspar Classic Sunday at the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course was the birdie putt he hit on the second hole of a playoff that looked like it had to go in, but somehow lipped out.
   On the next hole of the playoff, Jordan Spieth’s 28-footer for birdie found the hole and ended the drama. It was some pretty good golf in the playoff with O’Hair, the old man in the group at 32, getting it on with two of the rising stars on the PGA Tour, the 21-year-old Spieth and 24-year-old Patrick Reed.
   O’Hair, a four-time winner on the tour, has had to battle his way back onto the tour each of the last two years by way of playing in the Tour playoff series. The playoffs have replaced the old Qualifying School event for gaining entry onto the PGA Tour and it’s such a complicated deal that I was fairly certain that O’Hair, the husband of the former Jackie Lucas, a Sun Valley All-Delco, had not survived last year, only to find out he did have some status on the PGA Tour.
Still, he needed a sponsor’s exemption to get in the field at Innisbrook, an event he won (sponsors of the event have come and gone several times over the last few years) in 2008. I suspect being a cordial defending champion five years ago had a lot to do with getting a spot in the field.
   O’Hair is, by all accounts,  trying to get back to basics. The slight fade he was sporting much of the weekend seems to be helping  to turn around the downward spiral that trying to draw the ball, among other modifications that weren’t working, had led to.
   A tee shot during Friday’s second round got away from him to the right and the resulting splashdown gave him a double bogey in a round of 72. The other rounds were 66, 69 and a final-round 67 on a demanding layout.
   The thing you noticed Sunday was that O’Hair was completely comfortable in the company of Spieth and Reed. He hadn’t won since the 2011 Canadian Open, but he still looked like he knew how to win.
   A win would’ve restored him to full standing on the PGA Tour for the rest of this year and all of 2016, assuming that rule is still in effect. I suspect it would’ve got him in the Masters.
   But with four youngsters at home, the $519 grand will be appreciated. More importantly, his confidence that he can compete in the big leagues should be at least partially restored. And maybe the next time that putt that just can’t miss won’t.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Radnor's Walker, Kim got to warm up at AJGA events

   I had been meaning to check the American Junior Golf Association website and see if any of our junior golfers were able to escape another awful winter around these parts and play some golf somewhere warm and I finally got around to it.
   Radnor junior Brynn Walker, the reigning PIAA Class AAA champion, teed it up in The ANNIKA Invitational last month at the Reunion Resort in Reunion, Fla. and fired rounds of 75, 76 and 81 to finish tied for 47th at 231.
   The event was hosted by the great Annika Sorenstam, who presented the winner’s trophy to Angel Yin, a 16-year old from Arcadia, Calif. who did a pretty imitation of Annika with rounds of 70, 68 and 66 for a 12-under 204 total that gave her an eight-shot margin of victory.
   Walker, committed to North Carolina when she’s finished at Radnor in the spring of 2016, was not the low District One finisher in the event, however, as her old Mount St. Joseph rival, Isabella DiLisio, the 2013 PIAA Class AAA champion, had rounds of 77, 74 and 76 for a 227 total that was four shots better than Walker and left her in a tie for 34th. DiLisio is a senior and is headed for Notre Dame next fall.
   A third District One standout, Pennsbury senior Jackie Rogowicz, a two-time district champion, also teed it up in Sorenstam’s event and posted three straight 78s for a 234 total that left her in a tie for 56th. Rogowicz is headed for Penn St. next fall.
   That same weekend, Walker’s Radnor teammate, sophomore Gabby Kim, was on the west coast of Florida in the Junior All-Star at Inninsbrook event. Kim had rounds of 79, 86 and 81 and finished in a tie for 21st.
   Valeria Sofia Pacheco of Hallandale Beach, Fla. won the girls division at Innisbrook with rounds of 78, 70 and 72 for a 220 total, one shot clear of Annie Kim, a South Korean who is calling Winter Garden, Fla. home these days. Kim struggled to an opening-round 80 before bouncing back with rounds of 71 and 70 for a 221 total.
   By the way, the PGA Tour will be in Innisbrook this week for the Valspar Championship.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's official: 2018 BMW Championship will be held at Aronimink

   Aronimink Golf Club’s membership made it official this week when it agreed to stage the 2018 BMW Championship at their Donald Ross-designed gem in Newtown Square.
   The BMW Championship is the next-to-last stop in the FedEx Playoffs on the PGA Tour.  The playoff field is whittled to 70 by the time players arrive for the BMW Championship and the top 30 then survive and advance to the Tour Championship.
   The event tries to trace its lineage to the Western Open, although that’s a bit of a stretch. The Western Open dates back to 1899 and was considered a major championship among professional golfers before that term was really popularized when somebody dubbed the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship the Grand Slam. Pretty sure it was a sports writer who so dubbed those four events the Grand Slam, so take that for what it’s worth.
   The Western  had a much longer tradition than the Masters did, but the Masters had Bobby Jones and all those azalaes and all the sports writers could hit it on the way back from spring training and voila, it was a major championship.
   The one historical connection the BMW Championship has with the Western Open is that proceeds from the event benefit the Evans Scholars Foundation, which is the Chicago area version of the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Fund run by the Golf Association of Philadelphia. As a proud former J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Fund recipient, I am all for anything that benefits caddies.
   There is some concern that a golf tournament played in the Philadelphia area in mid-September won’t draw flies because all anybody cares about around here once football season starts is the Eagles, but I have always thought that was overblown.
   I wondered if anybody would come out to Aronimink on a Fourth of July weekend when the AT&T Championship was staged there in 2010 and 2011, but the galleries were large, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Yes, there were  more people there the first year when that Woods guy played than there were the second year when he did not.  But a lot of that 2010 following of Woods had as much to do with the still fairly recent headlines about his extramarital dalliances than it did with his golf game.
   And the Philadelphia golf community got well-deserved kudos for the way it pulled together to make sure the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course was a success despite dire predictions that the physical plant – not just the golf course, but the surrounding area -- just flat-out didn’t have enough space to stage a 21st-century major championship. Well, it sort of didn’t, but the membership at Merion, with a lot of support from Haverford Township and Delaware County in general, Lower Merion Township, the city of Philadelphia and golf fans all over this region, got it done.
   Among PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s typically corporate remarks upon announcing that the BMW was coming to Aronimink was, “Philadelphia is one of America’s great sports cities …” Thanks Tim, but we already knew that.
   “We look forward to bringing a major world-class event to Aronimink,” said Steven Zodtner, president of Aronimink. “Our membership and the Philadelphia golf community are excited to partner with the WGA, BMW of  North America and the PGA Tour to showcase our championship golf course and to return professional golf to our region.”
   And as golf fans, we can only thank the Aronimink membership for stepping up to the plate and making their golf course available for a big-time event such as the BMW.
   Turns out the Western was staged in Pennsylvania once in its previous life in 1959 when Mike Souchak won the event at the Pittsburgh Field Club.
   The event had become a staple on the Chicago sports scene and I’m pretty sure there was some grumbling when the PGA Tour sort of co-opted the event and said it was going to move it around. Pretty sure there is a promise that once every three or four years it has to be in the Chicago area, as it will be this year when it’s contested at the Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill.
   So if the Western Golf Association and the PGA Tour want to sell the BMW Championship as a direct descendent of the Western Open, who am I to argue? I’m just happy that me and the rest of the people around these parts who love the game will get to see its finest practitioners competing on the grand stage that is the 7,190-yard Aronimink layout  in about as important  – and rich – an event as you’ll find this side of a major championship.

Kan helps Purdue finish sixth

   Aurora Kan, the 2010 PIAA champion at Chichester, and her Purdue teammates got better every round to finish sixth in the team standings at the Hurricane Invitational, hosted by the University of Miami at the Biltmore Golf Course in Coral Gables, Fla. another classic layout designed – at the risk of starting to sound like a golf course design geek -- by that Donald Ross fella who created Aronimink.
   The Boilermakers were led by junior Anna Appert Lund, a Swede who fired a brilliant 4-under 67 in the second round on her way to a tie for eighth in the individual chase at 3-over 216. Appert Lund sandwiched the 67 with rounds of 75 and 74. Individual honors went to Daytona State’s Tiffany Chan, a sophomore from China, who had rounds of 71, 71 and 70 for a 1-under 212 total.
   Purdue had an opening-round 297 and followed it up with rounds of 293 and 291 for an 881 total. The Boilermakers’ Big 10 rival Northwestern put up fairly ridiculous totals of 280 and 282 in the first two rounds before falling back to earth with a final-round 297 for a 7-over 859 total, but still won the team title by six shots over host Miami (865). Iowa State finished third at 868, Louisville was another five shots back in fourth at 873, and another of Purdue’s Big 10 rivals, Minnesota, took fifth at 878, three better than Purdue.
   Sophomore August Kim, the St. Petersburg native playing in her home state, sandwiched solid rounds of 71 and 70 around a second-round 79 and was Purdue’s second-best finisher in a tie for 21st at 220. Marta Martin, a freshman from Spain, finished tied for 38th with consistent rounds of 76, 73 and 73 for a 9-over 222 total. Kan, the team’s senior leader, finished in a tie for 48th with rounds of 75, 74 and 76 for a 225 total, and freshman Linn Andersson, another Swede, had rounds of 77, 82 and 74 and finished in a tie for 74th with a 233 total.
   With Kan and a talented group of youngsters, look for Purdue to just keep getting better as Kan writes the final act to her career in West Lafayette, Ind.
   An old rival of Kan’s, Penn State senior Ellen Ceresko, was in the field along with the rest of the Nittany Lions. Ceresko, the two-time reigning Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur champion, had rounds of 76, 72 and 75 to finish in a tie for 34th at 223.
   The Nittany Lions finished 15th in the 16-team field with rounds of 297, 305 and 300 for a 902 total. They were led by senior Katlyn Elliott, who finished in a tie for 33rd with rounds of 74, 76 and 72 and a 222 total. Junior Elyse Archambault, like Elliott a Canadian, matched Ceresko’s 223 total with rounds of 71, 80 and 72 to finish in that group that was tied for 34th.
   When Kan won the 2010 PIAA title, she survived a three-way playoff and one of the participants in that playoff was Stani Schiavone. The former Bangor standout who started her collegiate career at Baylor, but is now at Ole Miss, had rounds of 81, 84 and 75 at the Biltmore to finish in a tie for 87th. The Bulldogs were last in the field of 16 with a team total of 932.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kan goes low to help Purdue finish fifth in Puerto Rico

   Aurora Kan, the 2010 PIAA champion as a senior at Chichester, started the homestretch of her senior season  at Purdue this week when the Boilermakers hosted the Lady Puerto Rico Classic at Rio Mar Country Club’s River Course in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
   Kan is the senior leader on a young team that is trying to get Purdue back among the elite. Kan  was a sophomore when the Boilermakers featured two future pros in South African Paula Reto and Laura Gonzalez-Escallon of Belgium and finished third at the NCAA Tournament. She has been to the NCAA Tournament every year, her first two years as part of strong Purdue teams and last year as an individual. I’m pretty sure she would like to have her teammates along for the ride at the NCAA Tournament this year.
   Kan opened the Lady Puerto Rico with rounds of 77 and 81 and Purdue sat in seventh place. Having covered Kan throughout her high school career, I’m guessing she took a look in the mirror after those two rounds and said quite simply, “You’re better than that.”
   In Tuesday’s final round, Kan ripped off a nearly flawless three-birdie, no-bogey 3-under 69 to lead the Boilermakers to a 290 team score that enabled them to move up to fifth in the final team standings at 890. Purdue had opened the tournament with a pair of 300s. The 290 single-day total was matched only by team champion Arkansas on Day 1 of the event.
   The Razorbacks backed up that opening-round 290 with rounds of 295 and 291 to cruise to the team title with an 876 total. LSU was seven shots back in second at 883 followed by Iowa State (884) in third and Northwestern (886) in fourth, four shots ahead of fifth-place Purdue.
   Iowa State was led by individual champion Chonlada Chayanun, who put together rounds of 66, 69 and 74 for a 7-under 209 total, the second-best  individual finish in the history of the event.
   Purdue got a strong showing from its  most talented player, sophomore Floridian August Kim, who matched par 72 in each of the first two rounds and then added a final-round 73 to finish in a tie for sixth at 1-over 217. Junior Anna Appert Lund (75-74-74—223) of Sweden and freshman Marta Martin (76-73-74—223) of Spain finished in a tie for 22nd and Kan’s final-round surge left her in 33rd place.
   Johanna Tillstrom, a senior from Sweden, had three straight 81s to finish in a tie for 75th at 243. A third  Swede, freshman Linn Andersson, competed as an individual and had rounds of 75, 80 and 76 to finish in a tie for 44th at 231.
   It was an encouraging start for a Purdue team that entered the Lady Puerto Rico ranked 45th in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin national rankings. Something tells me with a senior leader like Kan and some talented youngsters, that ranking is going nowhere but up.

PGA Tour returning to Aronimink?

   There were whispers around the Daily Times newsroom Wednesday – actually it was an email from editor Phil Heron, but the whisper thing sounds more intriguing – that the PGA Tour is coming back to Aronimink Golf Club in the form of the 2018 BMW Championship.
   The BMW is the penultimate event in the FedEx playoffs, the last step before the Tour Championship. It’s been moved around to several top courses, last year being played at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver, a course that has hosted three U.S. Opens, most  notably Arnold Palmer’s epic comeback victory in the 1960 Open. Cherry Hills, by the way, is a William  Flynn design, like so many of the courses in our area, including Rolling Green Golf Club.
   It’s not surprising that the PGA Tour would find a way to get an event back to Aronimink. The two AT&T Nationals staged at the Donald Ross gem in 2010 and 2011 were flawlessly run and drew huge and enthusiastic  galleries, despite being staged on the Fourth of July weekend. Aronimink was filling in for Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington D.C., while it was busy staging the 2011 U.S. Open.
   Aronimink produced two worthy winners in Justin Rose in 2010 (who would then get his biggest win three years later at the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s East Course) and Nick Watney in 2011.
   Stay tuned on this possible development.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Kim, Lees, Bradbeer, Hummer

   The Philadelphia Section PGA’s Junior Tour sent out its 2014 year in review this week and some golfers with Delco ties picked up season-long awards.
   Radnor sophomore Gabby Kim was the Graham Co. Player of the Year in the 13-to-15 division. Also earning Player of the Year honors was Merion Golf Club’s Peter Bradbeer, a former Penn Charter standout who was the top performer in the 16-to-18 division in 2014.
   While Kim beat out Agnes Irwin sophomore Kaitlyn Lees for Player of the Year in the 13-to-15 division, Lees’ consistency was rewarded with the Sam Penecale scoring average award. Lees, the Inter-Ac League champion as an eighth-grader, still has her sophomore season ahead of her as the Inter-Ac girls don’t tee it up until the spring, assuming spring ever gets here.
   Another Sam Penecale scoring average winner was Case Hummer of Glen Mills, who won the award among the nine-holers.