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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Open and shut case

   The golf writers gathered at Congressional Country Club to chronicle Rory McIlroy's runaway U.S. Open victory seem to be in a big hurry to chalk the record-setting effort by the youngster from Northern Ireland to easy conditions last week in Bethesda, Md.
   Kind of reminded me of the USGA's panic in the wake of David Graham's masterful final round 30 years to the week at the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion's famed East Course, where the National Open will finally return in two years. The golf course was too easy, everybody seemed to think. Graham's 273 total was just a shot behind the 272 record that Jack Nicklaus had established a year earlier at Baltusrol.
   All of which, I still think, has taken away from a magnificent final round by the Australian. He basically didn't miss a fairway or a green in the final round. Anybody who has ever played Merion East can tell you how difficult that is to do. They will also tell you that that's the secret to scoring at Merion, and a lot of other golf courses, too.
   Probably not a lot of golf fans noted the list of youngest 54-hole U.S. Open leaders that McIlroy was on after Saturday's third round. It included that Nicklaus fella and also one Jim Simons. It was 40 years to the week when a lot of us were pulling for "the kid" at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion. A native of western Pennsylvania who was a 21-year-old Wake Forest player, Simons was in the hunt until the very last hole of that '71 Open.
   When Simons died a couple of years ago much too young, his Wake Forest teammate back in those days, Lanny Wadkins, recalled what a technically proficient player Simons was. Wadkins was always one of the purest talents of that era, but he marveled at Simons' ability to manage his game and the golf course. That's what the young amateur did at Merion, taking what the golf course gave him, nothing more, nothing less.
   Which brings us to the talented kid from Northern Ireland. He very simply put on a clinic on how to win a U.S. Open. He drove it straight and hit it on the green. Yes, the soft conditions allowed him to get some of those approaches particularly close. But as two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North noted on ESPN's Open recap Sunday night, look how many of those approach shots came from the middle of the fairway.
   As several observers noted Sunday, the USGA is not going to be happy about the number that McIlroy posted at Congressional. The organization overreacted to Johnny Miller's final-round 63 to win the 1973 Open at Oakmont by turning Winged Foot into a house of horrors in 1974 with the former Colorado football star Hale Irwin taking full advantage of the brutal conditions to earn one of his three National Open titles.
   It's unlikely that anybody will get to 16-under par at Olympia Fields next summer.
   All of which will set the stage for the return of the U.S. Open to Merion for the first time in 32 years in 2013. McIlroy's game would appear to be a good fit for the demands of an East Course that will be criticized as "too short" in advance of the 2013 Open.
   In the aftermath of the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion, Rickie Fowler and Peter Uihlein, who won the U.S. Amateur last summer, were in the media room, discussing, among other things, what kind of challenge Merion had presented.
   I can't remember which of the talented twosome said it (althought I think it was Fowler), but the answer went: "They can make this golf course as hard as they want to."
   Of course, if somebody decides to hit all the fairways and greens, as Jim Simons did as a 21-year-old amateur 40 years ago, as David Graham did as a precise veteran 30 years ago and as the 22-year-old McIlroy did last week at Congressional, Merion East can be had.
Hyland is Philly Amateur champion
   Michael Hyland of Little Mill C.C. claimed the second Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur Champonship title of his career with a hard-fought 1-up triumph over Stephen Hudacek III of Glenmaura National G.C. in a 36-hole final that went the distance.
   Hyland was just 21 when he first wrote his name on the J. Wood Platt Trophy with a Philly Amateur victory in 2000. In the ensuing 11 years, he turned pro, but then returned to the amateur ranks in 2005 before becoming the 17th player to own multiple Philly Amateur titles.
Kania Jr. giving it the college try
    Villanova golf coach Jim Wilkes confirmed last week a rumor that's been going around that James Kania Jr., the 2009 GAP Player of the Year, decided not to play his senior season at the University of Kentucky. Kania, the 2004-05 Daily Times Player of the Year following his junior season at The Haverford School, instead will try to rejoin younger brother Michael and play at Villanova in the spring of 2012.
   James Kania Jr. will be taking classes this summer and again in the fall semester with the intention of joining a talented Villanova nucleus next spring. The Wildcats got a huge talent infusion to an already solid group last summer when Michael Kania, Rob Galbreath, one of GAP's all-time best junior players and a two-time district One champion at Lower Moreland, and Brian Murphy transferred in to the Main Line. Villanova finished third in the Big East Tournament to cap a very successful spring campaign last month.
   Wilkes also said that Will Reilly, who began the 2010-11 school year as the Villanova coach, turned the program over to Wilkes after Reilly joined the national PGA as its director of junior golf.
Kan ready to write the next chapter
   If you're a golf fan, I hope you've been following the career of Chichester's Aurora Kan, the 2010 PIAA champion whose brilliant scholastic career it was my distinct pleasure to chronicle.
    For the third time, I wrote a Player of the Year story on Kan in Tuesday's Daily Times, but it's hardly the last you'll hear from her. She's headed for Purdue to join a program that has been the NCAA champion in 2010 and runnerup in 2011. Kan is likely to run into her old rival, Jackie Calamaro, who won the 2009 PIAA title at Radnor and is now at Illinois.
   In the meantime, Kan will be trying to add to the four USGA events she's already competed in in her still fledgling golf career this summer. She is a tremendous player and a better person, as her teachers and classmates at Chichester and her fellow competitors on the golf course will attest.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's Open week

    Sean O'Hair capped a fairly disastrous first half of 2011 by failing to qualify for this week's U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
   O'Hair was among a large group of touring pros who went from the Memorial to the sectional qualfier at Brookside Country Club and The Lakes Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. There were 16 spots available, but the 120-player field was probably more competitive than any of the other sectionals.
   After an opening-round 68, O'Hair fell back to a 72 and missed qualifying by three shots.
   O'Hair, who lives outside of West Chester, is a favorite son in Delco ever since marrying Jackie Lucas, herself a pretty darn good player at Sun Valley. O'Hair fired his caddy and his swing coach and has his father-in-law Steve, who has an insurance company in Aston, back on the bag. Steve, a pretty good athlete in his younger says, has always been a calming influence on his son-in-law when he's been on the bag.
   Much has been made about the "incident" between O'Hair and Rory Sabbatini at the tour stop in New Orleans. Although the PGA Tour doesn't announce suspensions, Sabbatini's absence from the tour in recent weeks has led many to believe he was indeed suspended.
   O'Hair still has plenty of time to turn this year around and he'll certainly have a ton of supporters in his corner in three weeks at the AT&T National at Aronimink, one of his home courses (along with Concord) in the county.
    In my Golf Notebook in Saturday's Daily Times, I  mentioned that Michael Kania, the two-time Haverfod School All-Delco who is coming off a solid sophomore season at Villanova, also failed to make it to the Open with a rounds of 74 and 78 at Woodmont C.C. in Rockville, Md. He'll take a shot at the Golf Association of Philadelphia's Amateur Championship when he tees off in qualifying Monday at Manufacturers G.&C.C. and North Hills C.C. Kania reached the final in the chase for the J. Wood Platt Trophy a year ago only to fall to Justin Martinson.
   Billy Stewart, who was a Llanerch C.C. member when he won the Philly Amateur championship a couple of weeks after graduating from Malvern Prep, teed it up in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Canoe Brook C.C. in Summit, N.J. He had rounds of 74 and 71, his 145 total missing the qualifying cut by seven shots.
   When Tiger Woods announced he would not be healthy enough in time to tee it up at Congressional, it meant that this will be the first U.S. Open Woods will not play in since the 1994 Open at Oakmont.
    That '94 Open also marked the start of a streak of major championships by Vijay Singh. When the three-time major champion decided not to give it a go at the sectional qualifying last week, it meant the longest major streak was coming to an end.
  Want to know how long ago that '94 Open was? Well, I was at Oakmont that Open Friday. It was ridiculously hot and it was Arnold Palmer's final competitive U.S. Open round, making it a pretty emotional day in his native western Pennsylvania. Oh yeah, and there was a lot of buzz about a certain former football star wanted in the murder of his ex-wife riding around the freeways of Los Angeles in a white Bronco.
Off the mark
   In my post on the LPGA last week, I indicated that Yani Tseng had pulled out of the ShopRite Classic. Well, that was apparently news to the No. 1 player in the world, who blistered the classic Seaview Bay Course layout with a final-round 65 to finish in a tie for seventh.
   The point, though, remains the same. The paucity of events on the LPGA Tour means that when there is a tournament, just about all the top players are going to be in the field.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

LPGA's pain is a golf fan's gain

    Much has been made of the slimmed-down schedule the LPGA has been forced to endure, mostly due to the downturn in the economy and partially owing to the previous commissioner who meant well, but chased away many of the circuit's traditional small-market events.
    Of the 27 or so events on the LPGA schedule only about a dozen are in the United States. The LPGA has been forced to recognize the game's global appeal, maybe even a little more than it really wants to.
    If you're a golf fan and there's an event near you, like this weekend's ShopRite Classic just outside of Atlantic City, N.J., the good news is that you'll likely find your favorite player teeing it up.
   On the PGA Tour, the big names routinely ignore the smaller tournaments. With all the money Tiger Woods has helped the tour generate, the big boys need only tee it up at the four majors, the World Golf Championship events and a few selected others to rake in a million or two.
   But when there's an LPGA event, the chance to make a check draws anybody who is eligible. The top namees in women's golf were in Gladstone, N.J. a couple of weeks ago for the Sybase Match Play Championship and they are back this week in A.C., and not just because they like to play slots.
    There were a couple of defections this week when injury and illness forced Yani Tseng and Suzanne Petterson, who won the Match Play, to put the clubs away.
    But if you're headed for the Jersey Shore today, you can see second-round leader Cristie Kerr and the best playeers in women's golf duking it out at the ShopRite.
    They're also playing a truly classic golf course, Seaview's Bay Course. The layout was originally mapped out by Hugh Wilson, who didn't even know there was such a thing as a golf course architect when he designed Merion's East Course. The Seaview job was then completed by Donald Ross, the author of any number of America's classic golf courses, including Aronimink G.C., where the AT&T National will be contested in a few weeks.
    The LPGA players have to make hay while they can, so skipping tournaments is not nearly as prevalent for them as it is on the PGA Tour.
A Sam sighting
    Sam Ryder, named the 2006-07 Daily Times Player of the Year after leading Radnor to the inaugural PIAA team title at a cold and windswept Heritage Hills Golf Resort in the fall of 2006, hasn't been playing a lot of competitive golf since his scholastic days.
     That's why it was to see him teaming up with dad David in the Golf Association of Philadelphia's Father & Son Middle Championship last week at Bala G.C.
   The Middle Father & Son event is for teams in which the son ranges in age from 18 to 29. GAP added the event because of the popularity of its Father & Son events in which younger and older sons tee it up with their dads.
   Representing Aronimink G.C., Team Ryder finished in a tie for fourth with a 73 in the gross scoring. Their 68 left them in a tie for fifth in the net division.
    Jeff Klagholz of Rolling Green G.C. teamed with his dad Martin, who plays out of Applebrook G.C., to finish in a tie for second at 71. Team Klagholz was among the groups tied with Team Ryder at 68 in the net scoring.
    Michael Johnson, a member of the La Salle University golf team, joined forces with dad Jim to take the title as the duo out of Talamore C.C. posted a 2-over 70 at Bala.