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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Springhaven looper Spencer named Caddie of the Year

   A couple of interesting golf notes showed up in the days leading up to Christmas:
The Golf Association of Philadelphia held its J. Wood Caddie Scholarship Trust brunch at Philadelphia Country Club Saturday and the Francis C. Poore Caddie of the Year award went to a looper at The Springhaven Club and a female looper at that, one Shannon Spencer.
   Not sure if a female had ever received the Poore before, but it’s not surprising that a young lady from a Delco club would get the honor. And she’s smart, too. Spencer is a graduate of Saint Joseph’s who is attending the Penn State College of Medicine.
   As a onetime beneficiary of the J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Fund and, obviously a former looper myself, I say, “Way to go, Shannon Spencer.”
   The J. Wood Platt scholars got to hear from four-time PGA Tour winner and adopted son of Delaware County Sean O’Hair at the brunch. O’Hair, the husband of Sun Valley All-Delco Jackie Lucas, is trying to bounce back from a couple of down years on golf’s biggest stage.
   But that didn’t prevent him from imparting some of the wisdom he’s gained from a long and winding golf career, including turning pro at age 17. I’m guessing O’Hair told the J. Wood Platt scholars they were making the right move by attending college in their late teens and early 20s. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Get your tickets for 2015 U.S. Women's Open

   There might never have been a more exciting time in women’s professional golf than right now.
   It is a truly international game now and 2014 was a year in which the U.S. contingent may have finally caught up after a period when the rest of the world, particularly the group from South Korea, had been dominating women’s golf.
   But two of America’s most intriguing young players, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, became major champions for the first time in 2014 and Stacy Lewis was the LPGA Tour’s Player of the Year. Lewis held the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking for much of 2014 before South Korea’s Inbee Park grabbed it back at the end of the year.
   Wie will defend her U.S. Open title – and I’m sure hearing herself called the defending U.S. Open champion has not gotten old in the least to Wie – at Lancaster Country Club July 6 to 12.
   There is one last ticket offering going on this month for the flexible, multi-entry ticket packages  for the Women’s Open. Pretty sure it’s about this point in the blog post when I’m supposed to say: The perfect gift for the women’s golf fan on your Christmas list. OK, got that out of the way.
   The peple who run the tournament were even offering a Women’s Open hat for the first 200 customers who purchased their tickets on Cyber Monday. Anyway, if you want to check out ticket information, visit www.2015uswomensopen.com/tickets
   Park, who won the first three majors of 2013 and then added to her major haul in 2014 by capturing the Wegmans LPGA Championship, will enter 2015 as the top-ranked player in the world. Behind No. 2 Lewis, is Lydia Ko, the sensational 17-year-old from New Zealand, Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, China’s Shanshan Feng, Wie, South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu, who possesses a simply elegant swing, Aussie veteran Karrie Webb, South Korea’s Hyo-Joo Kim and rounding out the top 10, Thompson, the athletic American who will turn 20 in February. Pretty international cast right there.
   This is going to be big doings in Lancaster and it’s really not that far away. As someone who has made the Lancaster Pike run to cover the PIAA Championships in York County most of the last 12 years, it’s a scenic drive and there’s some pretty decent outlets just this side of Lancaster proper if want to sneak some shopping in around your golf watching.
   And you just never know who’s going to show up in a U.S. Open field. Radnor’s reigning PIAA champion Brynn Walker made it to the U.S. Girls Junior and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2014, maybe the Open will be the next logical step. Another former PIAA champion from Delco,  Aurora Kan, the 2010 winner as a senior at Chichester, will likely be a freshly-minted Purdue University graduate contemplating her future. Kan is certainly capable of making it out of a qualifier to the Open field if she chooses to take a shot at it.
   Like I said, these are exciting times in the women’s game and you can see the best female players on the planet only a couple of hours away next summer.
   Once upon a time we had a women’s major professional championship every year a few miles down the road when the LPGA Championship lived at the DuPont Country Club on the Delco side of Wilmington in Delaware for a while. I would highly recommend a trip to see the Women’s Open in Lancaster next summer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Haverford School had two impressive final acts

   I had been searching around for some results from the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association Tournament and from Haverford School-Episcopal Academy Day and finally was able to chat with Fords head coach Gui Costin, who had some interesting stories to tell.
   Very little separated Haverford School and Malvern Prep as they battled it out in the six mini-tournaments for the Inter-Ac League title this fall, which the Fords finally nailed down at the final event. And the team chase at the PAISAA tourney at Brookside Country Club, which adjoins The Hill School in Pottstown, was no different.
   Haverford School senior Jay Losty didn’t play badly this fall, but I suspect his play wasn’t up to what he had hoped for in his final year. But he was still a senior leader on an Inter-Ac championship team and that leadership was on display at Brookside.
   “I caught up to Jay on the 16th hole and I thought Malvern had us by one at that point,” Costin said. “I asked him if he wanted to know what the numbers were and he said he did. Turns out we were up one, but he didn’t know that.
   “He makes bogey at 16, then he makes a great par at 17, a long, uphill par-3. It was getting so dark at that point that the last two groups played the last hole together, so there’s five guys out there, it’s dark and he thinks he needs to make it from the fairway for us to win. He hits it a foot from the hole and makes birdie.”
   When the numbers were added up, Losty’s birdie gave Haverford School the team title, 244-245.
   The teams had four players with the best three scores counting. Haverford School senior Otis Baker had signed for a 78 (Costin said he actually shot 77, but had to go with the 78 he signed for), junior Max Siegfried had an 82 and Losty’s birdie gave him 84 and Haverford School its winning 244 total.
   Losty is headed for Yale and will play squash in college, but those last couple holes at Brookside tells you all you need to know about Jay Losty the golfer.
   Malvern Prep was led by Brendan Bacskai with an 80. Mike Lamond had an 82 and Mike Szipszky had an 83.
   Episcopal, the third-place finisher in the Inter-Ac race, also finished third in the PAISAA tourney with a solid 248 total.
   Haverford School might very well have saved its best for last as the Fords teed it up on Haverford-EA Day Nov. 7, challenging the front nine at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course on a chilly, blustery day.
   Ryan Bowman and Siegfried carded 4-over 40s on Merion’s front nine to lead the Fords to a 248-264 victory over a very strong Episcopal team.
   The Fords could take their pick from two of the three 41s that rounded out their scoring as Baker, senior Jack McAleese and eighth-grader Peter Garno all came in at that 5-over total.
   “To have five players go 5-over or better on the front nine at Merion in those conditions is pretty impressive,” said Costin, a lifelong member at Merion.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Barkann's 89 at Seaview good for 10th

   I’m a little late with this, but I’ve been sitting on the results from what was billed as the next-to-last Philadelphia PGA Junior Tour stop of the year at the historic Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township, N.J. just outside of Atlantic City when it was still pretty warm a couple of weeks ago.
   I was busy putting together an All-Delco tennis team, but also had some time off coming and actually snuck in one last round of golf on a chilly Sunday morning last weekend. I mention it only to plug my go-to place to play for the golfer with little or no  money, Blackwood Golf Club in Douglassville, just over the Berks County line above Pottstown. It’s a legit 6,000-plus yard course that was in great shape last Sunday. It’s eminently walkable. And without a cart to pay for, the greens fee was 15 bucks. Just sayin.
   There wasn’t a huge Delco contingent at Seaview, but Michael Barkann of Newtown  Square finished 10th in the 13-to-15 division with an 89 over the challenging 6,202-yard, par-71 Seaview layout. Hayden Smith of Havertown, one of the youngest players in the division, finished five shots back of Barkann in 11th place with a 94.
   Brian Isztwan of Huntingdon Valley took top honors in the division with a sparkling 1-over 72.
   Upper Darby junior Michael Wolf finished 12th in the 16-to-18 division with a 92. Christopher Drysdale of Yorktown Heights, N.J. matched the 72 put up by Isztwan to finish first in the 16-to-18 age group.
   Not sure if the early arrival of winter in these parts prevented the Junior Tour from getting in one last event, but it sounds like it’s going to warm up this weekend, so we’ll see. Could be worse. Could be Buffalo.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Nye's hard work earned him Merchandiser of the Year award

   I got a chance to chat briefly with Scott Nye, the head pro at  Merion Golf Club, when I was there early in the spring of 2013 to speak to Hank Thompson, the USGA’s advance man for the 2013 U.S. Open.
   The Open, which by almost any measure was a smashing success, was about 10 weeks away and preparations were heading into the homestretch. Nye was a very busy man, yet he perked up when I mentioned I had covered a player he had given lessons to as a youngster, Radnor High’s Jackie Calamaro, when she won the PIAA Championship in 2009.
   Nye knew there was a lot of hard work ahead. And in a couple of weeks from now all that hard work will pay off when Nye accepts the Merchandiser of the Year (private facilities) award from the PGA of America in a ceremony Nov. 20, part of the organization’s annual meeting.
   Nye joins a list that includes Aronimink Golf Club head pro Jeff Kiddie, who received the Merchandiser of the Year award in 2011.
   Nye has a solid group at Merion, including head of instruction Mark Sheftic, who has qualified for the PGA Championship three times in the last five years out of the PGA Professional National Championship. Sheftic and Merion assistant pro Robby Bruns will be in the field at next year’s National Club Pro when it is staged at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
   Nye is in his 14th year as the head pro at Merion. He manages a 950-square-foot golf shop. The 51-year-old  native of Wooster, Ohio and 1985 graduate of the College of Wooster oversees a 30-member staff involved in both inside and outside operations.
   Nye is from a golf family. His father Bob is a PGA professional and coached golf and men’s soccer at the College of Wooster. His two brothers are PGA professionals. Greg is the head coach of the Penn State men’s golf team and Gary is the Director of Golf at Stockfarm Club in Hamilton, Mont.
   The Merion head pro job is not a stepping-stone job. Guys get that job and stay there. I can remember being a fledgling looper there in 1969 in the last couple of years of the reign of Fred Austin, a Scottish gentleman who seemed to have sprung directly from the place where they invented the game. Not long before the 1971 U.S. Open, Austin gave way to Bill Kittleman, who is credited with creating the almost iconic Merion logo that incorporated the wicker basket pins and some of the native grasses that populate the gem of a golf course in the Ardmore section of Haverford Township.
The  Merchandiser of the Year award is proof that Nye is just adding to the legacy that is the head professional at Merion Golf Club.

Sturgeon headed for the Cricket Club

   Speaking of the 2015 Professional National Championship at Philadelphia Cricket Club, Grant Sturgeon, an assistant pro at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., earned a spot in the field at the Cricket Club by winning the PGA Assistant Championship, which concluded Sunday at PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker Course in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
   Sturgeon, a native of Mamaroneck, was in a three-way tie for the lead after 54 holes, but blew away the field with a final round of 7-under 65 to win the title and the $9,000 winner’s share of the purse by seven shots.
   Heading the Philadelphia Section PGA contingent in Port St. Lucie was Billy Stewart, an assistant at The ACE Club and a product of the junior program at Llanerch Country Club. Stewart, a veteran of nearly a decade on the Florida mini-tours, got off to a fast start with a 5-under 67, but cooled off with rounds of 74, 80 and 71 to finish in a tie for 18th at 4-over 292.
   Rusty Harbold of Lancaster was another shot back of Stewart in a tie for 22nd at 293, Tony Perla, an assistant in George Forster’s Radnor Valley Country Club pro shop, finished in a tie for 43rd at 298, and Gulph Mills Golf Club assistant Josh Rackley finished in a tie for 53rd at 300.

Junior Tour stop is hardly a breeze

   The weather conditions for the Philadelphia PGA Junior Tour’s stop at Olde Homestead Golf Club in New Tripoli were downright brutal last Sunday, but 19 junior golfers challenged the conditions and the 6,060-yard layout.
   D.J. Colleran of Radnor was the only Delco golfer to make the trip and he finished fifth in the 13-to-15 division with a 101. Buddy Hansen IV of Blue Bell won the division in a match of cards with Timothy Chaykosky Jr. of Ambler after both tied for first with 90s, which should give you some idea of how tough the conditions were.
   Andrew Lombardo of Lansdale won the 16-to-18 division in a match of cards after sharing the top spot with Rob Robinson Jr. of Hatfield and Nickolas Mokay of Moscow after all three of them carded 88s.
   Top honors in the 13-to-15 girls division went to Alexandra Voight-Shelly of State College with a 103 and Emily Gilbert of Gilbertsville was the only 16-to-18 competitor to finish her round and won the division with a 98.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

O'Hair is still in golf's big league after all

   I was finally able to figure out the status of Delco’s adopted favorite son on the PGA Tour, Sean O’Hair, as he spoke to the region’s top golf writer, Mike Kern of the Philadelphia Daily News, during a promotional appearance for TaylorMade at his new home course, White Manor Country Club, this week.
   I knew O’Hair, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, had to go through the Web.com playoffs to regain his tour card, a process he had successfully grinded his way through in 2013. But when he missed the cut in the first two events, I didn’t think his chances were very good.
   But apparently he played  well enough in the final two events to earn his playing privileges with the big boys again in  2014-15. I don’t think the tour does a very good job of spelling out where guys like O’Hair stand when they are trying to navigate their way back to the tour through the Web.com playoffs, but maybe that’s just my lack of Internet savvy showing.
   When I spotted O’Hair showing up in the first couple of events of the new season, I wondered if maybe he had just enough status to sneak into these fields that the top players tend to ignore.  But the interview he did with Kern made it clear that O’Hair is indeed still a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour.
   And he gave himself a big boost of confidence with a third-round 64 at The McCladrey Classic last weekend in Sea Island, Ga. that helped him finish in a tie for 17th after he backed up the 64 with a final-round 68.
   O’Hair’s name first came into my consciousness when something called the New England Pro/Cleveland Golf Tour started sending results to the Daily Times in the summer of 2003 with a frequent contender from Aston, Pa. named Sean O’Hair. The name didn’t ring a bell to anyone on the Daily Times sports staff.
   But when I finally reached O’Hair on the phone, the mystery was solved. He had married the former Jackie Lucas, an All-Delco golfer at Sun Valley, the previous November and she was touring with him as both new bride and caddie. Asked where he lived when he filled out his application for the New England Tour, he said to his new wife, “Where are we from, Jackie?” And so, Aston, Pa. was it.
   I didn’t make the connection then that O’Hair was the talented youngster who had reached the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1997 at Aronimink Golf Club before being coerced to turn pro at age 17 by a father who, in a “60 Minutes” piece on pushy sports parents, referred to his son as a “commodity.”
   O’Hair was close to rock bottom when he met Lucas, who had transferred after two years at Monmouth to a Florida college because she was seeking better competition to improve her game. She became O’Hair’s partner on a golf journey that has had a lot of twists and turns in the last decade-plus.
Mostly, it’s been good times. The O’Hairs have four children and Sean has banked in the neighborhood of $13 million on the tour.
   Oddly, after reaching as high as No. 12 in the world rankings, O’Hair’s game started to slide in 2011. He got a big boost by winning the Canadian Open that summer for his fourth tour victory, but he has struggled mightily the last two seasons.
   Somehow, though, O’Hair seems to be at his best when his back is up against the wall. And he sounded determined at the still relatively young golf age of 32 to turn things around.
   “There’s no doubt in my mind my best golf’s ahead of me,” O’Hair told Kern. “I don ‘t look at myself as an obsolete golfer. Once you lose the belief, you’re screwed. And there’s a million guys waiting in line who are willing to put the time in.”
   Here’s hoping O’Hair can get his game back on track in this 2014-15 season. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll have the path to qualifying through the Web.com playoffs figured out by next September, so I’ll be in the same boat if O’Hair has to take that complicated route back to the big tour again.