Rivals can be friends. Take Michael McDermott and Jeff Osberg, the two best amateur players in the Philadelphia area.
They are friends. They teamed up to qualify for last month’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Winged Foot, although they were unable to advance to match play.
But Saturday on one of the world’s very best layouts, Merion Golf Club’s East Course, McDermott and Osberg will square off in a scheduled 36-hole match for the J. Wood Platt Trophy, which goes to the winner of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur.
McDermott, 41, a Merion member, was the dominant amateur player in the Philadelphia area a decade ago after an outstanding collegiate career at Saint Joseph’s. Osberg, 31, of Huntingdon Valley Country Club, arrived on the scene after helping Guilford College (N.C.) claim a Division III national championship. They are sons of familiar faces on the golf scene, Neil McDermott, a past president of the Golf Association of Philadelphia, and Rick Osberg, the former longtime head pro at Waynesborough Country Club.
They met on familiar territory in the second round of the Philly Amateur at Llanerch Country Club a year ago, a course McDermott grew up playing and where Osberg first started making waves on the GAP circuit. A birdie barrage ensued and when the smoke cleared, McDermott had a 2-up victory. It will be tough to top that match, but with the title on the line this time in a 36-hole final on one of the game’s grandest stages, well, they’ve got a pretty good shot at doing their Llanerch meeting one better.
It’s tough to get the matchup you want in a Philly Amateur final. The brackets are determined in qualifying and sometimes they create bigger matches earlier in the draw. And, as the late, great Chris Fuga reminded me a year ago at Llanerch, “1 to 32, anybody who makes match play in this can beat anybody else.”
McDermott, who won this title in 2008 at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club and again in 2013 at another of his home courses, Aronimink Golf Club, survived a nail-biter in Wednesday morning’s quarterfinals, ousting Scott Ehrlich of Five Ponds Golf Club in 20 holes.
It didn’t get any easier for McDermott in the semifinals as he built an early lead and held on for a 2 and 1 victory over Aronimink’s Michael Davis, a junior at Princeton who knocked off McDermott in 20 holes in the quarterfinals a year ago on his way to a loss to Cole Berman in the final.
“We’ve referenced this a lot,” McDermott told the GAP website. “Jeff has become a good friend of mine over the last couple of years. When we played at Llanerch last year, I said before the match and after the match that Jeff is the best player in Philadelphia.
“He is. He was then. He is today. And he will be on Saturday. That doesn’t mean I can’t win. I have to be ready to win it. I will have my hands full.”
Osberg, who won the Philly Amateur in 2014 at White Manor Country Club, got by Gregor Orlando of Philadelphia Cricket Club, 3 and 1, in Wednesday's quarterfinals and then ousted an old friend from his Llanerch days, Stephen Seiden, 5 and 3, in the semifinals in the afternoon.
“We’ve talked a lot for the last year about how much fun it would have been to have 36 holes last year,” Osberg told the GAP website. “We have what we wished for.”
Seiden might have been softened up by needing 21 holes to emerge from the quarterfinals with a victory over Jay Whitby of Wild Quail Golf & Country Club. Plus, Osberg knew better than to underestimate a guy who has qualified for the U.S. Amateur twice and once beat him in a Llanerch club championship match.
Davis, who won an Inter-Ac League individual title during an outstanding scholastic career at Malvern Prep, reached his semifinal matchup with a 4 and 2 victory over Applecross Country Club’s R.J. Wren, a recent Twin Valley graduate who finished in a tie for seventh in the PIAA Class AAA Championship at the Heritage Hills Resort last fall.
But it was all prelude to what followers of the local golf scene wanted to see: The Bash Brothers battling for the BMW Philadelphia Amateur title on the first tee at Merion East Saturday morning.