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Monday, August 15, 2016

McDermott gets through Llanerch to make Mid-Am field at Stonewall

   HAVERFORD – Michael McDermott has a lot of fond memories of growing up and developing into a standout amateur golfer at Llanerch Country Club.
   But there are other Llanerch memories that are not so good. Chief among them was standing on the tee at the 492-yard, par-5 ninth hole in a 2005 U.S. Amateur qualifier, a U.S. Amateur that was being played at McDermott’s future home course, the East Course at Merion Golf Club, hitting his tee shot out of bounds to the right and costing him a spot in the field.
   “I’m on the ninth tee and I’m in and I hit it out of bounds and I don’t get in,” McDermott said after carding a 1-under 70 at Llanerch Monday to punch his ticket to next month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship being staged local at Stonewall, the Tom Doak design in Chester County. “I couldn’t help but think about it today. I was in the exact same position.
   “I’ve heard it a lot over the years, even in a weekend round here, ‘Mike, what was it you did here in that 2005 U.S. Amateur qualifying?’ I missed only two fairways today, but one of them was intentionally at nine. I had made it out of 10 straight USGA qualifiers and the Amateur was at Merion. It broke my heart.”
   Hey, you learn to expect a hard time like that growing up in Delco. “Especially here,” McDermott added.
   McDermott started his round on the back nine of the 6,770-yard, par-71 Llanerch layout and he finished on the ninth. He had just made birdie on the tough 221-yard, par-3, hitting a brilliant 5-iron to the left front of the green and getting a perfect roll off the slope to two feet. After making the delicate little slider he was left with, he headed to the ninth tee 1-under for the round.
   “It’s the hardest par-3 on the golf course, might be the hardest hole on the golf course,” said McDermott, who reached the U.S. Mid-Am for the eighth time in his career. “It meant I could hit it even farther left off the tee at nine.”
   With his “demons” very much on his mind, McDermott crushed his drive left of the tree line, 20 yards wide of the fairway. He punched is second shot into the fairway and knocked his approach 10 feet from the hole. His putt just slid by, but it was mission accomplished as his 1-under 70 gave him a share of medalist honors with Matthew Mattare, the 2016 Golf Association of Philadelphia Middle-Amateur champion who plays out of Saucon Valley Country Club.
   While it might be natural to think that McDermott’s home-course advantage would be enough to put him over the top, it just hasn’t worked out that way for him at Llanerch.
   “When I saw the field for this, I thought this was going to be tough, even some of the out-of-town guys who were coming in that I’ve played with in the Crump Cup (at Pine Valley Golf Club) are good players,” said McDermott, who won his third BMW Philadelphia Amateur title at Merion earlier this summer. “Llanerch hasn’t been a big help for me. I grew up here and I love Llanerch, but there was that 2005 qualifier, I had a near-miss in the (2009) Patterson Cup, I didn’t win the Philadelphia Amateur here last year.
   “This was a big hurdle for me to get over, to come here and get through.”
   It was a good day for the McDermott family as younger brother Brian, playing earlier in the day, carded a 1-over 72 and saw that score hold up and earn him a ticket to Stonewall. Brian McDermott, a proud Llanerch member, made it to the U.S. Mid-Am on his first try.
   Eric Lefante, a former Rider standout out of Florham Park, N.J., and Tavistock Country Club’s Adam Warner finished in a tie for third at even-par 71. Brian McDermott was joined at 1-over 72 by Aronimink Golf Club’s Dan Bernard, the former Bucknell standout who, at age 25, is in his first year of eligibility for the Mid-Am.
    Five players ended up in a tie for the seventh and final berth to Stonewall at 2-over 73. It came down to a battle between a pair of Huntingdon Valley Country Club members with Sean Seese, like Michael and Brian McDermott a former Saint Joseph’s standout, outlasting Jeff Osberg for the final berth.
   Osberg, who has a big summer with wins in the Philadelphia Open and the Patterson Cup, settled for first alternate and the USGA might give some consideration to a local alternate should a spot come free. There were 129 players vying for seven spots and two alternates.
   Playing early in the day and starting on the 10th, Mattare, a Notre Dame product, had a pretty wild first nine holes with birdies at 10, 12, 13, 17 and 18 and bogeys at 11 and 15. The bottom line was a 3-under 32 on Llanerch’s back nine.
   On the front nine, Mattare had a lone birdie on the par-5 fifth hole while making bogeys at four, eight and nine to end up at 1-under for the round.
   Michael McDermott also started his round on the par-4 10th and it didn’t begin well as he three-putted when he couldn’t get a foot-and-a-half par putt to fall.
   “I just missed it,” he said. “But I didn’t let it get to me. I hit a good drive, got it on the green, hit a good putt that didn’t go in and just missed an 18-incher.”
   He got that shot back with a birdie at the par-4 13th. A so-so tee shot at the short par-4 18th left him with an approach blocked by a tree. He punched it into a front bunker and couldn’t get his par putt to fall.
   “If you told me before the round I’d shoot 70, I would guess it would be 37 on the front and 33 on the back,” Michael McDermott said. “Turned out it was 1-over (36) on the back and 2-under (34) on the front.”
   After burning the edge of the cup with good birdie looks at one, two and three, Michael McDermott played safely to the middle of the green at the 205-yard, par-3 eighth and promptly rolled in the 35-footer for birdie to get back to even. It even prompted a little bit of a fist pump from him.
   “That was big,” Michael McDermott said. “I had all those near-misses. I know this course well enough, I still had the two par-5s to come. That was really important. I really thought it would take 3-under to get in, but I figured 1-over could be dicey.”
   His birdie putts continued to burn the edges until he got that tricky two-footer to fall at eight and then conquered his demons at the ninth.
   Brian McDermott birdied the second hole and then got on the bogey train with bogeys at three, four, five, six and eight. But he righted the ship with birdies at nine, 13 and 16 the rest of the way to get in at 1-over.
   Aronimink’s Bernard started at 10 and got under par with birdies at 15 and 17 to make the turn at 2-under 33. Bogeys at four, seven and eight dropped him back to 1-over.
   It’s on to Stonewall, where qualifying for match play commences Sept. 10. Michael McDermott has some memories there, too. The five-time William Hyndman III Player of the Year was still making a name for himself in 2000 when he lost a wild Philadelphia Amateur final to Little Mill Country Club’s Michael Hyland on the 38th hole.
   “I hadn’t really done much, so getting to that final, even though I lost in that crazy 38-hole match, really kind of got me started,” he said. “I think there will be a little home-course advantage for the locals there. It will be tough for somebody who’s never played there before. I’ve played it 15 to 20 times, at least, over the years.”

   You can contact me at chaseufan@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter, mostly for alerts to blog posts, @tmacgolf16.

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