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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Stonewall's Old Course the big winner on Day 1 of Mid-Amateur qualifying

   EAST NANTMEAL – OK, I wasn’t technically covering the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall’s Old Course and North Course, but I was caddying, so I think I can bring a little something to the table.
   The co-leaders are, not surprisingly, a couple of very experienced guys, 37-year-old Brad Wilder of Fort Wright, Ky. and 38-year-old Scott Harvey of Greensboro, N.C. Wilder lost in the semifinals of last year’s Mid-Am, 1-up, to eventual champion Sammy Schmitz. Harvey won this thing two years ago and was a member of the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team.
   Also, not surprisingly, both arrived at the top of the qualifying leaderboard by carding 4-under 66s on the North Course, the shorter and somewhat easier of the two Tom Doak designs. Although obviously nobody went completely nuts on the North, the Old Course, as expected proved to be the sturdier challenge.
   Of the 17 under-par rounds, only two were recorded on the 6,870-yard, par-70 Old Course, a 2-under 68 by Thomas Werkmeister of Grandville, Mich. – just a shot off the course record – and a 1-under 69 by Joseph Saladino of Huntingdon, N.Y.
   It looked like that course record was going to fall when Craig Mason of Ashburn, Va. arrived at the 16th tee at 5-under for his round, but three straight double bogeys left him with a 1-over 71. That was a pretty darn good score at the OId Course Saturday even if Mason might not have felt that way.
   Wilder had a tidy round at the North, five birdies against a lone bogey. Harvey’s round was also that of an experienced campaigner as he got all three of the par-5s at the North among his six birdies and made a couple of bogeys. Harvey has been the U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying medalist three times in his career.
   Derek Busby of Ruston, La. and Jim Coleman of Billings, Mont. are a shot back of Wilder and Harvey, each carding a 3-under 67 at the North, to share third place.
   The highlight of the sizable local contingent was the play of John Brennan, a member at Philadelphia Cricket Club who teaches social studies at Spring-Ford High School. Brennan is tied for 10th after firing a 1-under 69 at the 6,711-yard, par-70 North Course.
   Starting on No. 10 at the North, Brennan birdied 12 and 14 before giving back those shots with bogeys at 16 and 17. He then ripped off three straight birdies starting at the first, bogeyed four and five, birdied the sixth and bogeyed the seventh. It added up to six birdies and five bogeys.
   If you want to get out and support Brennan, he tees off No. 1 at the Old Course at 7:37 a.m., so you can see the finish of his round and still make the kickoff for that all-important Carson Wentz debut against the Browns.
   Another member of the Cricket Club contingent, Gregor Orlando, the qualifying medalist in the Mid-Am qualifier held at the Cricket Club, posted a 1-over 71 at the North. Also in the group of 19 players tied for 24th at 1-over 71 are DuPont Country Club’s Matthew Finger, the runnerup in the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Middle-Amateur Championship last spring, and Yardley Country Club’s Christopher Ault.
   Michael McDermott, who won his third BMW Philadelphia Amateur title earlier this summer on his home course – Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course – and was the co-medalist for the Mid-Am qualifier at Llanerch Country Club, had a 5-over 75 at the Old Course. The runnerup in the Philly Am in 2000 at Stonewall, McDermott is no stranger to the Old Course.
   But his round was all over the place. Starting on the 10th, McDermott birdied the par-5 11th, made bogeys at 12 and 13, a birdie at 14 and bogeys at 16 and 18 to make the turn at 2-over. After a birdie at the par-5 first hole, he made a bogey at four, a double bogey at five and bogeys at six and seven before getting a clutch birdie at the eighth.
   Don’t count out the five-time William Hyndman III GAP Player of the Year, though. He is part of a 33-player logjam tied for 94th at 5-over.
   McDermott’s co-medalist at Llanerch, Saucon Valley Country Club’s Matthew Mattare, the GAP Middle-Amateur champion in the spring, posted a 76 at the Old Course. McDermott’s younger brother Brian, a member at Llanerch, had a 79 at the North Course in his first try at the Mid-Am.
   Aronimink Golf Club’s Dan Bernard shot a 78 at the Old Course in his Mid-Am debut. Huntingdon Valley Country Club’s Sean Seese, like the McDermott brothers a former Saint Joseph’s standout, had an 81 at the Old Course. Tavistock Country Club’s Adam Warner had a 76 at the Old Course.
   Two out-of-towners came through the Llanerch qualifier, former Rutgers standout Eric Lefante of Florham Park, N.J., who had a 76 at the North Course, and Brian Payne of Flossman, Ill., who had a 78 at the Old Course.
   The third of the Cricket Club trio in the field who qualified at the Cricket Club’s historic Wissahickon Course, Andy Latkowski, had a 79 on the North Course. Chris Cassetta of Winston-Salem, N.C. also came through the Cricket Club qualifier and he had a 74 at the North Course.
   LedgeRock Golf Club’s Chip Lutz, who will be defending his U.S. Senior Amateur title at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis later this month, is in that large group tied for 94th after a 75 at the Old Course. Fellow Berks Countian Nathan Sutherland, a Holy Name product, also had a 75 at the Old Course. 
   Pittsburgh’s Nathan Smith, a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur and three-time member of the U.S. Walker Cup team, struggled to a 76 at the North Course.
   As for my guy, Michael Mitani of Irvine, Calif., not so good. He battled the Old Course to an 81, although he fired a 7-iron right over the flag on the 18th and just missed the birdie putt for a closing par. He could have played better, I could have caddied better. But it was awesome being out there in the middle of it all as we will be again Sunday at the North Course.
   One of the players in our group, Andrew Rhodes of Westfield, Ind. battled back from a tough 43 on the front to shoot 1-under on the back and signed for a 77. The third member of our group, Brandon Russell of Glendale, Ariz. had an 82.
   All three of the players I got to meet during the practice rounds, Californians Cameron Tennant and Satch Herrmann and Adam Candello of Fairport, N.Y. landed on 76, all at the Old Course.
   The Old Course flexed all of its considerable muscle Saturday. Like all great courses, it can make you pay dearly for one bad swing, one momentary lapse in concentration. The pins were positioned in places that maximized the course’s maddeningly subtle putting surfaces.
   The numbers will bear it out, but I was out there and Doak’s creation certainly gave some of the best amateur players all they wanted and then some.

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