For the second straight year a Penn State golfer claimed the title in the Pennsylvania Amateur, presented by LECOM.
The way he has been playing, you might have figured that Cole Miller, who captured the NCAA Washington Regional individual title last spring for the Nittany Lions, would repeat as the champion in the 104th edition of the state amateur.
But instead it was JD Hughes of Carlisle Country Club who pulled away down the stretch following a five-hour delay for some persistent lightning, but not a whole lot of rain at White Manor Country Club in Willistown.
I was actually there not long after play was suspended at 12:30 p.m. I was hoping to catch the back nine, but by the time the final threesome returned to the course I was on my way in to my “day job” at the U.S. Traffic Network.
It was Hughes’ game that held together the best during the interminable delay, though, as he kept making birdies in a final round of 4-under 67, the low round of the day, to finish at 10-under 203.
Miller, his teammate on a Penn State team that earned a trip to the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. this spring, was five shots back in a tie for second with Yardley Country Club’s Christopher Ault at 5-under 208.
Hughes knows Miller’s game well enough to make sure he kept the pedal to the metal because Miller is capable of going off at a moment’s notice, but the former Northwestern Lehigh standout couldn’t get anything going down the stretch.
Miller posted an even-par 71 with a birdie at three, a bogey at 18 and 16 pars. Ault, the 2013 Pennsylvania Amateur champion, added a solid 2-under 69 to his earlier rounds of 69 and 70 to join Miller at 5-under.
The third member of the final threesome, Rutgers senior Matt Holuta, misplaced his game during the delay and couldn’t get it back, making six bogeys on the back nine for a final-round 75 that dropped him back to fifth place at 3-under 210.
Georgetown senior Cole Berman, the 2015 BMW Philadelphia Amateur champion from Philadelphia Cricket Club, took advantage of Holuta’s misfortune to jump up into fourth place. The former Haverford School standout added a final-round 69 to his earlier rounds of 72 and 68 to finish at 4-under 209.
Hughes and Holuta began the day tied at the top at 6-under with Miller just a shot behind at 5-under.
And it was Hughes who took the initiative, making birdies at two, four and six to quickly get it to 9-under. As Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out to me after the final threesome had just completed the front nine before play was suspended, a bogey by Hughes at the ninth was the first bogey make by anyone in the group up to that point.
After the delay, though, Hughes kept adding to his lead. He followed up a birdie at the 11th with a bogey at the tough 14th. With nobody else making birdies, though, Hughes got two more, one at the 15th and one more at the 17th that got him to 10-under.
Aronimink Golf Club’s Michael Davis, the runnerup to his old Inter-Ac League rival Berman in that 2015 Philly Amateur final, finished alone in sixth place at 1-under 212 after adding a 1-under 70 to a pair of even-par 71s. Davis, a senior at Princeton, was a scholastic standout at Malvern Prep.
Brendan Borst gave the Cricket Club a second top-10 finisher as he carded a final-round 68 to finish alone in seventh at even-par 213. Borst joined up with his old Penn State teammate Tommy McDonagh to reach the second round of match play in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Pinehurst this spring.
Carey Bina, a former Radnor High standout who plays out of Radnor Valley Country Club, matched par in the final round with a 71 and headed a group of five players tied for eighth at 2-over 214. Drexel senior Aaron Fricke, the former Garden Spot standout who plays out of Lancaster Country Club, also finished at 2-over 214 after a final-round 72.
Charles Hess of Allentown Municipal Golf Club moved up into the tie for eighth with a solid final round of 1-under 70.
Pretty nice effort by a couple junior golfers to round out the fivesome tied for eighth and earn a top-10 finish in the state amateur.
Palmer Jackson, who captured the Pennsylvania Boys’ Junior title in June at Hershey Country Club, had a final-round 74 and Brady Pevarnik, who finished tied for third in the PIAA Class AAA Championship as a sophomore at Latrobe last fall, had a solid 1-over 72 to finish up.
Penn State coach Greg Nye can only hope Hughes will get the kind of confidence boost that Miller seemed to get from his Pennsylvania Amateur victory last summer.
Hughes started his collegiate career at Kent State in 2013-2014, but it was two years later when he resurfaced on the Penn State roster last summer. He was in and out of the Penn State lineup, but when Ryan Dornes, the former Manheim Township standout, fractured his hand last spring, Hughes did his part in helping the Lions reach the NCAA Championship.
Dornes is healthy again. He finished tied for 24th at 6-over 219 this week at 219. Penn State will field potentially one of the strongest teams in the program’s history this fall. After all, how many Penn State teams have included not one, but two Pennsylvania Amateur champions on it? This one will.
And look out for Miller at the U.S. Amateur later this month at Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club in sunny Los Angeles.