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Saturday, December 30, 2017

A lot of golf and a few loops for this blogger in 2017

   There has never really been a plan for this golf blog. I just sort of follow it where it wants to take me.
   It wasn’t quite the year of golf in 2017 that 2016 was. With the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club and the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall in 2016 – and me resurrecting my career as a caddy and actually getting a bag in the Mid-Am, something I would never have imagined when 2016 dawned – it was the perfect year to take the blog to a different level.
   Originally planned as a supplement to my golf coverage in the Delaware County Daily Times, T Mac Tees Off became part therapy from the sudden end to a 38-year career in newspaper business and part fun with a sport that I have grown to love since my first loop around Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course in the spring of 1969.
   Somehow though I’ve made more posts in 2017 than I did in 2016, despite picking up a “day job” at the U.S. Traffic Network, although most of my shifts in my part-time job occur, quite literally, in the middle of the night. This will be the 417th and final post of 2017. One of the reasons for that is that I discovered a lot of golf stuff that I was vaguely aware was out there while expanding the blog in 2016 and that just led me to even more interesting golf news. Like I said, a lot of time I just go where the blog leads me.
   One of the most interesting things to me is following the local qualifiers for the various United States Golf Association championships. And then following how the local players who get out of those qualifiers do once the championship is held. And well, heck, once you’ve gone that far, you might as well stick with the USGA championship to the end. The same goes when the Philadelphia Section PGA pros -- and this area has plenty of good players -- make it to the national club pro events.
   Much as with the Mid-Am in 2016, the highlight of 2017 for this blogger had to do with grabbing a bag at Stonewall. 
   In the last couple of weeks of July I caddied in the Golf Association of   Philadelphia’s Christman Cup, a 36-hole junior event staged at Stonewall’s North Course and a U.S. Amateur qualifier held at both the North Course and the Old Course at Stonewall. There were also some practice rounds in there for both championships.
   That much of that stretch had a distinctly Inter-Ac League flavor – past, present and future – was part coincidence and part planned.
   When Penn Charter senior Brian Isztwan lost in the final of GAP’s Junior Boys’ Championship to Souderton product and Temple freshman Dawson Anders, I e-mailed his dad Andy and offered my services for the Christman Cup. I had first heard from Andy Isztwan when Brian won the Bert Linton Memorial – the Inter-Ac’s individual championship – as a freshman after I had done a writeup in the Daily Times.
   Andy proposed that I caddy for Brian and younger brother Patrick in a practice round the Sunday before the Christman Cup and see how that went. I got the go-ahead. Patrick had caddied for Brian in the GAP Junior Boys’ final, but Patrick, a pretty nice player in his own right, was also teeing it up in the Christman Cup.
   It’s about 10 degrees out as I write this, so the memory of 36 holes on the nearly shadeless North on a day when the heat index soared past 100 is a warm one right now, but it was a hot one at the time.
   Our playing partner was Malvern Prep senior Matt Davis, younger brother of 2015 GAP BMW Philadelphia Amateur runnerup Michael. His caddy was the Christman Cup winner a year earlier, Davis’ former Malvern Prep teammate Marty McGuckin, a sophomore at Temple.
   Turned out McGuckin was going to be playing in the U.S. Amateur qualifier in a couple of weeks and since I was angling for a bag in that, too, I readily agreed to loop for him and former Malvern Prep and current Temple teammate Joe Chambers for a practice round on the Old Course the following week.
   In addition to being tremendous young men, Isztwan and Davis are really good players. And McGuckin had plenty of insight on a Temple golf team that I have followed pretty closely since writing about the team in Joe Burkhardt’s Tri-State Golfer.
   Isztwan struggled a little early, but got it going in the afternoon, highlighted by a chip-in eagle after going over the par-5 third hole in two. Two-time District One Class AAA champion Ben Pochet of Spring-Ford had completed his two rounds at 1-over 141 before weather – including the ever-popular tornado watch -- halted play for the day. Isztwan slept on a 15-footer for birdie at the 15th and made it to get it to 2-over for the tournament.
   He would struggle a little on the last three holes, but maybe it was fitting that Isztwan and Davis would finish tied for fifth at 4-over 144. Isztwan’s 1-under 69 equaled the best round of the afternoon round, matched by Austin Barbin of the Elkton, Md. Barbins.
   I had another enjoyable afternoon on the golf course with McGuckin as he, Chambers and me had the Old Course to ourselves for a quick practice round the following week. I also grabbed the bag of one Matt Smith, a player from the Wilmington, Del area who’s a Yalie, although not a member of the golf team, for a practice round.
   When Smith blasted a 5-iron from a bunker 220 yards way on to the green on the fly for his second shot at the par-5 opening hole, I was like, OK, this guy can play a little.
   Neither McGuckin nor Smith were committal for the actual qualifier, so it was the luck of the draw when I was assigned yet another Inter-Ac guy, Haverford School junior A.J. Aivazoglou, for what turned into a long, long day.
   You get the feeling that the USGA would like nothing more than an hour-and-a-half rain delay at the start, followed by a 90-degree steambath for a few hours and another delay for a thunderstorm just to make sure it gets some worthy qualifiers for its championships.
   I again lucked out with the presence of James Kania Jr., a former Haverford School standout and GAP’s 2009 William Hyndman III Player of the Year, in our group. The first time I had ever laid eyes on Stonewall was to watch Kania play in the 2009 Philly Am final, in which he lost to Conrad Von Borsig.
   Darkness was descending at the ’Wall when we finally finished. Tom Doak’s twin gems had frustrated Aivazoglou as he had a no-birdie 75 at the North and an 82 at the Old Course. But the 16-year-old lefty, a Rolling Green member, can play.
   Three months later, I headed for Huntingdon Valley Country Club, the home course for Team Isztwan, for the Bert Linton Memorial, the Inter-Ac’s individual championship, having seen the cream of the Inter-Ac crop at Stonewall in the summer.
   There was just enough wind to make the William Flynn design play really tough that day. Patience was the only club in the bag that mattered.
   Brian Isztwan struggled mightily, particularly on the back nine, which everybody played first, and carded an 88. Davis was in the group with Isztwan and also struggled early, but battled back with an even-par 35 on the front and finished tied for third with a 77.
   Aivazoglou was in hunt for a while, but sailed his tee shot on the par-3 third hole out of bounds. He finished tied for sixth with a 79.
   I had seen the Bert Linton winner that week at Stonewall, though. Patrick Isztwan, like Brian when he won, a freshman, didn’t make a birdie, but his 5-over 75 gave him a one-shot victory over The Haverford School’s Charlie Baker. Like I said, I had seen the Inter-Ac’s past and present at Stonewall in the summer and in Patrick Isztwan, I had seen its future.
   I heard from Brian Isztwan’s dad not long after Brian teed it up in the American Junior Golf Association’s Rolex Tournament of Champions at the PGA National Resort & Spa last month. He earned his trip to the event by being named to The Transamerica Scholastic Junior All-America Team.
   He will continue his academic and athletic pursuits at Harvard. It is a university that prides itself on getting the best of the best. In Brian Isztwan, it is getting just that.
   By the way, Davis is staying local and will take his game a few miles down Lancaster Avenue to Villanova. That’s a good get for Villanova coach Jim Wilkes. Davis will absolutely be an asset to the Wildcats’ program.
   The Bert Linton came in the midst of a high school postseason during which I was able to get out and cover a few events, or do a little live-blogging it as we bloggers call it.
   Pochet edged Central Bucks East junior Patrick Sheehan by a shot to repeat as the District One Class AAA champion in a tremendous battle at Turtle Creek Golf Club. Sheehan had shared the opening-round lead with a 3-under 69 at the Turtle, but Pochet caught him and passed him with a brilliant 7-under 65.
   Michelle Ryan, probably the biggest fan of the blog, looked on nervously throughout the postseason as her two sons, Caleb Ryan, a junior, and Joshua, a freshman, both made it to the PIAA Championship at the Heritage Hills Golf Resort. Home-schooled, the Ryan brothers represent Norristown High on the golf course.
   At Heritage Hills, I mostly stuck with the final pairing of the girls AAA tournament, thinking that either District One champion Samantha Yao of Conestoga or her pal, Downingtown East’s Liddie McCook, might pull out a victory.
   But Lauren Freyvogel of Pine Richland hung on gamely for a two-shot victory over McCook with Yao, who just couldn’t get a putt to fall, finishing fourth, five behind Freyvogel and three behind McCook. North Allegheny’s Caroline Wrigley surged into third with a final round of 1-over 73. All four of the players at the top of the final leaderboard are juniors.
   While I was watching the girls, though, Holy Ghost Prep junior Liam Hart was putting together a solid even-par 71 to claim a hard-fought one-shot victory over Palmer Jackson of Franklin Regional and Hunter Bruce of Peters Township that gave him the Class AAA title.
   Hart had finished tied for seventh at districts and advanced to states on the number in difficult conditions in the East Regional at Golden Oaks Golf Club a week earlier. He was at his best at Heritage Hills when it counted and brought a state title back to District One.
   I couldn’t hang around for the team competition at Heritage Hills, but maybe nobody had a better week at Heritage Hills than Unionville junior Connor Bennink. A day after finishing tied for fifth in the individual competition, Bennink helped the perennially strong Indians bring the Class AAA team championship back to Chester County. Unionville finished four shots ahead of a very strong Central York team.
   A couple more loops at Stonewall stood out in 2017. In a Pro-Partner event late in the season, I was assigned to Joanna Coe, a club pro at Baltimore Country Club.
   Coe, a collegiate standout at Rollins who played several years on the Symetra Tour, shot a 3-over 73 that easily could have been an even-par round if a couple of cruel lip-outs had fallen in her first look at the Old Course. She is really a nice player.
   Coe, a Jersey Shore native, was named the Middle Atlantic Section PGA OMEGA Women’s Player of the Year for the second year in a row and will take her game to a major stage in 2018 after earning a spot in the field for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Kildeer, Ill. next summer.
   And in what has quickly become my favorite event at the ’Wall, the Fall Scramble, I drew Matt O’Donnell, whom early risers see anchoring the morning news on 6-ABC, and his pal Mark Coassolo, the 2015 Lehigh Valley Mid-Amateur champion and former golf coach at Fleetwood.
   For two glorious late October days, it was just a lot of fun on two great golf courses with a couple of really nice guys, both of whom can play a little. The scramble format with a couple of good players is really an interesting dynamic.
   I once again really enjoyed following the college golf scene, right up to the NCAA Championship for the men and women at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
   No team caught my fancy more than my Penn State Nittany Lions (full disclosure: Class of ’77). Cole Miller’s victory in the Washington Regional that helped Greg Nye’s team earn a trip to Rich Harvest Farms was easily the most under-reported success story in Pennsylvania golf in 2017. That and Sean Knapp’s victory in the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at The Minikahada Club in Minneapolis.
   If you didn’t see it in your local paper, you could probably find it in this blog. I specialize in the stuff that, once upon a time, appeared in the local paper, but no longer does.
   Once again, if you finished in the top 10 in any division of a Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour event in 2017, your name likely appeared in a T Mac Tees Off blog post. It is fascinating to watch some of these young kids’ scores improve, often dramatically, over the course of a year.
   So, let’s see how 2018 works out. I’ll be forced the mention the very best men’s players in the world a little because the BMW Championship, the next-to-last stop in the PGA Tour’s FedEx playoffs, is coming to Aronimink Golf Club, the Donald Ross masterpiece in Newtown Square, late in the summer.
   But the headliners in this blog will continue to come from the junior ranks, the college scene, the GAP and Philadelphia Section PGA circuits and the USGA events. It’s a Curtis Cup year, too. Looking forward to it and I’ll try to keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. Tom, thanks for faithfully following and posting about our local golfers...your perspective always makes for a fun read!!! And, thanks for the shout-outs to our boys...you are certainly right that I'm a big fan :) we are looking forward to 2018 too and hoping for great things!!! Happy new year!