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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Covello the medalist in local U.S. Open qualifying in an annual rite of spring

   “It Happens Every Spring” is one of the most underrated baseball movies all time. It might also work as a title for Vince Covello’s annual trip home to play in a local U.S. Open qualifier administered by the Golf Association of Philadelphia.
   Just like clockwork, Covello, the 35-year-old Web.com Tour regular, showed up at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., fired five birdies against a bogey and earned qualifying medalist honors with a 4-under 67 over the 7,057-yard, par-71 Hidden Creek layout last Monday.
   Covello was a qualifying co-medalist a year at the Country Club of York. He will head to sectional qualifying, golf’s longest day June 4, for the seventh time. He hasn’t made it into a U.S. Open field yet, but he keeps giving himself a shot.
   The U.S. Open will tee off June 14 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the William Flynn design on the tip of Long Island in Southampton, N.Y.
   Covello is an Episcopal Academy product. He is a Llanerch Country Club guy from Havertown. If you follow GAP on Twitter (and if you’re interested in local golf, why wouldn’t you?), you probably saw a video of Covello representing on Super Bowl weekend at a Web.com stop, wearing his Eagles hat and flapping his arms, Birds style, when he dropped a birdie putt.
   “I love coming up here every year to play in the (GAP) U.S. Open qualifier,” Covello told the GAP website. “It always seems to work out to be on one of the Web’s off weeks, so I use it as an excuse to see some family, grab a cheesesteak and play on the great golf courses I grew up playing at.”
   Covello started on the back nine at Hidden Creek and picked up a birdie at 13 with a 9-iron to two feet and another at 18 with a pitching wedge to 12 feet. He made a two-putt birdie on the par-5 third before missing the green at the par-3 fourth, leading to his only bogey of the day.
   Covello hit a 6-iron to six feet at the par-3 seventh hole and dropped the birdie putt and finished up with a scrambling birdie at the par-5 ninth, hitting a pitching wedge from a fairway bunker 116 yards away to 15 feet and making the putt.
   That gave him a one-shot edge on Alexander Hicks, the runnerup to Michael McDermott in the 2013 BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship at Aronimink Golf Club from Cape May Court House, N.J. The 25-year-old Hicks, a William & Mary product, is playing on the Web.com and McKenzie PGA Tour Canada circuits.
   Philadelphia Cricket Club assistant pro Mark Miller punched his ticket to sectional qualifying with an even-par 71.
   The fourth and final player to advance was Erik Brubaker, an amateur from Delmar, Md. who prevailed in a three-man playoff for that final spot with Kevin Smith, a sophomore at Strath Haven, and Daniel Charen, an amateur from Langhorne.
   Brubaker’s two-putt par on the third playoff hole, the par-4 18th at Hidden Creek enabled him to advance.
   Smith is the first alternate. He has been of the top players in the Central League, but that hasn’t translated into postseason success yet. But, as he proved once again at Hidden Creek, he can play.
   His near-miss brought back memories of another Strath Haven standout whom I covered in my Delaware County Daily Times days. Conrad Von Borsig had a couple of strong efforts that came up just short when he was a scholastic standout, oh 13 years or so ago. Von Borsig didn’t play badly himself at Hidden Creek, checking in with a 4-over 75.
   Another player in the near-miss category at Hidden Creek was Andy Butler, a former Manheim Township standout who capped his career at Villanova by finishing in a tie for 10th in the Big East Championship. Butler carded a 2-over 73 to finish a shot behind the trio involved in the playoff for the final ticket to sectionals.
   Speaking of Villanova, head coach Jim Wilkes got a look at the future on the Main Line when one of his top recruits, Danny Dougherty, a senior at the Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Del., was one of the three co-medalists in another local qualifier Thursday at DuPont Country Club.
   OK, Dougherty was basically playing on his home course with his dad Dan, a longtime DuPont member, on the bag. But the kid shot 3-under 68 over the 7,044-yard, par-71 DuPont layout that, once upon a time, was the home of the LPGA Championship. And, as is often the case with great courses, many of the champions DuPont produced during the event’s 11-year run there are some of the all-time LPGA greats.
   Dougherty was joined at 3-under 68 by another name familiar to Delawarians, Zachary Oakley, son of 2004 Senior British Open champion Peter Oakley, and Erick Alonso, a junior at Loyola of Maryland from Jupiter, Fla. who was looking at the golf course for the first time in his life.
   With rangefinders not allowed in qualifying for USGA events, the home-course advantage was probably even a little more pronounced for Dougherty.
   “It was probably a big factor,” Dougherty told the GAP website. “I play here all the time. I’ll probably be here all of the time this summer. With no rangefinders, I think it was definitely a big help. I missed the cut by a shot last year at Running Deer (Golf Club), so I was really excited coming in, especially having it at my home course.”
   Two big putts made the difference in the round for Dougherty as he dropped a 30-foot, double-breaker for birdie on the 18th hole, his ninth of the day, and a 40-foot bomb for birdie at the third.
   The 35-year-old Oakley, an assistant in the Waynesborough Country Club pro shop, had eight birdies in a round that also included a double bogey at the fifth after his group received a slow-play warning. It will be Oakley’s third try in sectional qualifying.
   David Sanders of Mount Laurel, N.J., a 27-year-old mini-tour regular, carded a 2-under 69 to advance to sectional qualifying for the eighth time.
   It was a long day at DuPont with an hour-and-a-half fog delay at the start and a lightning delay holding up the works near the end of the day.
   Penn State senior Cole Miller, a product of Northwestern Lehigh, Zachary Lese a pro from Silver Spring, Md., and amateurs Ashton Poole of Charlotte, N.C. and Reese McFarlane of Cape Elizabeth, Maine all landed at 1-under 70 with just one ticket to sectionals left.
   Poole and McFarlane were eliminated before daylight ran out and Miller and Lese had to return Friday morning to continue the playoff. A par on the par-4 18th hole at DuPont, the fourth hole of the playoff, gave Miller the spot.
   I’m not going to get around to doing a preview on the NCAA regionals, but Miller and Penn State will tee off Monday at the Columbus Regional on The Ohio State University’s classic Scarlet Course. The Nittany Lions will be seeded seventh with the top five advancing to the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
   Miller won the individual title in the Washington Regional at Aldarra Golf Club in Sammamish, Wash. a year ago, leading the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Championship final appearance since 2010. Head coach Greg Nye will send out juniors Charles Huntzinger of Duluth, Ga. and JD Hughes of Carlisle and sophomores Ryan Davis of Berkeley Heights, N.J. and Alec Bard of New Hartford, N.Y. to join Miller.
   It says here that Miller is one of the best players in Division I golf. Which means I like Penn State’s chances this week in Columbus. And it would be neat to see the Nittany Lions represented at Shinnecock Hills.
   Heading the near-miss list at DuPont was R.J. Wren, a sophomore at Delaware and a Twin Valley product. Wren, an occasional Stonewall caddy, matched par with a 71 to finish a shot out of the playoff.
   Billy “The Kid” Stewart, an assistant pro at The Ace Club, carded a 2-over 73. Stewart, a former Malvern Prep and Saint Joseph’s standout, will be making his first appearance in the PGA Professional Championship, presented by Club Car and OMEGA, next month at Bayonet and Black Horse in Seaside, Calif.
   Among a large group of players that finished tied at 3-over 74 were last summer’s GAP Junior Boys’ finalists, Dawson Anders, coming off a solid freshman season with Temple, and Penn Charter’s Brian Isztwan, who was the Inter-Ac League’s top regular-season player as a senior last fall and is headed for Harvard.
   Also at 74 were Norristown junior Caleb Ryan, a two-time PIAA Class AAA qualifier, former Radnor High standout Michael Sydnes, and fledgling pro Braden Shattuck, a PIAA qualifier in 2011 as a senior at Sun Valley.

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