Junior championship season underway, Open qualifying to begin: From the desk of Mike Dudurich

By Mike Dudurich, Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM – Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

The West Penn Golf Association stars of the future have taken center stage recently with some championships being held and a couple more on the horizon.

Tanner Johnson of Venetia and Jeremy Eckenrode of Ebensburg shot 148 to earn spots in the U.S. Junior Amateur Sectional qualifier at Champion Lakes.

Johnson posted 74-74 and Eckenrode 75-73 to ensure a trip to Bluffton, S.C. for the U.S. Junior Amateur July 20-25. Johnson is the son of Southpointe professional Brent Johnson, who won the West Penn Open in 2000 at Valley Brook Country Club.

They’ll play in the first-ever USGA Championship held at the Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course, a par 72 layout that maxes out at 7,366 yards. The Dye Course will be the second-longest course in U.S. Junior Amateur history.

Luke Minsky of Wexford shot a two-over par 74 to win the 14 & 15 age group and Justin Hand of Ellwood City won the 11-13 age group with a 76 in the 48th West Penn Boys Championship for players 15 and under.

The championship was held at Youghiogheny Country Club and was highlighted by a hole-in-one by 14-year-old Alex Smith of Pittsburgh. He aced the 165-yard 13th hole at YCC with a six-iron.

Other top finishes included: (14 & 15) Palmer Jackson of Murrysville 77; Hunter Bruce of McMurray 78; Joe Klingensmith of Elizabeth Twp. 78. In the 11-13 group: Aidan John Oehrle of Pittsburgh was second with a 79.

Rocco Salvitti won the age 8-10 division with a nine-hole score of 44.

Next up for the younger golfers is the 95th West Penn Junior Championship, which will be held at Butler Country Club, the home club of one of the WPGA’s most celebrated amateurs, the late Jim Simons.

Eighty golfers have entered the event, the highest number in modern history.

Those playing at Butler July 6 may not remember Simons, but golf historians both in Western Pa. and nationally do. The man qualified for two U.S. Opens before he graduated from high school, he won a PGA Junior Championship, was a U.S. Junior Amateur quarterfinalist and won the West Penn Junior.

He gained even more national prominence when he led the 1971 U.S. Open through 54 holes at Merion Golf Club. He was 21 at the time and had blistered the historic layout with a 65 to take a two-shot lead going into Sunday.

He hung in there until the final hole when, trailing by a shot, he found the rough off the tee and made double bogey. He finished with a 76 to finish tied for fifth, missing out on joining Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus in that historic Monday playoff won by Trevino.

A sign of the times for this summer: On Sunday morning, Cranberry Highlands Golf Course posted this tweet: Just got a call wondering if we are Cart Path Only today. Unfortunately we have been Cart Path Only since 6/15.

He may well have already nailed down a spot on the 2015 Walker Cup team, but Allison Park’s Nathan Smith took another step toward that goal by finishing as the low mid-amateur in the Northeast Amateur last week.

Smith posted rounds of 74-69-71-67 for a 281 total and a tie for 29th.

Treesdale Golf & Country Club golf professional Joe Boros got to experience his first U.S. Open when he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open last week at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif.

Boros shot a solid round of 72 in the opening round, had a bit of tougher time in the second round with a 76 and missed the cut by three shots.

Qualifying for the 111th West Penn Open begins this week. The championship will be held July 20-21-22 at Westmoreland Country Club in Export.

Fifty-eight players will begin the process of qualifying on Tuesday at Rolling Hills Country Club, seeking 22 spots that are available.

Congratulations to Leechburg’s Will Betts on being named the recipient of the 2014-15 Frank Fuhrer III Award, given annually to the area’s outstanding college player.

Betts, a junior at the University of Hartford, had a good collegiate season in Connecticut. His scoring average was 73.9 in 25 rounds. He won the Til Duty is Done Collegiate Invite by shooting scores of 68-70 and had three top-10s and six top-20s in nine events.
In 2014, Betts qualified for match play in the U.S. Amateur.

In the 115-year history of the U.S. Open, there have been sites and championships that have been controversial. But with the age we live in, with social media spicing up anything that resembles a controversy, Chambers Bay and the 2015 U.S. Open may be hard to top.

The USGA took a gamble on an eight-year-old course built on an old stone quarry as the site for the first national championship in the Pacific Northwest. And while any U.S. Open course is expected to draw yays and nays from the participants, this one created drama even before more than a handful of players stepped on the grounds.

That drama was perfect fodder for the social media sites and, for the most players arrived in defensive postures, fearing the worst.

And when conditions weren’t pristine, as the guys who play for pay expect, the volume of grousing increased.

The crescendo was reached when Henrik Stenson described putting on the Chambers Bay surfaces as “like putting on chopped broccoli.”

Mike Davis, the USGA Executive Director, admitted after Jordan Spieth’s dramatic victory that conditions “weren’t as good as we would have hoped” but disagreed they were as bad as the vocal players made them out to be.

My take: the USGA prides itself for providing a complete examination of a player’s game in the U.S. Open. I think the goal wasn’t reached this year. Too many good shots were not rewarded, instead they were penalized. Too many greens with crazy backstops and slopes took away the kind of creativity normally required to get approach shots close in big tournaments.

We all know players are going to complain, that’s in their DNA. Remember how Phil Mickelson spent a few days practicing out of the rough at Oakmont Country Club in 2007 prior to the Open? He had to withdraw from the tournament because of an injury from hitting shots from the rough. And then he said with a straight face that it was dangerous out there.

For a variety of reasons, the 2015 U.S. wonít be one that’s remembered all that fondly.

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