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
It’s hard to imagine a day possibly being much better than Thursday, especially for the West Penn Golf Association. The best amateurs in this part of the state assembled at Latrobe Country Club for the 20th meeting with the best Tri-State PGA club professionals in the Palmer Cup.
The man for whom the event was named, Arnold Palmer, was on hand, being the gracious host he’s always been, just a week past his 86th birthday. His presence has always been a source of inspiration and excitement for the players as it was on this picture-perfect day.
What made it even more special for the guys in the blue shirts was how well they played, so well in fact they knocked off the pros for the second straight year. This year the final score was 10.5 – 6.5, an impressive back-to-back effort, considering the pros had won six of the last 10 prior to last year.
To have a great event like the Palmer Cup has become, it needs to have a great matchup or two. And Thursday’s meeting had a great one: two of the best amateurs to ever tee it up in WPGA events, Nathan Smith and Sean Knapp, against arguably the best club professional in the country, Bob Ford, who is now the Director of Golf at Oakmont Country Club and his successor, Devin Gee.
That group was the highlight of the afternoon Four-Ball matches after 10 singles matches had been contested in the morning, resulting in a 5.5 – 4.5 advantage for the WPGA going into the afternoon.
Things couldn’t have worked out better for the amateurs, who blitzed their professional counterparts with three birdies in the first four holes, building a lead that Ford and Gee could not overcome.
“That’s tough when they do something like that because you know they’re not going to make bogeys so you have to run at them and we didn’t make anything,” Ford added. “And in that situation, we couldn’t catch up.”
Knapp and Smith finished with four birdies, no bogeys, while Ford and Gee made just two birdies and two bogeys.
That sparked an eventual 4&3 victory for Knapp and Smith in a match that, while frustrating for the pros, was a great example of friendship and sportsmanship in a battle that both sides dearly wanted to win.
“They’re a great team, they’re great friends and we really did have a lot of fun competing,” Smith said. “Sean’s been playing really great golf and we were able to ham and egg it today. Honestly, I was honored to be a part of it.”
Smith was definitely the man of the match, hitting a number of seriously quality shots.
“This is the first time I’ve played with Nathan in this,” Knapp said. “I don’t usually hold up my end when he and I play together. He’s tough to play well with because he’s legendary. I’ve seen other amateurs choke when they play with him. You feel pressure because he’s so good that when he does hit a shot that’s not great, you feel like you have to pick him up.”
Gee, the youngster in the group, couldn’t help get caught up in special competition, regardless of the outcome.
“For me, this is one of the best days of the year,” Gee said. “Having Arnie here, getting to play with Bob, it was an awesome day. Bob is playing the best he’s played in years. It’s tough, though, when you don’t make any putts.”
The amateurs won four more of the seven four-ball matches in addition to Knapp & Smith: David Brown and Darin Kowalski beating Jason Martin and Kevin Shields, 2-up; Rick Stimmel and Jimmy Ellis beating John Aber and Tony Traci, 1-up; Joe Corsi and Paul Schlachter edging Bob Meyer and John Aubrey, 2-1; and Perry Graciano and Doug Gradwell beating Jim Cichra and Dick von Tacky, 1-up.