PITTSBURGH — Two months ago, Jon Ross was not familiar with the Bob O’Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park, but was looking for an event to play given COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the nation throughout 2020.
Ross, formerly a standout at Peters Township High School and varsity player at Loyola University in Maryland, has been traveling between his parents’ house in Pittsburgh and his fiancée’s counterparts in Philadelphia, which both were quarantine situations upon arrival.
One of Ross’s friends informed him of the Pittsburgh City Amateur and quickly accepted the opportunity to get his competitive juices flowing once again. Ross made sure he spent a couple of weeks in Pittsburgh upon his return to the city.
On Saturday, Ross was proudly able to pose with his scorecard, which displayed a 2-under-par 65, the lone subpar round among the 45 competitors in the championship flight. It wasn’t Ross’ first win — he claimed a junior tour event as a high schooler and a tie for first at the 2011 WPGA Public Links — but he savored the moment.
“It’s a cool feeling,” Ross said of the victory. “I’ve been wanting to go out and play something competitive for a while and some of the events I was supposed to play earlier this year ended up getting cancelled or pushed back.
“A couple of weeks ago a friend said the event was this weekend and asked if I wanted to play in it. I said, Absolutely.’ ”
Ross had the luxury of having playing partners and friends Geoffrey Locher and Chris Resnik in his group. The trio was having one of its final get-togethers as one will be moving to Florida on Tuesday.
There certainly was a bit of unknown for Ross who had never played all 18 holes at ‘The Bob,’ as his experience there was limited to trying to beat the dusk and play a quick nine.
During those treks to the course, Ross quickly found that his 3-wood would play on the majority of the many reachable par-4 holes but he never had a read on holes Nos. 4-7 since Saturday was the first time he would tee off there. (The nine-hole track includes holes from both sides of the course.)
Normally the ‘The Bob’ allows you to score low. Finished in 1903, the 5,000-yard par-67 layout was overpowered by three-time City Amateur champion Trent Karlik’s record 9-under 58 in 2018; however, a strong westerly wind proved to be a true equalizer Saturday, making it it difficult to pile up birdies.
“You just have to be really patient, anything can happen on any hole, take a look at No. 1 for example,” said Karlik. The former Robert Morris University golfer shot 3-over 70 to tie for third, despite making a quadruple bogey on No. 1.
“I got an eight, there was no factor with the wind there. It was just a bad shot off the tee that led to an out-of-bounds shot, but course knowledge definitely is a factor.”
Several times the winds swirled as if a storm may arrive but a 15-minute rain delay did not occur until most of the championship flight had already completed their respective rounds.
“The wind made it a lot different where I was hitting different clubs than what I had ever hit before,” Ross said through increasingly heavier raindrops.
“It was fun, it was a nice challenge. It seems like I lucked out with the weather. I was looking at the weather yesterday hoping to get the round in and it looks like I got incredibly lucky right now.”
Nick Gordon was the leader in the clubhouse for about an hour, finishing second in the event with a 1-over 68.
Gordon, who recently had returned to Pittsburgh from Boston, where he played for UMass-Lowell, scored a 39 on the front nine and then recorded a double bogey on the tight 11th hole. Since there was no live scoring available, for the much of the first half of his round Gordon felt as though he had played himself out of contention.
That proved to be far from the case as Gordon was able to eagle the short par-4 13th hole and from there went on a birdie streak to conclude his round, despite this being his first time on the back nine.
“My playing partners have played (the back) several times and they were telling me where to hit it,” Gordon said. “I made a few putts and it was nice to be out here. This was a really great event.”
This event has been a staple for Karlik, who made this course his first competitive round at age 8, and continues to return to the event fondly remembering those younger times.
“It was a nice memory for my parents to come with me,” said Karlik. “They usually had the event near Father’s Day weekend, so my parents would drop me off and just the ambiance of the old clubhouse at the time, the putting green. Having an event at 8-years-old was nice because there weren’t a lot of events going on at that time.”
Will Betts, who tied with Karlik for second place a year ago, matched playing-partner Karlik again with a 70.
Senior competitor Alton Jolly and PGN’s own Matt Gajtka rounded out the top five, finishing an additional shot behind at 71. Defending and two-time champion Sean Knapp did not start due to injury, making this event wide open.
Jolly tied with Dan Vater for first place in the senior division. Jolly entered both the championship and senior flights, while Vater was the championship flight winner in 2001.
Among all flights, 71 golfers were registered to compete and 68 played all 18 holes. The turnout was an increase by about 20, pleasing Bob O’Connor director of golf Eric Kulinna.
Appropriate measures were taken given the ongoing seriousness of COVID-19. Players were asked to arrive no earlier than 45 minutes before a scheduled tee time and to wear masks when checking in as well as when turning in scorecards.
Additional social-distancing measures were enforced during the round, as touching or lifting the flagstick was prohibited. A first violation of that offense constituted a warning and then a two-stroke penalty for every subsequent offense.
“Obviously they are doing a good job of being cautious and smart about it, but it is great to have people out competing,” Betts said. “It is nice to be outdoors and socializing while they are staying safe. I think I took it for granted and COVID puts things in perspective, you realize how many things you miss being out here.
“I sometimes get a little down when I am playing golf, but I really appreciate just being out here, getting exercise and all of that good stuff.”
FULL PITTSBURGH CITY AMATEUR RESULTS
1. Jon Ross – 65
2. Nick Gordon – 68
T-3. Will Betts, Trent Karlik – 70
T-5. Alton Jolly, Matt Gajtka – 71
SENIOR MEN (Ages 50-61)
T-1. Alton Jolly, Dan Vater – 71
SUPER SENIOR MEN (Ages 62 & over)
1. Don Wallace – 73
2. Lee Gipson – 76
1. JuliaRose Genuardi – 41*
2. Tori Slagle – 47*
T-1. Kaylee Houy, Tori Slagle – 47*
1. Ethan Dai – 38*
2. Joseph Farrell – 39*
- Due to persistent thunderstorms Saturday afternoon, the women’s division and the two junior divisions were shortened to nine-hole competitions.