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First on the Tee

First On The Tee: The Time Is Right for Pittsburgh Golf Now

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Why Pittsburgh Golf Now … uh, now?

I won’t speak for the whole staff, but from my end, the spark for Pittsburgh Golf Now originated from a combination of forces of nature. Among them: Tony Lisheski, Tiger Woods, the joy of being outdoors and a natural attraction to whacking a ball with a stick.

That first name listed up there is my grandpa on my mom’s side — he put a plastic club in my hands at age 3 and nurtured my growing love from there — but the rest of that list should be self-explanatory in describing why I’m smitten with this sport.

Add onto that passion my decade-and-a-half working in sports media and there was some serious fuel to ignite the flame.

As a golfer of some note once said, Hello, world!

As the coronavirus kept us sheltered in place this spring, my scattered thoughts kept creeping back to golf. What I wouldn’t have given in mid-April to sneak out of the house for a twilight nine. I’m sure many of you can relate.

When golf became one of the few activities allowable under public-health guidelines, I started to consider starting a site like this. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, etc., etc.

Thanks to encouragement and support from Alan Saunders and the Pittsburgh Sports Now crew, Pittsburgh Golf Now goes live on what would’ve been the week of the men’s U.S. Open, if a thing called COVID-19 didn’t exist.

We’ll have to wait on Winged Foot, but PGN is here … now!

Why are you here?

I’m guessing because you love the sport, too, but also because, like me, you felt there was something missing from the greater Pittsburgh golf community.

Something that could both serve the area golfer and boost the industry. Something that could tie us all together.

Also, if you’re like me at all, you tend to stick to what you know. Same courses, same playing partners, same driving ranges.

Once this site is fully armed and operational, we’ll have a directory of all the places in the region you can get your swings in, from courses to practice areas to indoor simulators. We’ll also review courses and equipment, craft feature stories and cover all the local golf news that’s fit to print.

Nothing wrong with familiarity and dependability, but there’s more out there to love in Pittsburgh golf. And we at PGN aim to help you discover — or rediscover — all the scene has to offer.

How do we plan to do that?

By highlighting not only the best and the brightest, but also the most affordable and most accessible. We don’t believe golf should be an exclusive game restricted to expensive private clubs, but a sport for all of us to enjoy.

The best thing about this game of ours? The ball doesn’t care where you’re from or how much money you make. All that matters is that your aim is true and your swing is pure … even if that doesn’t happen all that often for most of us.

So, in covering both the latest and the legendary, the trendy and the timeless, we aim to make Pittsburgh Golf Now your go-to destination for a variety of stories, perspectives and insights on this captivating, maddening sport that binds all of us crazies together.

And we are crazy. Try not to focus too long on how many hours, days, years you’ve spent trying to smack a tiny, dimpled ball into a slightly-less-tiny hole in the ground.

On second thought, go ahead and think about it. Whatever keeps you hanging around here is OK with us.

We’ll try our best to make sure it’s better than par. (What, you thought you were getting out of here without suffering through a golf pun?)

On behalf of our photographer Mike Darnay, reporter Zachary Weiss and webmaster Joe Steigerwald, welcome to Pittsburgh Golf Now!

As they say at a rinky-dink course down south: Fore, please.

The Gajtka Family Training Center is humble, but can be effective. – MATT GAJTKA/PGN

SPLITTING THE FAIRWAY

After a little commentary on the sport from yours truly, each Monday at PGN will start with a look back at the weekend and a glance forward at the week ahead …

• A little homework to start: Please take a look at our course and practice facility directories which I just built over the past week. Let me know what I’ve assuredly missed, especially if they’re great spots to get your swings in!

• The PGA Tour returned to official (spectator-free) competition after nearly three full months off, with Daniel Berger (-15*) beating Collin Morikawa in a one-hole playoff to culminate the Charles Schwab Challenge — better known as The Colonial — in Fort Worth, Texas.

That’s the third PGA win for Berger, 27, who has shot par or better in 28 consecutive rounds, spanning the COVID-19 shutdown, of course. He put in a down payment with a 5-under 65 Thursday, then went 67-67 to set up Sunday’s 66. Rock steady.

The Floridian edged a sterling field that saw Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele finish tied for third a stroke back, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson two back and Gary Woodland three off the pace. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth faded Sunday, but still scored top-10 results.

Berger was dynamite to beat a field of that quality, but he got some major help from the cup on Colonial’s 17th. Schauffele horseshoed a three-footer there in regulation, then Morikawa shoved a shorty of his own on the lone playoff hole.

Gutting result for Morikawa, who also burned the edge on a birdie try at 18 in regulation, which would’ve delivered his second PGA win in his second year on tour — and his first in a stroke-play event.

• Despite rumors to the contrary last week, there’ll be no Tiger at this week’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina. C.T. Pan is your defending champ at Harbour Town Golf Links, which like Colonial, isn’t so much a bomber’s paradise as it is a second-shot course.

Although, if the bulked-up DeChambeau keeps doing this stuff, we may have to rethink that assessment.

• The LPGA Tour, the European Tour and the Champions Tour remain on hiatus through at least the middle of next month, but the developmental Korn Ferry Tour returned the same weekend as its big brother with a makeshift event at TPC Sawgrass in greater Jacksonville, Florida.

Veteran PGA Tour member Luke List earned the win in a stronger-than-usual field due to the invitational status of the Charles Schwab Challenge. It was List’s second pro victory … and he’ll be back with the big tour this week up the Atlantic coast.

• Local competitions are working back into a summertime lather, with the Tri-State PGA hosting the E-Z-Go Tri-State Open in my hometown of Weirton, West Virginia.

Venerable Williams Country Club hosts the two-day event, which starts today and cuts down for Tuesday’s final round.

Wexford’s Gene Walter won the previous TSPGA tourney, the Golf Galaxy Open at Connoquenessing Country Club in Elwood City. Walter shot 2-under 69 to edge Sewickley’s John Aber last Monday.

• The Isaly’s Junior Golf Tour gets going this week, too, with an event today at Westmoreland Country Club in Export, followed by another tourney at Diamond Run Golf Club in Sewickley on Tuesday.

The big event for young golfers follows on Wednesday. The Tri-State Junior PGA Championship tees off at Willowbrook Country Club in Apollo, with 36 holes on tap for both boys and girls.

• Nothing on the docket this week for the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association, but registration for the men’s Stroke Play Championship, the women’s Barnes-Murphy Trophy and the women’s Mixed-Team Better Ball closes this Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Visit WPGA.org for more info on these events and much more throughout the summer.

• Keep an eye out for our first PGN course review Tuesday, our first PGN feature story Wednesday and more later in the week! As always, contact me at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and ideas.

Hit ’em straight. (Oh, and thanks to Darnay for that front-page photo of the first-tee clock at Pheasant Ridge Golf Club.)

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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