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In The Arena: Amateurs Run Show at Local Open Championships

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Jimmy Ellis of Venetia poses after his Pennsylvania Open title at Oakmont Country Club. (PAGOLF.ORG)

At least so far this summer, local professionals have taken a back seat to sharp-shooting amateurs.

In the span of a week, guys who can only get pro-shop credit for their victories lifted two of the most prestigious trophies in Pennsylania golf.

On Aug. 5 at Shannopin Country Club in Ben Avon, Greensburg native and rising West Virginia University junior Mark Goetz birdied the 18th hole to squeeze past local touring pro Dan Obremski and claim the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association’s annual Open Championship.

Seven days later, at the beast known as Oakmont Country Club, former Peters Township High School and Ohio University standout Jimmy Ellis outlasted a field of 100-plus players with an even-par score in the 54-hole Pennsylvania Open.

Both wins were impressive in their own right, as an array of pros competed alongside the qualifying amateurs in each. Whether you’re a striving collegian like Goetz or a married father of two battling in the ‘real world’ like Ellis, golf can’t be the No. 1 priority in your life.

Ellis alluded to that paradox after what he called the biggest victory of his impressive career, which also includes a playoff loss in last year’s Pennsylvania Mid-Amateur (ages 25 and above) and low-amateur honors in the 2019 Pennsylvania Open.

“I’m just an old guy with two kids,” Ellis told assembled reporters after sinking the clinching bogey putt. “These young guys, they are way better than me and could probably beat me every nine out of 10 times we’d play. So I don’t know how this one worked out, but somehow it did.”

Goetz, a graduate of The Kiski School, has a decade ahead of him before he reaches Ellis’ level of experience, but his triumph at Shannopin should prove just as memorable.

Not only did Goetz prevail in a final-pairing showdown with Irwin-born Obremski, shooting an eye-popping 11 under over 36 holes, this was his first victory against such a talent-packed field.

“It’s weird man, it really is,” Goetz told WPGA.org in the winning afterglow. “It’s been a long time since I won a tournament. It’s just a strange feeling.”

Obviously Goetz hopes that adding the West Penn Open to his Westmoreland County Amateur title from last summer can further boost him for next spring’s Big 12 championship season at WVU.

But hoisting the Harry Milholland Vase serves notice to the local scene that he’s a force to be dealt with along the likes of Notre Dame’s Palmer Jackson, Drexel’s Connor Schmidt and Miami’s Jack Katarincic. All are youthful prospects on the rise as the postponed West Penn Amateur looms next Monday and Tuesday at Sewickley’s Allegheny Country Club.

WVU’s Mark Goetz strikes a pose after winning the WPGA Open at Shannopin Country Club. (WPGA)

“Mark has meant so much to our program these past three seasons,” WVU head golf coach Sean Kovich said. “He’s a great teammate and has developed into a leader for us. I am so happy for him because I know how much this tournament means to him.”

Those college days are long past for Ellis, although it could be argued he’s playing the best golf of his life despite all his responsibilities at home and work.

Following his dream victory at a dream venue, Ellis will be among the select few in the 54-player field trying to add to their respective trophy cases at Allegheny CC.

No offense to any other courses in the area, but after holding firm for three rounds at a fiery Oakmont, Ellis can say he’s survived as strong of a test the sport can offer an amateur player.

“This place, it’s just so hard,” Ellis said. “It’s been a long week, but to come out of it with a win, it’s unreal.”

As for the rest of local golf this month …

TRI-STATE PGA

• Accomplished amateur Rick Stimmel stayed hot this summer (see below) with a commanding 11-point victory in the Links Brewing Co. Stableford Championship on Aug. 2-3 at Lone Pine Country Club in Washington.

Stimmel, who also won the WPGA Summer Stroke Play event in June, made eight birdies en route to a 6-under 66 in the final round. With birdies worth two points each, he piled up 14 points in all on the day.

• Brent Colella shot a 2-under 68 on his home course of Chartiers Country Club on Aug. 14 to win the inaugural Dick’s Sporting Goods Amateur Championship.

A member of Chartiers CC and an Upper St. Clair native, Colella birdied four of his last eight holes to pull away from the second-place duo of Katarincic and Adam Sciulli, both of whom shot even-par 70. Stimmel, Rocco Salvitti and Michael Lubrani tied for fourth at 1 over.

• Oakmont CC head pro Devin Gee made it a two-win TSPGA season by prevailing in the OMEGA Match Play Championship this week at Southpointe Golf Club. The third-seeded Gee topped No. 12 Denny Dolci of Sharon, 1 up, in a tight title match Wednesday; neither player led by more than two holes at any point.

Gee started strong, qualifying for the match-play portion of the event by shooting 1-over 73, the second-best stroke-play round of the week. In the quarterfinal round, he edged Nevillewood pro Kevin Shields, 1 up, then beat Wheeling CC’s Jason Robinson 5&4 in the semis.

• Finally, Gordon Vietmeier’s 4-under total over two days at Green Oaks Country Club in Verona was good enough to give him victory in the TSPGA Senior Section Championship. Vietmeier went 68-70 to nip Jim Cichra (RMU Island Sports Center) and Joe Boros (Treesdale GC) by a stroke.

All three, plus fourth-place finisher Scott Davis of Hurricane, W.Va., qualify for the 2020 Senior PGA Professional Championship. It’ll be held in October at PGA Golf Club in Florida.

WPGA

• Stimmel (yes, him again) and partner Brett Young combined to shoot 10-under 60 at the WPGA’s 79th Four-Ball Championship this Monday at Chartiers CC.

The duo made 11 birdies against just one bogey in this better-ball event. Young carded par-breakers on two of the first four holes, then Stimmel had six birds over the final 14.

Anthony Degol and Nathan Smith nabbed solo second with an 8-under 62. They had a two-stroke lead with five holes to play but couldn’t finish.

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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