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In The Arena: Mended James Repeats at Women’s Amateur

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Katie James, of Shady Side Academy and SMU, poses after her second straight WPGA Women's Amateur win. (WPGA)

Katie James has traveled a bumpy road over the past 18 months or so.

A pair of meniscus repair surgeries — one on each knee — cut her freshman year at SMU short and limited her to just a couple of rounds as a sophomore.

For a young athlete who entered college coming off a Pennsylvania 3A championship and individual medalist honors at Shady Side Academy, James had expectations of making an immediate impact with the Mustangs.

That hasn’t happened yet, but for the second straight year, coming home for the summer has paid off in hardware.

In Thursday’s WPGA Isaly’s Women’s Amateur Championships at Green Oaks Country Club, James set a tournament record with a 6-under-par score, blowing away her nearest competitors while successfully defending the crown she first claimed last July.

“I just hit it really well,” James told me after her six-stroke victory. “My driver was on, probably the best part of my game. Having that flowing gave me some freedom out there on the course.”

Due to COVID-19, the Women’s Am was just James’ third tournament of 2020. She won this tournament last year on her home turf of Fox Chapel Golf Club, but she said there was still some carryover in confidence despite the change in venue.

“I knew there are some good players, so you never really know,” she said, specifically noting the presence of runner-up Katie Miller, a Green Oaks member and former all-ACC performer at North Carolina.

“It’s been awesome. There’s something about it being in Pittsburgh. West Penn (events), I just love.”

And clearly Pittsburgh golf agrees with James, even as she noted the inclusion of some “weird, western Pennsylvania typical” holes on the par-73 Donald Ross layout. For instance, competitors Thursday played three par 4s under 300 yards and the par-5 opening hole measured under 400.

James said her strategy was to approach the quirky holes cautiously and go after the rest of the course. Indeed she did, getting it as low as 8 under after making eagle on the 13th. A couple of closing bogeys couldn’t spoil her red-letter day, as she was the only player to break par.

Amazing what good health and some reps can do for a player.

“I’m just pleased to feel 100 percent,” James said. “I started to feel better by the spring but my game hadn’t come around. … This summer my life hasn’t changed that much (due to COVID-19). I still go to the course every day and have a lot of time to work on my game.”

While James had success staying in position off the tee and placing her approaches below some tricky pin locations, the rest of the field couldn’t keep up. Miller and rising Notre Dame sophomore Jessica Meyers tied for second at even-par 73, but everyone else in the 13th edition of this event finished 5-over or higher.

Of course, it’s uncertain whether the fall ‘non-championship’ season of NCAA golf will go on as planned, but either way, James is prepared to use another Women’s Am crown as a springboard into a potential breakout junior season in Dallas.

“Excited to get back to college,” she said. “I’m feeling great and competing within that framework.”

MORE WPGA

• Rising Central Catholic High School sophomore Rocco Salvitti kept his great summer going Monday, shooting 4-under 68 to edge Justin Hand by one for the 100th WPGA Junior Championship at Grove City Country Club.

Salvitti, 15, served notice to the local scene last month, when he held the first-round lead at the Tri-State PGA Open while competing against professionals and veteran amateurs.

He faded in the second and final round at Williams Country Club in Weirton, W.Va., but the Junior Am is just an 18-hole event — a sprint to the line that Salvitti aced. Trailing Ellwood City’s Justin Hand by one at the turn, despite shooting 3-under 33 on the front, Salvitti capped a back-nine 35 with an eagle on the 16th.

Salvitti rolled in a 15-footer for par on the last, locking up his first WPGA title. Hand (3 under) and Greensburg’s Jeff Mankins (2 under) were the only other players to beat par.

Harrison City’s Nicholas Turowski, who’s having a dynamite season on the Tri-State PGA’s Isaly’s Junior Tour, finished solo fourth at 1 over. Brice Delaney and Nathan Piatt, both of Pittsburgh, rounded out the top five at 2 over.

TRI-STATE PGA

• Tanner Grzegorczyk headed a group of three amateurs at the top of the leaderboard at the Dr. John Aber Memorial Golf Classic on Monday at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley.

Grzegorczyk, an NCAA Division II player at University of Findlay (Ohio), fired a 3-under 67 to hold off the runner-up duo of 2020 Pittsburgh Open champion Darin Kowalski and recognizable name Austin Lemieux by a stroke. The Shaler alum Grzegorczyk bogeyed just one hole against four birdies.

Wheeling (W.Va.) Country Club pro Jason Robinson, RMU Island Sports Center director of instruction Jim Cichra and amateur Adian Bulger tied for fourth at 1 under. Cichra was 3 under at the turn and made a tourney-high six birdies, but bogeyed his final two holes.

• Englishman Sam Berry won the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship on Tuesday at Shannopin Country Club in Ben Avon Heights, shooting a 6-under 65 to rally from an 18-hole deficit.

Berry, who works at Pikewood National Golf Club in Morgantown, and runner-up Alex Patricio of Allegheny CC both qualified for the national Assistant PGA Pro Championship. Patricio led by one after an opening-round 67, but a 70 in the afternoon round wasn’t enough to secure victory over a charging Berry, who claimed the $2,000 winner’s check.

St. Clair CC’s Gunnar Riley (3 under), Oakmont CC’s Brendan King (3 under) and Indiana CC’s Talon Kreibel (1 under) were all named alternates for the national competition.

ISALY’S JUNIOR TOUR

• Erie’s Natalie Brosig (ages 16-18) and South Fayette’s Marissa Malosh (ages 11-15) each continued strong summers on the Isaly’s Junior Tour with victories at the Dr. Charles Cuden Memorial Tournament on Monday at Green Oaks CC.

Brosig won for the second time on tour in 2020, taking a playoff with Victoria Witouski of Gibsonia after both shot 4-over 77s. Malosh collected her seventh trophy of the season in style, shooting 1-under 72 to beat Alexandra Petrochko by four. The nearest competitors to those two were 12 strokes behind.

The theme was entirely different on the boys’ side, with David Fuhrer II (ages 11-14), Tyler Figlioli (15-16) and Chase Crissman (17-18) all earning their first tour wins of the season by three strokes apiece.

Crissman, of Irwin, shot 4 over; Figlioli, of Butler, finished at 7 over; and Pittsburgh’s Fuhrer turned in a 5-over 76.

PENNSYLVANIA GOLF ASSOCIATION

• Diamond Run Golf Club’s Rick Stimmel came up just shy of a Pennsylvania State Amateur title, as the accomplished local golfer finished one shot behind Michael Brown, Jr., this week at Lookaway Golf Club in Buckingham.

Stimmel shot 9 under in the 54-hole event, highlighted by a 5-under 67 in Wednesday’s final round. He opened with an even-par 72, making his final total all the more impressive.

Oakmont’s Jimmy Meyers scored a ninth-place finish at 4 under, with his second-round 66 holding up as the second-best round of the tourney. Brett Young (T-14th, Nemacolin CC), Justin Griffith (T-20th, Wildwood GC), Nathan Smith (T-29th, Wildwood), Chris Tanabe (31st, Sewickley Heights GC) and Andrew Friend (T-35th, Oakmont) all made the cut.

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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