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In The Arena: Schmidt Leads Strong Local Showing at Sunnehanna Am

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Connor Schmidt tees off on No. 1 in Friday's final round of the Sunnehanna Amateur. (PHOTO: @SunnehannaAm)

While 18-year-old phenom Preston Summerhays set a record Friday as the youngest winner in the 67-year history of the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur, four local competitors showed they belonged on the elevated stage, too.

Propelled by his first career hole-in-one during a final-round 65, Peters Township native Connor Schmidt finished in a three-way tie for fourth place at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown. The defending champion of the Western Pennsylvania Amateur led a group of four area players who made the cut in the annual event.

“I knew I needed to shoot at least 5 under today and get some help from the leaders,” Schmidt said over the phone Friday night. “I made the hole-in-one and I was like, ‘That’s a great start.’ I had a lot of great looks. That whole back nine I played so perfect.”

His ace, made on the 160-yard 10th hole, jump-started a 5-under back-nine 30 that left him level for the tournament with Auburn’s Brandon Mancheno and Oklahoma’s Quade Cummins.

Schmidt’s 72-hole total of 9-under 271 was five back of the precocious winner, but just two behind second-place finisher and University of Texas rising sophomore Travis Vick, who closed with a tournament-best 63. LSU’s Trey Winstead, who beat Schmidt earlier this month in match play at Pinehurst’s North & South Amateur, wrapped at 10 under to grab solo third.

Schmidt, recently profiled here on PGN, is a rising senior at Drexel University. He was one of just three players to break par all four days on the par-70 Sunnehanna layout, along with Summerhays and seventh-place finisher Jonathan Yaun.

This was Schmidt’s third time playing the tournament, plus he won the Pennsylvania Amateur on the course two years ago, so he had an uncommon comfort entering the final day, despite being five off the lead.

“Other than the U.S. Amateur, this is my favorite tournament,” Schmidt said. “There’s something special about the Sunnehanna. It’s so close to home. It means a lot to me, both the tournament and the people up there.”

After rounds of 69, 68 and 69 put him at 4 under entering Friday’s final round, Schmidt remained five behind Summerhays as he teed off on No. 10. With the pin placed left-center, he lofted a 9-iron that landed a few feet behind the hole and spun back over the lip.

“I was saying, ‘Be enough, be enough,’ ” recalled Schmidt, whose mom luckily recorded the shot for posterity. “I couldn’t believe it, but I was able to calm myself down before starting 11.”

Improbably, Schmidt shot 3-over 38 on the front nine of Monday’s opening round, but an eagle on the par-5 11th boosted him back under par for the day. He waited nearly three full rounds before making his other eagle of the tourney, which will likely last in his memory bank a little longer.

“Holes 10, 11, 12, 13 are kind of my favorite holes,” Schmidt said. “I got off to a sloppy start (Monday) with three-putts and some other mistakes. I didn’t think I was playing well, but I finally made a birdie on 10. It was a pretty cool little swing there that changed the tournament.

“You want to start off strong, not shoot yourself out of the tournament. I like playing 72 holes. The better players, when you’re playing well, you always want more holes, because there’s more time to get to the top of the leaderboard.”

Mark Goetz, a to-be senior at West Virginia University and native of Greensburg, wasn’t far behind Schmidt. The Kiski Area grad ended up at 6 under, tied for 11th out of the 63 players who made the 54-hole cut.

While Goetz couldn’t quite match Schmidt’s consistency, he was darn close, with a high round of 70 on Thursday making him one of six competitors to shoot par or better all four days.

Franklin Regional alum and Notre Dame rising sophomore Palmer Jackson started hot this week, shooting 67-69 to reach 4 under at the midway point. He cooled off in Rounds 3 and 4, but still crossed the finish line at even, tied for 41st.

Former Fox Chapel standout and High Point (N.C.) University sophomore Gregor Meyer was 1 under through 36 holes, but finished tied for 61st at 5 over.

Summerhays first made national headlines last July, when he won the U.S. Junior Amateur two days shy of his 17th birthday. You probably recognize the name if you follow golf: His father Boyd and uncle Bruce both played on the PGA Tour, his aunt Carrie played on the LPGA Tour and his grandfather Bruce, Sr., is a three-time winner on the PGA Champions Tour.

An incoming freshman at golf powerhouse Arizona State, Summerhays paced a group that had to endure multiple rain delays, a rarity in this dry summer across the eastern seaboard.

“Going into the week, the course was so firm and so fast,” Schmidt said. “I was one of the first players off Day 1 and got my round in before the rain. I’ve never seen greens that fast there, and they always have tough pins. As the week went on, it played a little easier.”

Schmidt, Summerhays and many of the elite group of amateurs who competed this week at Sunnehanna will now move on to suburban Indianapolis next week to take on Crooked Stick Golf Club in the Western Amateur. Competition starts Tuesday on the course John Daly made famous with his out-of-nowhere PGA Championship win in 1991.

WPGA

• The field for the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association’s 117th Open Championship is fully set after 10 players qualified Tuesday at Diamond Run Golf Club in Sewickley.

Central Catholic grad and Allegheny College rising sophomore Shane Kelley topped the field on a tough scoring day, shooting even-par 70 to earn medalist honors. Former North Catholic and Villanova University standout Doug Stadler headlined a three-man group at 1-over 71, including Ohio University rising sophomore and Peters Township product Tanner Johnson, plus Stephen Wojnar, the low pro of the two who qualified.

Amateur competitors Chris Sabol, Chris Kline, Brendan Shaughnessy, Justin Hand and Luke Lestini also made the cut, followed by Washington-born pro John Popeck. Michael Lubrani and Clay Spangler are the two alternates for the main event, which will be Aug. 4-5 at Shannopin Country Club in Ben Avon Heights.

• Chad Pappasergi and Mike Yavorsky combined for a winning 1-under total of 69 in Monday’s WPGA Foursomes Championship at Longue Vue Club in Verona. The 66th edition of the alternate-shot event saw Longue Vue members Evan Ruhling and Andrew Hodge finish second, one stroke behind.

In the 55-and-over division of the Foursomes, Jeff Hovanec (Hannastown GC) and Joseph Corsi (Ligonier CC) turned in a 1-over 71 to win by two.

TRI-STATE PGA

• Allegheny Country Club head pro John Aber came home in 3-under 33 in Monday’s Tam O’Shanter Open in Hermitage, surging to his first win of the 2020 Tri-State PGA season.

Aber, who finished second in each of the first three TSPGA events this year, birdied 12, 13 and 15 to snatch the victory at 4-under 68, one stroke clear of Tam O’Shanter’s Ari Papadopolous. Treesdale’s Joe Boros came in solo third at 2 under.

• The Adam Morrison-led team from Diamond Run prevailed at Friday’s Pro-3 Am at the Country Club of Meadville, shooting 18 under to win by two.

In the unique format, each player plays his or her own ball on a given hole, with the lowest two scores counted as the team score. The team made six net eagles on the day and five birdies.

ISALY’S JUNIOR TOUR

• Latrobe Country Club proved a tough nut to crack in Monday’s lone event of the week on the Isaly’s Junior Tour.

Adam Steinmetz’s 4-over total was the best score on the course, helping him win the boys’ 17-18 age group by two over Cole Villa. Steinmetz made three birdies on the front nine to counteract three bogeys.

Wes Warden shot 5 over to win the boys’ 15-16, while Kai Carson rode four birdies — all on the final seven holes of regulation — to finish 10 over, then won a four-player playoff. Carson won despite making a sextuple-bogey 10 and a double-bogey 7 on the back nine.

On the girls’ side, Tara Loughran kept her strong season going with another win, by one stroke over Isabella Walter in the 16-18 age bracket. The summer-long duel between Marissa Malosh and Alexandra Petrochko continued in girls 11-15; Malosh got the better of things this time with a 9-over 81 that was two better than her rival.

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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