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In The Arena: Tri-State Pros Blow Out Ams, Retain Palmer Cup

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The first tee shot at Thursday's Palmer Cup matches. (WPGA)

The pros are officially pushing back.

A team of Tri-State PGA competitors dispatched their Western Pennsylvania Golf Association amateur opponents, 11 1/2 to 3 1/2, on Thursday at Latrobe Country Club to win the annual Palmer Cup Matches for the second straight year.

The score was merely 3-2 in favor of the Tri-State PGA after the two-man better-ball matches in the morning, the club pros thoroughly dominated the afternoon singles, winning eight of the 10 matches and tying another for a commanding victory.

Considering that WPGA amateur teams had won six straight Palmer Cups from 2013-18, this turn of events has been welcome for the guys who make a living in the game.

“It’s awesome,” said Westmoreland Country Club head pro Shawn McCall. “The pros really want to beat the amateurs and I’m sure it’s the same way for them.”

While Arnold Palmer’s storytelling presence is missed — this was the fourth edition of the matches since the King’s passing in late 2016 — the event remains spirited, yet dignified with restraint befitting its namesake.

McCall, who also played for the Tri-State PGA in the 2017 Palmer Cup, said the atmosphere at the event “isn’t rowdy or raucous,” but the 6,500-yard, par-72 layout provides enough drama on its own, with tight driving areas and treacherous greens that bring bogeys into play along with the birdies.

In other words, it’s a compelling arena for match play.

“It’s an interesting layout,” McCall said. “There’s a lot of birdies out there to make. The greens were perfect and quick.”

(Quick enough, McCall noted, that he putted off the green once, although he recovered to chip in for par.)

McCall earned 1 1/2 points for the Tri-State cause, including a 1-up win with Wheeling (W.Va.) Country Club’s Jason Robinson for a 1-up win over Jeff Varga and Eric Poplowski.

That point appeared pivotal at the time, since the amateur teams of Chuck Nettles and Pennsylvania Open champ Jimmy Ellis, and local legend Sean Knapp and David Brown won the final two better-ball matches to close to within a point entering afternoon.

But the pros went on to claim the first seven singles matchups to clinch the Cup before the session was even half done. Club professionals Matt Tashenberg (Pikewood National GC), Michael Gervais (Bridgeport CC), Devin Gee (Oakmont CC) and Ari Papadopolous (Tam O’Shanter GC) each followed up morning better-ball wins with afternoon singles victories.

Knapp, the 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur champ and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Famer, was the lone amateur to claim a singles win, beating Robinson 5&4, while 2020 Pittsburgh Open winner Darin Kowalski earned a half-point for the WPGA side with a tie against McCall.

“Neither one of us had our best, but it was a close match,” McCall said. “Very rarely do you get to play with teammates, so I feel more pressure in this event. You can let down 11 people as opposed to just yourself.”

The end result for the professionals was certainly no downer, though. Even the senior better-ball matches went their way, with the teams of Jim Cichra-Gordon Vietmeier and Dennis Dolce-Roy Vucinich each winning before the 18th hole.

However, from an individual standpoint, maybe the best story was on the amateur side. Rocco Salvitti, a 16-year-old sophomore on the Central Catholic golf team and surprise contender at this summer’s Tri-State Open, made history as the youngest player to ever play in the Palmer Cup.

“It was a lot of fun,” Salvitti told WPGA.org. “This was my first match play event. It was an honor to play in Mr. Palmer’s tournament here in Latrobe.”

Salvitti, of Canonsburg, fell 2&1 alongside Kowalski in the morning, with Gervais and Papadopolous providing stern opposition. The star Viking then lost 2-up to Gervais in the afternoon.

Brett Young strikes a shot during the Pennsylvania Mid-Amateur Championship. (PAGA)

PENNSYLVANIA GOLF ASSOCIATION

Bethel Park’s Brett Young made it a rare double when he rallied from behind on the back nine to win the Pennsylvania Mid-Amateur Championship on Thursday at Huntingdon Valley Country Club in greater Philadelphia.

Young, the freshly-crowned 2020 WPGA Mid-Amateur champion, was the only player to break par in the 36-hole event, shooting 1 under to win by one. Mid-amateur events are limited to players 25 and older.

“It was an absolute grind,” the 27-year-old Young told PAGolf.org. “I’ve been in the mix a lot this summer, so I’ve had experience being near the top, so I think that helped me down the stretch. I’m just honored to have been fortunate enough to get it done today.”

A two-time qualifier at both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur, Young finished Thursday two ahead of final-group competitor Tug Maude of Merion CC, coming back from three shots down at the turn to shoot 34 on the back for an even-par 70. Young and Maude had been the only two to break par in Wednesday’s opening round.

Three other western Pennsylvania golfers finished in the top 10, with Nathan Smith (Wildwood GC) and Jordan Klodowski (Kittanning CC) each shooting 3 over to tie for fifth. Rick Stimmel (Diamond Run GC) was seventh at 4 over.

WPGA

Stan Namola and Mike Montelone beat the hometown team of Dave Payne and Mike Trombetta on the second playoff hole to win the WPGA’s Senior Four-Ball Championship on Tuesday at Williams Country Club in Weirton, W.Va.

Namola and Montelone combined for a 12-under total in the 36-hole tournament, highlighted by Montelone’s second-round eagle on the par-4 15th. Trombetta and Payne birdied the final two to set up the sudden-death playoff.

Bob Allshouse and Vince Zachetti of Hannastown Golf Club won the Super-Senior Four-Ball with a 3-under total.

TRI-STATE PGA

Prior to their Palmer Cup success, McCall and Robinson teamed up to win the better-ball Pro-Pro Championship on Monday at Avalon Field Club in New Castle.

Posting a 6-under 66 on their second 18, McCall and Robinson set up a three-way playoff against the teams of Joe Boros-John Aber and Rob McClellan-Gene Walter. McCall sunk the winning birdie from long range to lock up the trophy.

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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