Seven local players competing in Sunnehanna Amateur
By Mike Dudurich • June 16, 2021
Mike is a freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich.
The last time a player from the West Penn Golf Association held the winner’s trophy in the historic Sunnehanna Amateur was 2011. Nathan Smith was crowned the champion that day, adding yet another high-profile championship to his glittering amateur career.
That win put him in elite company of WPGA champions as the 68th Sunnehanna Amateur gets underway this morning.
There’s a strong contingent from the WPGA competing in this year’s event led by Palmer Jackson, Mark Goetz, Connor Schmidt and Brock Matava. They’ll be joined by veterans Smith, Sean Knapp and Rick Stimmel.
“This is an event every year that’s circled on my calendar,” said Jackson, who grew up in Murrysville, graduated from Franklin Regional High School and is currently a standout on the Notre Dame golf team. “If I would win Sunnehanna, that would be my first major of amateur golf.”
This will be Jackson’s fourth appearance in Sunnehanna, with his best finish, T23, coming last year.
“Last year I was fifth after the second round. I was in position to win the golf tournament,” he laughed.
Having won the Pennsylvania Amateur at Sunnehanna in 2018, Schmidt is very familiar with the course. He’s also familiar with the Am, too, posting a T4 last year.
“I love Sunnehanna,” he said. “That place is very special to me. I love everything about it. The host families are amazing every year and that’s just part of what makes the experience so great.”
Both Jackson and Schmidt noted how big the greens are Sunnehanna. Jackson said maybe four Pebble Beach greens could be fit onto a number of putting surfaces at Sunnehanna.
“The first two years I felt like that,” Schmidt smiled. “You can run shots onto those greens, which is unique. But that’s when the fun begins. Like the rest of the course, the greens challenge every part of your game.”
Of the three, Goetz has the most interesting story of how he found himself in the field for the 2020 Sunnehanna.
“I missed making the qualifier by a shot and was talking about it at Hannastown (Golf Club) and Sean Knapp overhead me and told me to hang on a bit,” Goetz said. “Knapp went to Sunnehanna co-director John Yerger and told him that he would be crazy not to give me a spot. Well, it turned out that Knapp gave up his spot and it went to me.I’m very grateful and very, very lucky. I actually played pretty solid last year.”
Goetz had an outstanding senior year at West Virginia University, missing out on qualifying for the NCAA Individual Championship by two shots. He also earned All-America honorable mention this season, the first-ever such honor for a WVU golfer.
“Getting into this one means a lot,” Goetz said. “It’s pretty rare you can get into a big tournament for amateurs like this, especially with it being held up north. Different kind of turf, lots of hills to traverse. It’s a really cool feeling to experience a big event like this.”
Goetz will most likely be among the longest players in the field and he has a plan in place.
“Right now, the only holes I won’t hit driver on are 3, 11 and 18,” Goetz said. “I have a pretty good idea how I want to play the course, but I’ll keep working on my plan. We’ll see how I’m doing when the tournament starts.”
Matava made it through the qualifying round on Sunday into the tournament.
Defending champion Preston Summerhays, last year’s winner at 14-under par, returns as well as several other high-quality players, including the young WPGA trio.
Since last year’s Am, those three have flexed their collective muscle on a variety of stages, including the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball and U. S. Open local qualifying.
It’s been 10 years since Smith’s victory. Will this be the year one of the young guns breaks through?
About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and 33,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund.