Ten local players competing in U.S. Amateur Championship
By Mike Dudurich • August 8, 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.
It has been called a number of things since it opened in 1904.
Majestic, magnificent, torturous, nerve-wracking and impossible are just a few.
All of those might be heard this week as 312 of the best amateur male golfers tee it up for the 121st U.S. Amateur. This will be the sixth time that the U.S. Amateur has come to Oakmont and will increase the number of United States Golf Association championships held here to 17.
To win a U.S. Amateur is a career highlight for any player fortunate enough to do so. But to win one on a course that is annually ranked among the top five in the world is something altogether different. The champions thus far at Oakmont are S. Davidson Herron (1919), Robert T. Jones Jr. (1925), William P. Turnesa (1938), Steve Melynk (1969) and Nick Flanagan (2003).
Whose name will be etched on the historic Havemeyer trophy that will be held high Sunday evening at Oakmont?
Will it be one of the top-ranked players in the world who’ll be testing their games against Oakmont’s perils, or will it be one of the very talented group of local players who’ll be competing?
That’s just one of the storylines that will be on display starting Monday.
Half of those 312 players will begin at Oakmont, the other half at Long Vue, all playing stroke play. The players will then switch venues for another stroke play 18. The low 64 players will advance to the match play portion starting Wednesday, continuing through the 36-hole match play final on Sunday.
The group of eight players who regularly compete in West Penn Golf Association events have had the privilege of having their brains beaten in by Oakmont and would figure to have an edge this week. But when you talk to those guys there’s obviously more to playing well in a tournament there.
Finding a way to keep drives in the fairway and making every putt you look at are givens. But there’s more. Much more.
“Pretty obviously, you have to get some breaks,” said Sean Knapp, who has won all over the country. “You can’t short-side yourself anywhere out there. Doing that can turn in a double bogey very quickly. And if you over-read a putt and it goes by the hole, it’s a double.”
Palmer Jackson, who’s having an outstanding summer, echoes what Knapp said, but put a little twist on it.
“Your feel, on and around the greens, has to be superb,” he said. “If it’s not, you can’t win. Even on a long birdie putt, like 40-50 feet, you have to hit a spot and hit it. Shot-shaping is going to be very important and you’re going to have to hit all the shots.”
Mark Goetz, who can a golf course with his power and length, knows that’s not necessarily going to be the case at OCC.
“Shot-making, shot-shaping, you really have to have that skill to hit the shots you need,” Goetz, who calls OCC his favorite golf course in the world, said. “Sometimes you’re hitting shots that other people don’t see. One thing’s for sure, Oakmont is the only place that I’ve played where you’ll see me in sixth green. I’ll be giving everything I got.”
eal Shipley has played Oakmont as he grew up but has had a more up-close and personal with the place the past two years when he not only played golf at a high level, but he also caddied at a high level.
“I’m really excited for sure,” Shipley said. “I’ve learned some of the little nuances about the course that could be really important.”
He pointed out the green on the ninth hole as an example.
“If that pin is on the right front and you go for that pin, it can be an automatic three-putt,” he said. “People try to stay away from that front bunker but that’s not a bad place to be. I really hope the course is hard and fast because I think that gives us a bit of an advantage.”
Ian Bangor was hoping for and finally got the call that told him he had gotten into the Amateur field as an alternate. He hasn’t stopped smiling since.
“You look at Oakmont differently,” Bangor said. “Your calculations are completely different. Oakmont’s fairways are so tight and because they are, you put a lot more spin on your approach shots. I’m really excited. This is the biggest event I’ve ever played in.”
Jimmy Meyers is a member at Oakmont and believes that gives him something of an advantage but no guarantees.
“I’m playing some really good golf and to get to play a championship like this on my home course is very exciting,” he said. “To me playing well at Oakmont requires is being fully committed on every shot. I know where to leave myself for my next shot. If you don’t figure that out, maybe a par turns quickly into a bogey and a bogey into a double.”
Jake Sollon plans to make the U.S. Amateur the last big event of his amateur career. His goal is to turn professional in September and start making some money doing what he loves.
“To me, the key is to having a strong for those first 36 holes and get into match play,” he said. “If you do that, maybe you can stumble into some birdies. I’m in the last group on Monday so I’ll be able to see what the guys have been able to do throughout the day. I played last Wednesday with Bob Ford (the long-time professional at Oakmont) and it was awesome. He’s a really good player and he’s a great guy. I’ll be anxious, but I can’t wait.”
The bottom line about this revered championship is this: The field of 312 is filled with players who can drive the ball miles, can hit laser-like iron shots into the greens.
The WPGA representation at Oakmont is rounded out by Grant Martens, who grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from North Allegheny High School before relocating to San Diego and Kevin O'Brien, who also grew up in Pittsburgh before reloacting to Ohio.
But they’re going to find out quickly on Monday and Tuesday, that Oakmont and Longue Vue aren’t the kind of courses that necessarily reward that sort of strategy. And if they’re fortunate enough to reach match play on Wednesday, course management will be just as important as any club in their bag.
It will be great entertainment watching the varying tactics employed by these talented players this week. It’s the kind of golf that you don’t see unless it’s being played on one of the great courses in the world.
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.