Kevin O'Brien receives the trophy from WPGA President, Ken Flisek

Through heat, O’Brien claims Spring Stroke Play Championship
By Josh Rowntree, Director of Communications  • April 29, 2024

MCMURRAY — Battling through heat that flirted with an all-time high set in the WPGA’s first year of existence in 1899, it was Kevin O’Brien who decided to heat up himself.

O’Brien ran away with the 31st WPGA Spring Stroke Play Championship Monday at Valley Brook Country Club, shooting a 7-under 137 to claim the WPGA’s first competition of 2024.

“I’ve never played this course before and didn’t even play a practice round,” said a happily surprised O’Brien Monday evening. “I looked at the course on Google Maps and on the card.”

The Wexford native and Pittsburgh Field Club member did the bulk of his damage in the opening 18 holes, shooting the day’s low round, a 5-under 67 during much cooler temperatures than the mid-80s that peaked on the thermometer in the afternoon.

“I started out with two birdies and hit wedges close,” said O’Brien. “And it felt like the whole day, if I had a wedge and an open shot, I hit it pretty good. And inside of ten feet I made a lot of putts.

“In that first round, I kept them between the trees and rolled in a lot of good putts. It was a good start.”

That strong opening helped O’Brien to a six-stroke victory over Darin Kowalski of South Hills Country Club, who posted an opening round score of 68 before a 3-over result in the second round.

For O’Brien, it’s a finish that’s been in the making for a little while.

“I was lucky enough to play in an event in Texas a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I felt like I was getting pretty close. And today I felt like my irons and wedges were really locked in.

“I just had confidence… it’s really hard to complain with that score today.”

The victory is doubly sweet for O’Brien, a Seton Hall grad. His alma mater claimed the Big East Championship on Monday, as well.

“My phone’s been blowing up all day,” he said with a laugh. “Some of my old teammates, we were shooting each other texts. It’s the second time they’ve won in three years and one of my best friends is the head coach now. So that was really cool.”

O’Brien and Kowalski were the lone finishers under par. Sean Edgar finished even, while six more players shot 1-over.

But all competitors battled the region’s first heat wave of the season, and a challenging course that, just weeks ago, dealt with substantial rainfall and flooding.

“I was talking with Harton Semple in my group and, even at the beginning of the second round, we were feeling pretty tired,” O’Brien said. “The second 18 was a grind. But luckily there was a nice breeze, and the course is in great shape."

With the victory, O’Brien is exempt into the West Penn Amateur in June, where he hopes to replicate Monday’s success in what will likely be similar weather conditions.

“We made it through,” he said. “And it was a really great day… I’m looking forward to a great summer.”

For media inquiries, please contact WPGA Director of Communications Josh Rowntree.

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 nearly 37,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.