Oakmont prepares for U.S. Open, Hall of Fame dinner approaching: From the desk of Mike Dudurich

By Mike Dudurich, 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 WPGA has retained Mike Dudurich to write a blog for its website. The opinions and observations contained within are his own and do not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the Association.

You may have heard that the U.S. Open will be held at Oakmont Country Club next June. It will no doubt be a torturous test for the 156 players who make the field.

With winter inexorably making its way toward us, the next several months will definitely be nervous times for the folks at Oakmont, who can’t afford the kind of winter damage that attacked golf courses throughout Western Pennsylvania last winter.

Grounds superintendent John Zimmers told me on my radio show the plan is to go above and beyond in the area of protection this winter. Heavier green covers will be in use and wind fences will surround each green in an attempt to cut down Mother Nature’s access to those diabolical putting surfaces.

Those measures will go into effect as the colder weather arrives. Zimmers said that most likely will start to take place toward the end of November.

Get those greens back to their historic selves, get the rest of the legendary layout hard and fast and the field will get a real test of golf after last year’s “experiment” at Chambers Bay.

A special night on the West Penn Golf Association is on the near horizon.

The 2015 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and WPGA Champions Dinner will take place on Oct. 14 at Chartiers Country Club.

A sparkling class of inductees – Eben Byers, Bobby Cruickshank, Judy Oliver, Sam Parks, Jr., Donald “Doc” Giffin, Sean Knapp and Nathan Smith – will enter the Hall and all 2015 WPGA champions and players of the year will be honored.

Sam Saunders 2015 season on the PGA Tour was certainly not what he would have hoped.

He played in 28 events, lost in a playoff in Puerto Rico and had four top-25 finishes, collecting $578,571.

The worst part of his season was yet to come, however. As he prepared to compete in the Web.com Tour Finals in late August, Saunders fell off a scooter and spent two nights in intensive care as a result of an epidural hematoma, known as a brain bleed.

But Saunders, the grandson of legendary Arnold Palmer, has recovered nicely and after the first day of the Web.com Tour Championship, he was a shot out of the lead after a 64.

“It makes me not want to be stupid and think I’m invincible,” Saunders said. “I have a wife and kids that I need to be around for, for a long time. Something like that certainly makes you think twice about jumping off a rock, or not wearing a helmet. It’s just not worth it.

Saunders finished fourth in the Hotel Fitness Championship, a finish that all but wrapped up his return to the PGA Tour next year. But a good performance this weekend will tie up a return to the PGA Tour.

An early heads-up on a program for young golfers that started on the Left Coast and is making its way east.

It’s called Youth on Course and it’s an idea that actually does something to attract youngsters to the game instead of just talking about it.

Adam Heieck, executive director of YOC, started the program in 2006 and it enables juniors to pay $5 per round at participating golf courses and the YOC making up the difference between that and the junior rate at the course.

“Kids never pay more than $5 a round,”” Heieck said. “That’s the hallmark of the program. It’s been great to see the growth and outpouring of support from private institutions, and the way golf courses have jumped on board.”

Heieck said YOC subsidizes almost 60,000 rounds a year in Northern California. It is a nonprofit organization that holds fundraisers and accepts donations. The Southern California Golf Association has gotten involved as have associations in Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. “We think this should be a national model,” Heieck said. For more information on the program, go to youthoncourse.org.

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Bergman & Stadler win Four-Ball Championship, McGuire & Ruby claim Senior Four-Ball

By Mike Dudurich, Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM – Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

FARMINGTON – Imagine being a two-man team, playing in the 74th edition of a major Four-Ball championship on a course that’s capable of biting even the best players, shooting 65-65, and LOSING.

That’s what happened to two teams Monday afternoon at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the 74th West Penn Golf Association Four-Ball and 5th Senior Four-Ball Championships.

And there was not only one team, but two, that suffered the fate of shooting 14-under par for 36 holes and not taking home any hardware.

“It’s unbelievable, that score,” said Allison Park’s Nathan Smith, who teamed with Oakmont’s Sean Knapp for one of those 65-65s. “That’s some really strong playing by those guys.”

Those guys in this instance are Doug Stadler and Brett Bergman, a pair of Wexford residents who managed to make 16 birdies, one eagle and just three bogeys in 36 holes Monday on Nemacolim’s Mystic Rock course.

“We just decided we were going to be super-aggressive today,” said Stadler. “We were just hunting for birdies. I doubt if either of us would have shot 72 on our own ball today, but ham-and-egged it real well.”

Another indication of how well the two were playing came in this statistic: the duo did not birdie the same hole twice over 36 holes.

They got things started on the first hole of the day when Bergman holed his approach shot, making an eagle and getting the two into high gear.

The two have known each since grade school. Bergman went to Shadyside Academy and Stadler to North Catholic. They were reunited again when it came time to go to college, becoming teammates on the golf team and roommates at Villanova University for four years.

“This was our first time in a two-man team event,” Bergman said. “We just made up our minds we were going to have fun.”

Of course the game is a lot more fun when both players are scratch golfers and have the ability to dial up big shots.

They pointed to Bergman’s eagle on No. 1, his approach shot from 190 yards that stopped rolling 10 feet from the hole on the par 5 16th and Stadler’s 9-iron from 145 yards on 18 from a hanging lie that came to rest a foot from the hole as their best efforts of the day.

“Certainly leaving myself a foot for birdie takes away a lot of putting stress,” Stadler said. And this from a guy who said he hadn’t played in three or four weeks.

Stadler, 28, is a gas and oil attorney and Bergman, 29, is in the diagnostic oncology area.

That’s why they didnít enter yesterday’s USGA Four-Ball Sectional qualifying at Nemacolin.

“We were fortunate to be able to play today, another day wasn’t going to work,” Stadler said.

Smith and Knapp had quite a day themselves, making 14 birdies and no bogeys.

“We were even through six holes this afternoon, just couldn’t get anything going,” Smith, who teamed with Todd White to win the National Four-Ball in May, said. “We played well, but just didn’t make anything.”

After making a birdie on the eighth, Smith and Knapp made six birdies on the back nine, closing with three straight by Smith.

“That’s the best we’ve ever shot (130), without a doubt,” Smith said.

Greensburg’s Arnie Cutrell and partner Darin Kowalski also put up 16 birdies, made just two bogeys and came up a shot short.

The Senior Four-Ball was hotly contested as well. Mike McGuire and Joe Ruby shot rounds of 64-67 to finish at 13-under par, good enough for a one-shot victory over the team of John Benson and Don Erickson III. Rich DuCarme and Alan English were three shots back and the only other team to finish in double-digits under par.

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Cutrell and DeNezza win state titles, WPGA completes championship season with Four-Ball

By Mike Dudurich, 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 WPGA has retained Mike Dudurich to write a blog for its website. The opinions and observations contained within are his own and do not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the Association.

A pair of Westmoreland County standouts finished their Pennsylvania Golf Association seasons off with a flourish this week.

Greensburg’s Arnie Cutrell came back from three shots behind to successfully defend his title at the 11th Art Wall, Jr. Memorial Championship at Schuylkill Country Club. Cutrell made three birdies early in his second round and added another at the 11th hole to get to two-under par and finished his round with five pars.

“I hadn’t played a practice round here, and that would have been a big help with the difficulty of these greens. I’m proud of the way I was able to play solid down the stretch and come away with the win,” Cutrell said.

Dave DeNezza of Greensburg completed a sweep of 2015 Pennsylvania Super-Senior division championships with a 10-shot victory in the Art Wall, Jr. Memorial.

How’s this for a summer? He won the Super-Senior Match Play at Scotch Valley in May; He won the Super-Senior Amateur at Longue Vue Club in a four-hole playoff and then hammered the rest of the field this week. In addition to those events, Denezza won the West Penn Super-Senior Amateur and the Semple Brothers Foursomes with partner Bob Allshouse. He and Allshouse will defend their 2014 West Penn Senior Four-Ball title at Mystic Rock on Monday.

“It’s an honor to be able to play in these events and the success I’ve had is a real treat. Schuylkill is a tough golf course where you need to control the ball and hole putts. It’s going to come down to making good par saves and I putted well this week and I think that was the difference,” said DeNezza.

A pair of big days on the schedule next week at Nemacolin Woods Resort in Farmington.

On Monday, the West Penn Four-Ball will be held for the 74th time on the Mystic Rock Golf Course. At the same time, the 5th Senior Four-Ball Championship will be contested on the same course.

Chuck Nettles and Jimmy Ellis are the defending champions in the Four-Ball while Bob Allshouse and Dave DeNezza are the defending senior champs.

The next day, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship for both divisions will be held on the same course.

You may remember Allison Park’s Nathan Smith and partner Todd White won the inaugural National Four-Ball in May and two teams from Nemacolin Woodlands will advance to the 2016 finals.

The USGA sent a team of staffers to Oakmont Country Club Monday to provide a bit of a preview of the 2016 U.S. Open and while there haven’t been a large number of changes there since the last U.S. Open in 2007, there are some very interesting ones.

All around the historic layout, areas leading into fairway bunkers have been cut down, encouraging even slightly offline drives into those penal bunkers.

The 194-yard par-3 sixth hole has always been difficult and will be even more so next year with the addition of 1,000-1,200 square feet of green on the back. That provides three or four more hole locations.

Another 4,000 (approximately) trees have disappeared from the grounds. It’s possible to stand on the patio of the clubhouse and see every hole on the course with the exception of the 17th tee.

Oh, it’s going to be fun in mid-June next year.

Both the men’s and women’s US Senior Amateurs will be contested this weekend. The women’s event will be at Hillwood Country Club in Nashville, Tenn,. while the men will be playing at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Twp., N.J. The tournaments run from Saturday through Thursday. Area competitors include Paul Schlachter of Bridgeville and Courtney Myhrum of Fox Chapel.

Two hundred and fifty years is a long time. That’s a brilliant statement, isn’t it?

Next year will be the Omni Homestead Resort’s 250th anniversary and there is a year’s worth of celebrations in the works at the Hot Springs, Va. retreat. Homestead is the place where Sam Snead’s career got started and all you need to do is walk around the historic hotel to learn a great deal about Snead and his career.

A great place to visit, less than five hours from Western Pa.

Did I mention how much I enjoy fall golf?

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Wheatcroft retains PGA Tour card

Steve Wheatcroft, Washington, PA, earned his PGA Tour card for the third time by finishing 20th on the Web.com Tour money list in 2014. He earned $973,024 this season on the PGA Tour and finished 105th on the money list. He retains his card for the upcoming season which begins next month. This is Wheatcroft’s first time he has made the top 125 on the PGA Tour.

Wheatcroft played in 28 PGA Tour competitions this year and made 17 cuts. He recorded a second place finish in the Humana Challenge at the PGA West (Palmer Course) in La Quinta, California. Wheatcroft also recorded two top tens and five top 25’s.

Since 2006 he has played on the Web.com Tour for seven seasons and three on the PGA Tour. On the Web.com Tour he won the 2011 Melwood Prince George’s County Open and the 2014 Albertson’s Boise Open. His total winnings for both tours approach $2,700,000. He also won the 2004 West Penn Open at Westmoreland Country Club.

A walk-on golfer at Indiana University in the Big Ten Conference, Wheatcroft made the Hoosiers starting line-up and received All Big-Ten honors during his senior year.

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WPGA defends at Palmer Cup

By Mike Dudurich, 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’s hard to imagine a day possibly being much better than Thursday, especially for the West Penn Golf Association. The best amateurs in this part of the state assembled at Latrobe Country Club for the 20th meeting with the best Tri-State PGA club professionals in the Palmer Cup.

The man for whom the event was named, Arnold Palmer, was on hand, being the gracious host he’s always been, just a week past his 86th birthday. His presence has always been a source of inspiration and excitement for the players as it was on this picture-perfect day.

What made it even more special for the guys in the blue shirts was how well they played, so well in fact they knocked off the pros for the second straight year. This year the final score was 10.5 – 6.5, an impressive back-to-back effort, considering the pros had won six of the last 10 prior to last year.

To have a great event like the Palmer Cup has become, it needs to have a great matchup or two. And Thursday’s meeting had a great one: two of the best amateurs to ever tee it up in WPGA events, Nathan Smith and Sean Knapp, against arguably the best club professional in the country, Bob Ford, who is now the Director of Golf at Oakmont Country Club and his successor, Devin Gee.

That group was the highlight of the afternoon Four-Ball matches after 10 singles matches had been contested in the morning, resulting in a 5.5 – 4.5 advantage for the WPGA going into the afternoon.

Things couldn’t have worked out better for the amateurs, who blitzed their professional counterparts with three birdies in the first four holes, building a lead that Ford and Gee could not overcome.

“That’s tough when they do something like that because you know they’re not going to make bogeys so you have to run at them and we didn’t make anything,” Ford added. “And in that situation, we couldn’t catch up.”

Knapp and Smith finished with four birdies, no bogeys, while Ford and Gee made just two birdies and two bogeys.

That sparked an eventual 4&3 victory for Knapp and Smith in a match that, while frustrating for the pros, was a great example of friendship and sportsmanship in a battle that both sides dearly wanted to win.

“They’re a great team, they’re great friends and we really did have a lot of fun competing,” Smith said. “Sean’s been playing really great golf and we were able to ham and egg it today. Honestly, I was honored to be a part of it.”

Smith was definitely the man of the match, hitting a number of seriously quality shots.

“This is the first time I’ve played with Nathan in this,” Knapp said. “I don’t usually hold up my end when he and I play together. He’s tough to play well with because he’s legendary. I’ve seen other amateurs choke when they play with him. You feel pressure because he’s so good that when he does hit a shot that’s not great, you feel like you have to pick him up.”

Gee, the youngster in the group, couldn’t help get caught up in special competition, regardless of the outcome.

“For me, this is one of the best days of the year,” Gee said. “Having Arnie here, getting to play with Bob, it was an awesome day. Bob is playing the best he’s played in years. It’s tough, though, when you don’t make any putts.”

The amateurs won four more of the seven four-ball matches in addition to Knapp & Smith: David Brown and Darin Kowalski beating Jason Martin and Kevin Shields, 2-up; Rick Stimmel and Jimmy Ellis beating John Aber and Tony Traci, 1-up; Joe Corsi and Paul Schlachter edging Bob Meyer and John Aubrey, 2-1; and Perry Graciano and Doug Gradwell beating Jim Cichra and Dick von Tacky, 1-up.

Final Results

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