Erin, Wis. – They're once... twice... three times a neighbor.
When the 111th U.S. Amateur began on Monday at Erin Hills and at companion course Blue Mound Golf and Country Club, a field of 312 players gathered to compete from around the world. What are the chances three of them would be neighbors?
Ian Vandersee, Mike McCoy and Ben Juffer don't just live in the same Des Moines, Iowa, neighborhood. They don't just live on the same street. Their property lines touch.
McCoy and Juffer are next-door neighbors in Des Moines, while Vandersee lives behind them. The territorial trifecta figures to be unprecedented in USGA championship history; at least no one in the association could find such an occurrence previously.
Nearly as improbable is the fact the Three Amigos qualified into the 2011 Amateur from three locations. McCoy, 48, who is playing in his 13th Amateur, made the grade competing at Moraine Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. Vandersee, 19, got in the field at Blue Top Ridge in Riverside, Iowa. Juffer, 20, qualified at Tallgrass Country Club in Wichita, Kan.
And that's not all. Gene Elliott, also from Des Moines and currently the Iowa Amateur champ, is in the field this week. What's more, Jed Dirksen of Hampton, Iowa – a quarterfinalist at the 2010 U.S. Amateur – is back for more and Nate Dunn of Hiawatha, Iowa, is on hand.
That gives Iowa six entries in the U.S. Amateur in the same year, which had never happened since the current format was adopted in 2002.
The moral of the story? When it comes to amateur golf, you can't stop Iowa, you can only hope to give it enough tee times.
Paying His Dues
Golfweek scribe Ron Balicki is covering his 71st USGA championship this week, and his 25th consecutive U.S. Amateur. Balicki began the streak with the U.S. Amateur at Jupiter Hills Club in Jupiter, Fla., in 1987, won by Billy Mayfair.
I still remember most of them, Balicki said, especially the ones way back when.
Balicki said the U.S. Amateur he recalls most readily is 1994, or the first of three championships for Tiger Woods. Just because he had a comeback not only in the final against Trip [Kuehne], Balicki said. But I know he also had to make a comeback against Buddy Alexander in another match, and I think he came back in another match, as well.
Balicki has been with Golfweek for 28 years, covering college and amateur golf. Beside the Amateur, he has attended 27 consecutive NCAA Championships, and in September he will correspond from his 10th Walker Cup.
I think the Walker Cup is my favorite, Balicki said. I remember in 1989, they were selling tournament posters with pictures of the teams. So I bought two of them and I gave them to Robert Gamez (who was on the team) to have the whole team sign.
I thought, 'Boy, this will be a neat thing to have – a Walker Cup poster with signatures from the winning Walker Cup team.’
No doubt burdened by the Balicki Jinx, the Americans went on to lose the 1989 Walker Cup at Peachtree in Atlanta, their first loss to Great Britain & Ireland in 18 years and their first loss ever on U.S. soil.
Well, I thought, it still makes it very special, anyway, Balicki said with a laugh. And I still have it hanging up in my office.
Dealing With The Elements
Kevin Fitzgerald, a University of California-Riverside standout, fired a 1-under 71 at Erin Hills on Tuesday. His group started on time at on No. 10 and made it through three holes. He was about to launch his tee shot at No. 13 in the morning when storms threatened. Officials at the tee suggested he wait.
I was glad they did that because I would not have been happy if I would have walked 200 yards to mark my ball only to have the horn sound, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said conditions were quite a bit different when play resumed. Yet, he fought the course to a standstill. He was one under after birdieing No. 10 to start the day, and he played the final 15 holes at even par after coming back.
I didn't think it was that bad at first when we came back, he said. But when we got to holes 18, one, two, three and four, the wind was really blowing; it really was different in the middle of the round. The course just looked so visually different than it looked in my practice round.
You know, I played the one practice round and on No. 1 it was straight downwind. But today, it was straight into the wind... and I made a bad bogey there. In the practice round, it was a drive and 4-iron into the middle of the green. Today, I couldn't reach it. So it was a lot different with the wind.
Fitzgerald was just hoping his Tuesday round would get him into match play. After a 73 at Blue Mound on Monday, he was two over for the stroke-play segment.
I feel like I played a pretty good round today under the circumstances; I just hope it's good enough, he added.
David Chung, of Fayetteville, N.C., last year's runner-up, withdrew Tuesday at Erin Hills because of food poisoning. He had not started his second round yet when he pulled out.
Chung, who lost to Peter Uihlein, 4 and 2, at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., had shot a 1-under-par 69 in Monday's first round at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club.