by Ron Bellamy
Fitting enough, for a golf championship that has been played continuously since 1899, with the exception of three years during World War II, the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men’s Amateur is rich with history.
Chandler Egan, the superb amateur and noted golf course designer, won the event five times, the last in 1932 when he was in his late 40s and four years from death.
Tiger Woods won it when he was 18, in 1994. Three years later, by then a pro, he won the Masters by 12 strokes.
Along the way, champions have included eventual PGA Tour players such as Ben Crane, Rick Fehr, Craig Kanada, Mark Wiebe, Eric Johnson and Jeff Quinney, the U.S. Amateur champion in 2000 who won the PNGA event that year and also in 1998.
Quinney is the last multi-winner; there have been 16 different champions in the ensuing years, most recently University of Washington golfer Carl Yuan, who won the title last year at Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla, Wash.
When the 116th rendition of the PNGA Men’s Amateur begins play July 10 at Emerald Valley Golf & Resort in Creswell, Ore., concluding with the 36-hole championship match on July 15, the field will include the recent Oregon Amateur champion, the best mid-amateur golfer in the PNGA the last two years and golfers from such high-powered collegiate programs as Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Notre Dame.
This is the second time the championship has been held at Emerald Valley; the public course was the site of the 2007 event, in which Jake Younan-Wise, an Australian who played collegiately at Texas Tech, defeated Patrick Nagle in the 36-hole final match.
Though winter storms cost Emerald Valley some trees, this is a much-improved golf course over the last decade, thanks to the investment of Jim Pliska, the former University of Oregon golfer and noted amateur who has owned the course since 2002 and gradually implemented a master plan by architect Dan Hixson to update the mid-1960s layout by Bob E. Baldock.
Another key figure is award-winning superintendent Scott Larsen, who last year softened Emerald Valley’s most notorious green, the severely sloping multi-tiered monster at the par 4 fourth hole, the No. 1 handicap hole that will play to 405 yards.
That green remains a challenge, and not the only one. For the championship, par will be 72 and the course will play to 7,210 yards, with the par 3s set at 170, 209, 211 and 182 yards and the par 5s playing 537, 558, 610 and 577 at No. 18.
“It’s going to test every aspect of your game, off the tee, irons, but it really comes down to short game” said Calvin Green, a 26-year-old former Northwest Christian University golfer who works part-time at Emerald Valley and who won the OGA Public Links championship on his home course last year.
“Can you get up and down when you miss the green, and then can you make putts? If you don’t have a short game out there, or it’s not razor sharp, it’s really going to hurt you and make it difficult to score well.
“Scott (Larsen) does a great job. He keeps the greens running between 10 and 11.5 most of the year. And also they’re raised up just a few feet (and) that height messes with your chip shots and wedge shots a little bit. On top of that, almost every green is sloped from back to front, so if you go long you’re putting downhill, and there’s not a whole lot of chance for stopping that thing anywhere close to the hole. You’ve got to keep it short of the hole; that’s going to be a big thing to have uphill putts most of the week.”
For more than a few golfers, the Emerald Valley course will be quite familiar, as it has hosted U.S. Open qualifiers, most recently in 2014, as well as Oregon men’s amateurs, a U.S. Amateur qualifier last year and numerous high school state championships. Furthermore, some of the contestants in this championship played in the PNGA Junior Boys Amateur here in 2014, including medalist John Sand from Hoquiam, Wash.
(Sand, by the way, last month lost the Washington 1A prep championship in a playoff, two days after he fractured his jaw when his 6-iron snapped during practice round.)
The University of Oregon team practices at Emerald Valley regularly, a boon for UO golfers Sam Foust and Kevin Geniza and former UO golfers Brandon Baumgarten, now at UC Davis, Robbie Ziegler and Jack Penningon. Other golfers very familiar with the course include Loyola Marymount senior Billy Pollock, who graduated from Marist High School in Eugene; Richmond’s Ben Wanichek, of Eugene’s Sheldon High School, and former Sheldon star Chris Polski, coming off a strong performance in the recent Oregon Amateur.
And then there’s UCLA golfer Cole Madey, who comes into this championship as the 2017 Oregon Amateur champion, an event in which he was the medalist and then prevailed in match play. As Lake Oswego High School seniors in 2015, Madey and Loyola Marymount’s Riley Elmes shared medalist honors in the Class 6A boys state tournament at Emerald Valley and in the process led the Lakers to their fourth straight state title.
“Having that local knowledge is going to be huge,” said Green, seeking to advance to match play for the first time in his fifth PNGA championship. In addition to the challenging greens, the course is “pretty narrow off the tee box with the tree-lined fairways; just being used to those lines that you’re going to take, and having them be a little bit more narrow than other courses, it gives you a little bit of an advantage where you feel more comfortable. It doesn’t feel as tight as when you’re coming from a course with wider fairways.”
Although the championship has no age limit, the nucleus of the field consists of top collegiate golfers. Some intriguing names to watch:
* Andrew Whalen, last year’s runner-up, who just completed his senior season at Northwestern. Whalen’s brother, Aaron, of Washington State is also entered. (Other brother acts include Cole and Clayton Madey and Brian Mogg, Washington State, and Chris Mogg of Gonzaga. The Moggs’ uncle Brian Mogg is a noted swing coach with his Brian Mogg Golf Academy at Chambers Bay.
* A.J. Ewart, an 18-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C., was runner up last year in the British Columbia Men’s Amateur and in the Junior Boys’ Championship.
* Chase Carlson, of Colorado Christian University, won the 2016 Washington State Amateur at his home course of Tacoma Country & Golf Club in a six-hole playoff with WSU golfer Derek Bayley, also entered here, who shot a second-round 59 en route to winning the 2016 Rosauers Invitational.
* Josh Gliege, a Texas A&M freshman was 2015 PNGA Junior Boys’ Player of the Year. Graysen Huff of Auburn won that award in 2014.
* Noteworthy: Joe Neuheisel, from Manhattan Beach, Calif., is the 20-year-old son of former Washington and UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel. Charles “CJ” Sitton V is the son of Oregon State basketball hall of famer Charlie Sitton; the younger Sitton attends Oregon, where he is president of the club golf team. Sam Triplett, who plays at Northwestern, is the son of PGA Tour pro Kirk Triplett.
* Noteworthy, part two: Cole Chrisman, who earlier this year led Summitt High School of Bend, Ore. to its third straight state 5A title and will play collegiately at Idaho, recorded an albatross at age 16 when he aced the par 4 fifth hole at Awbrey Glen Golf Club in Bend. Li Wang of Sammamish, Wash., just completed his senior year as captain at Yale, where he matched an NCAA record shooting 60 in the Macdonald Cup. University of Washington golfer Daniel List was born in Ghana and lived in Australia.
There are exceptions to the college kids theme. Former University of Arizona golfer Reid Hatley of Hayden Lake, Idaho, was the PNGA Men’s Mid-Amateur player of the year in 2015 and 2016 and won the PNGA Men’s Mid-Amateur in 2013. Hatley, in his mid-30s, was the college roommate of PGA Tour pro Ricky Barnes and owns a business, RHI Golf, that makes customized course stands, bag and club stands, benches, trophies and other products for some of the best-known properties in golf, including Pebble Beach.
Other top mid-amateur players (25 and older) include Jason Aspelund of Federal Way, Wash., who is a grounds operation manager for Alaska Airlines and was a high school soccer star who played that sport collegiately; Craig Larson of Tacoma, Wash., who teamed with former major league pitcher Erik Hanson to win the PNGA Senior team championship last year; Jeff Ward of Bend, the 2014 PNGA Mid-Amateur champion, and Justin Kadin of Corvallis, the 2015 OGA Mid-Amateur champion.
The PNGA Men’s Amateur is open to amateur golfers with an index of 4.4 or better who are affiliated with clubs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, British Columbia and Alberta. Stroke play competition for the field of 168 golfers will be held on Monday, July 10 and Tuesday, July 11, to determine the top 64 finishers to advance to match play competition.
The Round of 64 will be held Wednesday, followed by the Rounds of 32 and 16 on Thursday, and quarterfinals and semifinals on Friday, with the championship match on Saturday.
For the winner, the stakes are a place on an historic list, and various exemptions, including the 51st Pacific Coast Amateur that begins July 18 at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., as well as next year’s Sahalee Players Championship and the PNGA Men’s Amateur Championships 2019-2022.
Ron Bellamy is the former sports editor and columnist for the Eugene Register-Guard. For past golf writings, visit www.ronbwriter.com.