HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa. (September 2, 2014) — In a star-studded Senior Amateur field, a pair of unfamiliar faces took center stage.
Mark Dennish (left) of The Ridge of Back Brook and Drew Panebianco of Five Ponds Golf Club both carded 1-over-par 71s at Philmont Country Club (North Course, par 70, 6,415 yards) to share the lead after Round 1 of the 44th Senior Amateur Championship. The second and final round is Wednesday. Tee times begin at 7:30 a.m. The leaders start at 2 p.m.
Ray Thompson of Overbrook Golf Club, a two-time Senior Amateur winner (2007, 2011), stands a shot back at 2 over.
On a sweltering, sticky day, Dennish and Panebianco turned the clubhouse upside down early. Both played in the morning and posted scores that wouldn’t be challenged.
Dennish said he rarely competes in Association events, but has found some time in his schedule to break away. He’s also been working with the Ridge at Back Brook staff on his game.
Those factors resulted in a prepared opportunity.
Dennish capitalized by hitting 15 greens on the rolling hills of the North Course.
“It was a real solid round,” Dennish, 56, of Skillman, N.J., said. “I kept the ball in front of me. This gives me something to build off of. I don’t hit the ball very far. I’m more of a shotmaker. I try to hit fairways and greens.”
Dennish carded three bogeys and two birdies on Tuesday.
On No. 2, he dropped a 6-iron from 160 yards to 12 feet and made the birdie putt. However, the 6-iron taketh away on the next hole, the par 3, 156-yard third, when he pulled the club left of the green.
Dennish bogeyed the treacherous and difficult 11th (par 3, 215 yards) with an errant tee ball but carded a birdie on No. 13 (par 4, 341 yards) knocking a three-quarter 9-iron from 135 yards to 10 feet to move back to even par. On No. 14 (par 4, 434 yards), statistically the hardest hole on the course playing to a 5.011 scoring average, Dennish just missed a five-foot par save.
A member at the Ridge since its opening, Dennish was a baseball player in high school before taking up golf his senior year. He attended the College of New Jersey and played on the golf team. After college, he focused on business. In the pharmecutical industry, Dennish stopped playing for 20 years before taking the game back up when he joined the Ridge.
“I have no expectations for tomorrow. I want to play a strong round, keep the ball in front of me and see where the gets me in the end,” he said.
Business kept Dennish from competition; a hand injury limited Panebianco’s ability. He could only use three fingers when gripping a club his left hand, which made breaking 80 a tall order throughout the summer. The injury is healing, and to further cope, Panebianco implemented a grip he saw presented during a TV program featuring golf greats Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino last night.
"Trevino was talking about how Player was weak with his right hand. It reminded me that years ago I used a grip like that," Panebianco, 61, of Gwynedd Valley, Pa., said. "I tried it on the range this morning and started hitting it well. It kind of came together today."
It sure did. Panebianco, who started on No. 10 (par 4, 319 yards), opened with five straight pars before unearthing a birdie on No. 15 (par 4, 388 yards), where he drilled an 8-iron 139 yards to five feet. He relinquished a stroke on the demanding par 3, 185-yard 17th hole. Panebianco launched a hybrid onto the top shelf, rolled his par putt 12 feet and missed the comebacker.
Ensuing back-to-back birdies brought Panebianco back into leaderboard prominence. He hit a pitching wedge 105 yards to 18 feet on No. 18 (par 4, 344 yards), a 9-iron 130 yards to five feet on No. 1 (par 4, 388 yards). With the good came a bit of bad, though, as Panebianco bogeyed his next two holes: a three-putt on No. 2 (par 4, 386 yards) and a heavy 6-iron on No. 3 (par 3, 156 yards). He also bogeyed the par 4, 414-yard No. 5 after missing the green with a 6-iron.
Panebianco nudged a 9-iron to six feet for a 2 on No. 8 (par 3, 133 yards). His last hole served as a head-scratcher. After his first two shots found the fairway, Panebianco fired an uphill, upwind 8-iron from 133 yards into a tournament leaderboard — some 10 yards behind the green. He failed to get up-and-down from there.
"Maybe I caught it a little thin. I still don't know how that happened," Panebianco said.
To make Panebianco's 1 over performance even more impressive, he carried his own bag, navigating Philmont's hilly terrain in oppressive heat.
"I caddie part-time at Squires [Golf Club], so that's really not an issue. I like it because it seems like I get looser," he said.
Co-leader status comes as a surprise to Panebianco, but he's thrilled to be in that position entering the event's final round.
"I've been hitting it better lately, so hopefully, I can keep it going," he said.
View results for Philadelphia Senior Amateur Golf Championship