WAYNE, Pa.–Scott McNeil officiates Junior Varsity basketball games during the winter; upwards of seven a day. That’s a lot of hours in tiny gyms with children and testing parents questioning your mental faculties.
On Wednesday, McNeil tuned out the challenge of a top-quality field and gusty conditions to lead after Round 1 of the 32nd Middle-Amateur Championship presented by Callaway Golf. McNeil, in the first group to open play at 7:30 a.m., finished at 2-under par at St. Davids Golf Club (par 70, 6,545 yards). His 68 was the lone under-par score of the day. McNeil holds a three-shot advantage over Michael Carr of Plymouth Country Club.
The second and final round begins at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. A total of 71 players made the cut, which fell at 79. The final group of McNeil, Carr and Ryan Gelrod of Philadelphia Cricket Club begin at 11:20 a.m.
“In refereeing, you can’t get frustrated. You have to stay focused and busy in your mind for five to six hours,” said McNeil, 29, of Philadelphia, Pa. and Bala Golf Club. “If you can stay mentally busy there, you should be able to stay mentally busy here and focused between shots. This is no different than refereeing six basketball games in a row from the time you hit the range to the time you head out.”
This is McNeil’s third Middle-Amateur appearance. He tied for 10th in 2012 at Chester Valley Golf Club and tied for 28th in 2013 at Fieldstone Golf Club.
Carr, 28, of East Norriton, Pa., has competed in the last two Mid.-Ams. He finished tied for fifth in 2013 and, last year at Gulph Mills Golf Club, tied for sixth.
Defending champion Peter Barron, III of Stone Harbor Golf Club finished at 6-over 76 and finds himself tied for 25th.
“[Gulph Mills] and this are similar,” said the 39-year-old Barron. “I think this was a little firmer. Wedges would one hop and released a little bit. But if you struck it well with your irons, they pretty much stopped.”
Both are architect Donald Ross designs.
McNeil, the parking facilities manager at 10 Rittenhouse Square, turned his front-nine in even-par 35. He double bogeyed No. 2 (par 4, 444 yards) when his approach flew the green into the back bushes but responded with an eagle on No. 4 (par 4, 370 yards). He sank an 89-yard second shot with a 58-degree wedge.
“[It was a] back pin with firm greens and a little downwind. I was able to hit a 58-degree [wedge] that landed about 10 feet short of the pin, kicked a little to the left, right at the stick, checked and went in,” said McNeil. “It’s one thing to hit them close but you always have to execute and when they go in without having to execute that’s a great thing.”
McNeil tapped in a birdie putt on No. 8 (par 5, 490 yards) after reaching the green in two, but gave the stroke right back with a blocked 4-iron on No. 9 (par 3, 232 yards) that landed in the bunker. He failed to get up-and-down.
On the back nine, McNeil and his steady play continued. He registered seven pars and two birdies, not surprisingly, both on par 5s for the stout hitter. He sank a 25-foot putt for 4 on No. 11 (par 5, 545 yards) and reached No. 16 (par 5, 502 yards) in two shots with a wedge from 150 yards to 25 feet. He lagged his eagle try to tap-in range for birdie.
McNeil mentioned a change to his stance, widening it, and grip made in the winter that has helped his game grow.
Last week, he medaled in the U.S. Open Local Qualifier at Trump National Golf Club – Philadelphia.
“The changes I made in the winter allow me to be able to look at any shot and know I am going to strike it solid and put it in a good place a majority of the round. It’s going to allow me to stay mentally tough,” said McNeil. “Good ball-striking will go a long way in me being able to consistently keep my scores down lower.”
The Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Middle-Amateur Championship started in 1984, three years after the USGA created the U.S. Mid-Amateur as a formal championship for post-college amateurs. The Association followed suit with the USGA in creating a Mid-Am, but initially differed in its administration of the tournament in a couple of respects.
The most obvious difference was the age requirement. Prior to 2001, the GAP Middle-Amateur was for players 30 years of age and older.
The Association’s Executive Committee reviewed and revised that age requirement in 2001 to match the USGA's guidelines of 25 years of age or older for eligible players. Also at that point, the Committee changed the format of the event to a two-day stroke play tournament (instead of a one-day medal play event) with a cut to the low 70 players and ties after the first round. The field began with 130 players.
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ABOUT THE GOLF ASSOCIATION OF PHILADELPHIA
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 151 Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
story courtesy Golf Association of Philadelphia
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