St. Albans, Mo. – Darkness was enveloping the Country Club of St. Albans’ Lewis and Clark Course late Thursday when Pennsylvania’s Nathan Smith put the finishing touches on a 3-under-par round of 68.
And with a 36-hole team total of 7-under 277, the three-man Pennsylvania squad is threatening to turn out the lights on the rest of the field at the 2009 USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
Coupled with a 68 from 22-year-old Mike Van Sickle of Wexford in the 3-count-2 format, Pennsylvania takes a four-stroke lead over Illinois and Rhode Island into Friday’s final round on the 7,150-yard, par-71 layout. A 74 by 47-year-old Sean Knapp of Oakmont was not counted.
On a day when it was beneficial to have an afternoon starting time, Pennsylvania, which has never finished higher than sixth in seven previous Men’s State Team Championships, took full advantage of its spot in the draw.
Starting eight shots behind Kansas, which played in the morning when a steady drizzle pounded the course and competitors, Pennsylvania saw its deficit reduced to three strokes when the morning wave concluded play.
Kansas carded a 10-over 152 and fell from nine under to 1-over 285. South Carolina and Tennessee started the second round two back of Kansas, but posted 5-over and 7-over rounds, respectively. All three played during the worst of the weather conditions.
Georgia, which shot a 4-under 138 on Wednesday, fired a 2-over 144 in the afternoon and fell into a fourth-place tie with South Carolina at 2-under 282. Tennessee was sixth at even-par 284.
In order to maximize the opportunity for the contending teams to complete the 54 holes of the competition, along with the forecasted threat of more rain and possible afternoon thunderstorms on Friday, the Men's State Team Championship Committee decided to cut the field to 26 teams for the final round. The cut came at 9-over 293.
The only other time a cut was made came in 2003 at Charles River Country Club near Boston under similar circumstances.
Pennsylvania, however, won't have to worry about going home early.
“I have to say it was nice sitting in my bed in my workout clothes watching the computer as it’s raining outside knowing that they had to struggle through that,” said Van Sickle, a first-team All-American selection this past season as a Marquette University senior. “We definitely had the better of the tee times these two days not having to play in this rain. That was definitely an advantage.”
Both Smith and Van Sickle jumped out to hot starts, thanks to the rain subsiding and the course being totally devoid of any wind. The 31-year-old Smith from Pittsburgh, a member of the victorious USA Walker Cup team 11 days ago at Merion Golf Club, was four under par after six holes. Despite a bogey at No. 18, his ninth of the round, he shot an even-par 35 on the outward nine.
At 5-under 137, Smith stands a stroke behind 23-year-old Mark Anderson of Beaufort, S.C., for individual medalist honors. Anderson followed his first-round 65 with an even-par 71. Smith shares second with 23-year-old Carlos Sainz of Elgin, Ill., who used an eagle on the par-4 fifth hole to shoot 69.
Van Sickle’s lone blemish came at the par-4 eighth, his 17th of the round, when he took an unplayable lie off the tee and settled for a bogey. Even the wet conditions have not bothered the long-hitting Van Sickle, who has hit 8-iron and 9-iron for approach shots into the 480-yard par-4 18th hole when many competitors are using long irons and hybrids.
“It’s just kind of free reign when you are hitting less than 6-iron in [to the greens],” said Van Sickle. “You can just go at all the pins. Even when they’re tucked, you can really be aggressive and attack them.”
Attack is what Rhode Island and Illinois will likely have to do to catch Pennsylvania. Sainz, a recent Mississippi State graduate, recovered from an opening double bogey on No. 10 to shoot five under for his last 17 holes. He drove the 342-yard par-4 fifth to 12 feet and made the putt and added a birdie on nine for his 69. Illinois also received an even-par 71 from 34-year-old John Ehrgott of Peoria, a reinstated amateur who played briefly on the mini-tours after graduating from Michigan State in 1998.
“You’ve just got to persevere through these conditions,” said Sainz. “You’ve got to play what the course gives you and we definitely got the lucky side of the draw with the rain.
“We’ve just got to come out [on Friday] and try to do the same things as today.”
Rhode Island, which has never finished in the top 10 at the MST, got a 69 from 44-year-old Charlie Blanchard of North Providence, who serves part-time as an assistant lacrosse coach at Bryant University, and a 71 from Bobby Leopold of Cranston. Playing in the same group as Smith, Blanchard was just trying to hang on over the final holes when daylight began fading rapidly.
“You just wanted to two-putt,” said Blanchard. “It was tough with the depth perception, especially on the greens.
“I think now people realize there are some good players up in the Northeast and Rhode Island. We had fun today. If we can shoot a couple under [on Friday], you never know. That’s why it’s a team. We’ve got three guys who have been playing pretty well late in the season.”
Story written by USGA Digital Media staff writer David Shefter. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday Midday Report
St. Albans, Mo. (Sept 24, 2009) – As the rain kept falling, the scores started soaring.
A day after the Lewis and Clark Course at the Country Club of St. Albans yielded a 64, two 65s and a 66, a steady stream of showers Thursday morning made scoring much more challenging at the 2009 USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
The 7,150-yard, par-71 layout played much longer than the number and tested the patience of those teams with early starting times.
First-round leader Kansas, which received a championship-record tying 64 from 33-year-old Jon Troutman of Spring Hill, plummeted from nine under to one over with a 10-over 152 total in the 3-count-2 format. Troutman went 15 strokes higher in carding a non-scoring 79. Teammates Dodge Kemmer, 22, of Wichita and 50-year-old Bryan Norton of Mission Hills posted 75 and 77, respectively.
“It’s hard,” said Norton of the conditions. “[The rain] is very distracting. I know it was a battle this morning. We played with an umbrella for 15 holes. Just a tough day.”
But South Carolina, which entered the second round in a tie for second just two strokes behind, did manage quite well, getting an even-par 71 from 23-year-old Mark Anderson of Beaufort and a 76 by 50-year-old Steve Liebler of Irmo.
South Carolina’s 2-under 282 was good for the early 36-hole clubhouse lead by two shots over 2003 champion Tennessee and three strokes over Kansas and Massachusetts.
Georgia, which shot 4-under 138 on Wednesday, had an afternoon starting time as did Nevada, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Rhode Island, all of whom carded 1-under 141 in the first round.
Anderson’s 6-under 136 total leads the race for individual medalist honors by three shots over 50-year-old Tim Jackson of Germantown, Tenn.
Michael Harrington, 37, of Colorado Springs, Colo., had the low round of the morning wave with a 2-under 69, while Massachusetts’ Frank Vana Jr. of North Andover, one of two golfers to compete in all eight USGA Men’s State Team Championships, registered a 1-under 70 that helped put his team within three strokes of the lead. Those were the only two sub-par rounds, although anything around par was good.
“If you would have told me before I teed off this morning that I would shoot 71 today, I would have taken it,” said Anderson, a 2008 graduate of the University of South Carolina who remained an amateur this past year for a chance to make the 2009 USA Walker Cup team. “But I’m also a little disappointed. I hit a couple of loose shots and three-putted a couple of times. I did hit a poor tee shot on No. 2 and made double. Other than that, I am happy with the way I played.
“My goal in these conditions is to stay as patient as possible and not get ahead of myself. Taking it just one shot at a time is even more important because you can lose shots in a hurry like I did today. I dropped three shots in three holes.”
Nevertheless, Anderson registered five birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey. He rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the 18th to turn at one under. After the double at No. 2 and a bogey at the par-3 third, Anderson rebounded with birdies on six and eight.
Liebler, like Anderson a USC graduate (1981), didn’t make any birdies, but held his game together well enough for a 76. Jarrett Grimes, a 2006 USC graduate, had a non-scoring 87.
“I think we’re in great position,” said Anderson. “We’re all ready. We’re all excited. Jarrett hasn’t counted a score yet, but I have a feeling he’s going to play really well tomorrow.”
Jackson, like Anderson, has been the steadying force for Tennessee. A two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Senior Open, Jackson fought through the difficult conditions to keep his squad in contention for a second Men’s State Team title.
Rob Garland, 34, of Nashville added a 77, while Todd Burgan, 40, of Knoxville had a non-scoring 78.
“It played hard for me,” said Jackson, who also became the oldest stroke-play medalist in U.S. Amateur history last month at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. “I’m hitting 4-irons, 5-irons and hybrids into these par-4s. It wasn’t really that much fun. That’s going to be fun up there [in the clubhouse] with a little lunch.”
By the time the morning wave finished, the rain was beginning to subside, leaving speculation that good scores might be attainable.
“What you don’t know is if the weather is going to improve dramatically and have a bunch of good scores,” said Norton, whose Kansas team took advantage of ideal conditions on Wednesday afternoon.
Added Jackson: “If it doesn’t rain and [the wind] stays still, the scores may even out the way the waves were yesterday. You’re probably going to have a lot of teams bunched around even par.”
Which could make for quite a shootout for Friday’s final round, weather permitting.
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.