Sunnehanna preview: Summerhays will defend against stacked field
13 Jun 2021
by Rick Woelfel of AmateurGolf.com

see also: Sunnehanna Amateur Championship, Sunnehanna Country Club

For nearly seven decades, the Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions has been one of the brightest stars in the constellation of elite amateur golf events.

When it debuted in 1954 the tournament was unique because it was the first national-level amateur event to be conducted at medal play. Last year’s event also stood apart simply because it was played in a year when many major amateur events were called off in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The tournament’s list of past champions includes Allen Doyle (who won this tournament four times), Jay Sigel (three times), Bill Hyndman (twice), John Cook (twice), Scott Verplank (twice), Nathan Smith, Ben Crenshaw, and Rickie Fowler.

And that list doesn’t include the host of future PGA Tour players who competed in the tournament before going on to success in the professional ranks, including Jack Nicklaus, who played in the tournament in 1956 as a 15-year old and tied for fifth. Thirty-seven years later Tiger Woods, who was 16 at the time, placed fifth. He tied for 12th the next year.

The 64th edition of the Sunnehanna will commence on Wednesday and conclude on Saturday at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown, Pa., an hour east of Pittsburgh. This year’s field is headlined by defending champion and 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Preston Summerhays who tied the tournament scoring record a year ago when he completed the 72 holes at 14-under par 266 to equal the mark established by Doyle in 1992. He’ll be joined by Travis Vick, last year’s runner up.

The field also includes 2021 Australian Amateur champion Louis Dobbelaar, fresh off a win at the Dogwood Invitational in Atlanta. Four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and three- time Walker Cupper Nathan Smith (who won this tournament in 2011) is also in the field, as are 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Sean Knapp, and 2021 U.S. Palmer Cup players Ben Shipp, Jacob Bridgeman, Ryan Hall, and Trent Phillips.

Rick Stimmel, the 2020 Pennsylvania Player of the Year, has played in the tournament half a dozen times. “Golf is a game of history and tradition,” he said. “and all you have to do is walk down the one hallway inside the clubhouse, and you’ll realize who’s who that’s been there and won that. Tiger, Rickie, Dustin Johnson, you go back to Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw. “You don’t realize how good you have it until you step in the clubhouse and look at the wall of who’s been there and who hasn’t.”

Stimmel has played in an abundance of elite amateur events in his career. He speaks to how well the Sunnehanna is organized and run. “From start to finish you really feel like you’re welcome,” he said. “I hope that some of the young kids don’t take that for granted. I think 1996 was my first one and I don’t think I realized how good it was until I left. It was almost like a USGA event.“

The golf course, an A.W. Tillinghast design, opened for play in 1923 is not overly long by modern standards, playing to a maximum of 6,680 yards and a par of 70. But John Klinchock, Sunnehanna’s head golf professional, says it will test the tournament’s elite field.

“I believe the greens are the hardest part of the golf course,” he said. “They are very large, they are very undulating, and with the green speeds up and a little bit of dry turf, they can be very, very temperamental.”

Klinchock noted that while the fairways are generous, there will be a stiff price to pay for not finding the fairway off the tee. “I think the fairways are generous,” he said. “It’s an old Tillinghast course and it allows you to drive the golf ball. “It also allows you to bounce golf ball in, which is what you have to do on a couple of the greens.”

Klinchock is a fan of the par-5 ninth which plays uphill to a maximum of 617 yards. “It keeps you on your toes,” he said. “The rough is very high on both sides. It tilts a little bit (from left to tight) and the whole thing climbs.

“Right in the middle it climbs up over a hill and if you hit a second wayward shot up in there it will catch you.”

ABOUT THE Sunnehanna Amateur

The Sunnehanna Amateur was inaugurated in July of 1954 -- it was the first country club sponsored 72-hole stroke play competition for amateurs in the United States. The tournament is played on a classic A.W. Tillinghast design. Only one other amateur tournament in the United States can list the likes of Chick Evans, Arnold Palmer, Julius Boros, Art Wall, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Rickie Fowler as contestants: the United States Amateur. Its medal play format has been emulated by countless amateur tournaments across the country.

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