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WORTHINGTON, Ohio (AP) — A battle has been waged for years at the Ohio Amateur golf championship between wizened veterans and fearless college kids.
Now a third contingent has been added: High school kids who aren’t awed by competing for a trophy that bears the names Arnold Palmer, John Cook and Ben Curtis.
When the 106th Ohio Amateur tees off on today at Brookside Golf and Country Club, the 144-player field will include a blend of former pros who have regained their amateur status, college kids with bright futures — and teenagers out to upset and aggravate everyone else.
“It’s a little of the Tiger effect,” said Jim Popa, executive director of the sponsoring Ohio Golf Association. “Kids start younger. They’re fitted for clubs and then they’re playing tournament-type golf in middle school. They’re far more advanced (in terms of golf) than kids were 25 years ago.”
This year’s starting grid includes an astounding 34 teenagers.
Leading the youngest group is 2010 Ohio Am winner Michael Bernard, who has signed to attend nearby Ohio State this fall. At 16, before entering his senior year at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, he lapped the field by five strokes at Kirtland Country Club to become the youngest winner in tournament history.
A year ago, he led on top heading into the final round at NCR Country Club in Kettering before being overcome by Korey Ward of West Chester, who was just out of high school and had yet to attend a class at Xavier.
Now Bernard and Ward are both back for seconds in a field that includes five other past champions, each at least 35 years old: two-time winner Robert Gerwin II (1996, 2001), Alan Fadel (’95), Andrew Montooth (’97), Peter Hammar (’87) and Stephen Anderson (’90). Most of the recent winners, all college age, have moved on to try their luck as pros, including occasional PGA Tour competitors Jason Kokrak, Kyle Reifers and Chris Wilson.
Ward, by the way, is what stands for a wily veteran to the youngsters now. He’s all of 20.
The last time the tournament was held at the course in 2000, Curtis won his second consecutive Ohio Am — by a record 17 shots. Almost three years to the day later, he stunned the golf world — he’d never finished in the top 10 of an event as a pro — by coming from off the pace to capture the British Open at Royal St. George’s.
At the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, a reporter asked a contending Curtis if he really won by that gaping margin at Brookside. Curtis, who finished 16 under with his closest pursuer at 1 over, just nodded his head and laughed.
Where once former pros such as Gerwin and Fadel would warily keep an eye on the top college players, now they’ll also be competing with kids young enough to be their own offspring.
Two players actually will be taking on their sons in the medal-play event, which concludes Friday after cuts through 36 and 54 holes. Jeff and Nathan Kerns of Ironton and Ken and Michael Kinkopf of Dublin comprise the father-and-son entries.
Palmer captured the Ohio Amateur in 1953 and ’54, while in the U.S. Coast Guard and in between stints at Wake Forest. Cook, currently on the Champions Tour, won it in ’78 and ’79.
A record 500 players tried to qualify for this year’s tournament. Popa credited the location and the layout.
“It doesn’t hurt we’re centrally located,” he said of the course in suburban Columbus. “Plus, Brookside has a good reputation for a lot of players, many who look back at the Ben Curtis era and want to see what that’s all about.”
It should be noted that the youngest entrant in the field this year, Upper Arlington’s Justin Wick, was 4 years old when Curtis won there.