Mike Mastovich: Sunnehanna Amateur builds on tradition, welcomes 'incredibly great field'

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Jun. 4—Last summer, Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions organizers adapted to the unpredictable and ever-changing life amid a global pandemic.

On a less dramatic note, seemingly each June (or July in 2020), the Amateur contends with rain disrupting the schedule throughout four rounds.

It's been nearly a decade since Sunnehanna moved the tournament dates to the same week as the U.S. Open, a change some feared would significantly hurt the quality of the field.

Through all the changes, the Sunnehanna Amateur has had one constant. Annually, a stellar field of golfers plays the par-70 Sunnehanna Country Club course — many of whom go on to be among the top names on the PGA Tour.

You've likely heard the names of former Sunnehanna Amateur players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa, Bryson Dechambeau and Dustin Johnson, just to list a few.

'What a difference'

The tradition will continue as the 69th Sunnehanna Amateur is played June 16-19. The move back to the traditional June dates followed 2020's tournament that was pushed to late July due to concerns and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What a difference a year can make," Sunnehanna Amateur co-Chairman John Yerger said during a media event held on Friday at the country club. "Obviously, the dynamics are a lot different this year. But in many respects behind the scenes golf has still got a lot of issues, and there has been a lot of moving parts that have resulted in players delaying decisions or making decisions they otherwise may not have.

"The net result of that is we have an incredibly great field that is truly international in ways that we haven't seen in the past."

As of Friday, the field stood at 106, though Yerger said 19 of those players will compete in U.S. Open qualifiers on Monday and Sunnehanna almost certainly will lose a few who manage to qualify for the Open.

Described as "potentially the highest-rated field ever," Sunnehanna will welcome back the top three finishers from 2020, including record-setting champion Preston Summerhays.

Summerhays shot a final-round 5-under 65 to finish with a Sunnehanna Amateur record-tying 14-under 266 — matching Allen Doyle's score in 1992. Summerhays, an Arizona State commit, became the youngest player to win the Amateur at 18 years, 2 days.

His father, Boyd Summerhays, played in the 1997 Sunnehanna Amateur, and the Summerhays name is well known in the golf world.

"These guys are that good," Yerger said of the record-breaking score in 2020. "(PGA star) Collin Morikawa, three years ago, he's playing here. Last year, Preston Summerhays — who if anyone knows the Summerhays name, that is essentially golfing royalty. ... They broke into the CBS golf coverage to announce that he won here. It was covered on the evening news. It was big news on The Golf Channel.

"Then you throw in Collin Morikawa winning the (2020) PGA Championship three or four weeks later, the cumulative publicity that the tournament got is something that we never experienced before."

Also scheduled to return this year is 2020 runner-up Travis Vick, who shot a 7-under 63 in the final round and was three strokes off Summerhays' pace. Third-place finisher Trey Winstead is among six players in last year's top-nine who are set to play Sunnehanna again.

'International presence'

Five members of both the United States and International Palmer Cup teams will play in the Amateur, "which is by far the largest number we've ever had," Yerger said.

"We have more players from foreign countries, especially Europe, that we typically don't have that would normally play in the British Amateur but because of some travel issues in the U.K. (are coming to Johnstown)," Yerger said. "Then, you go from the United Kingdom to France to play in the European Amateur, they would have to quarantine 14 days in France. While the EU is unified in terms of borders there still in country-to-country restrictions.

"So we have four players that normally wouldn't play there that will play here — who all rank in the top 100 in the world. We have three players ranked in the top 20 in the world."

Among those opting to play at Sunnehanna instead of overseas are Joseph Pagdin (Great Britain/University of Florida), Jerry Ji (Netherlands/University of Illinois) and Maximilian Steinlechner (Austria/North Carolina State).

Others who were about to turn professional delayed that move due to COVID-19 impacting the tour schedules.

Ben Shipp (North Carolina State) and James Piot each are ranked among the top 25 amateurs in the world and will play in their third Sunnehanna Amateurs. William Holcomb, who is in the top-25 world rankings, will appear in his first Sunnehanna event.

"We have 20 players from 14 countries, not including the United States," Yerger said. "This is a record."

'Exceptional field'

The developments and adjustments over the past year inadvertently have made the Sunnehanna field stronger.

"When you put all these things together, this stew, if you will, we have a really exceptional field," Yerger said. "We have four players ranked in the top 200 who want to play here who I can't find room for. We're still getting an endless number of emails.

"The tournament's reputation has really gained more national recognition over the last several years."

Among the reasons for such a reputation include performances by former Sunnehanna Amateur players:

* Last year, Sunnehanna Amateur alums won three major tournaments — Collin Morikawa, PGA; Bryson Dechambeau, U.S. Open; and Dustin Johnson, Masters.

* Phil Mickelson, who tied for seventh in the 1990 Sunnehanna Amateur, became the oldest player to win a major with his victory in the PGA Championship last month at 50 years, 11 months, 8 days old.

* 42 former Sunnehanna Amateur players have won a total of 94 majors, including 33 since 2000.

* 40 former contestants have won the NCAA championship.

* 33 former players have won 39 United States Amateur titles.

* 36 former Amateur players have won the U.S. Junior title.

So, how does the Sunnehanna Amateur maintain the tradition?

"The idea that you can just send invitations out and the players are going to show up just doesn't work," Yerger said. "You have to go to tournaments. You have to text them. This year we started a recruitment committee in which six guys were given a list of players, and they were responsible for being the conduit to contact and make sure they received their invitation.

"If they have a good tournament, send them a text, 'Hey, nice playing this week. I hope you play at Sunnehanna.' Those are things players do appreciate."

The Sunnehanna Amateur is open to the public, free of charge.

While the crowds might not appear large when compared to a big event at Sargent's Stadium or 1st Summit Arena, in terms of amateur golf, the Westmont course is a solid draw.

"Relative to other amateur tournaments, we get good attendance and players do recognize it," Yerger said. "They do see the community is supporting the event.

"You have to try to stay ahead of the curve," Yerger added. "As soon as the tournament ends, you start working for the next year's tournament."