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2011 Arizona Amateur preview

By Bill Huffman

For 86 years the Arizona Amateur Championship has been contested at the state’s finest golf venues. That illustrious list includes old school layouts like Arizona, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Pinnacle and Tucson country clubs, as well as dynamic desert tracts like Desert Forest, Desert Mountain, Stone Canyon, The Gallery and Troon, to name a few.

Add yet another name to that honor roll when the Country Club at DC Ranch plays host to the Arizona Amateur on Aug. 1-6. What’s unique about DC Ranch, according to Bo Ream, the director of rules and competitions for the sponsoring Arizona Golf Association, is that it blends the past with the present.

“It’s a different kind of golf course than we usually play for the Amateur," said Ream, who along with DC Ranch’s director of golf, Dick Hyland, will set the pins, speed of the greens and determine yardages for the state’s ultimate championship.

“In the past, it seems, we either have played a tight desert tract like a Troon Country Club or The Gallery, or a more open, parkland course like Pinnacle Peak or Tucson Country Club. This course combines a little bit of both of those styles."

Ream said DC Ranch is demanding off the tee in some places and wide-open in others.

“But if you get off the course it will be very penal," Ream noted. “At the same time, there are such a great variety of holes with a nice mix of big greens and small greens, so lots of chances for risk and reward."

According to Ream, the reason the Arizona Amateur ended up at DC Ranch was twofold.

“We’ve never been there before and it’s such a great course, so this will be a nice treat for our players," Ream explained. “Plus, the Arizona Golf Association has such a great relationship with Dick Hyland and (head pro) Drew Darrow."

Hyland, who is in his first year running the private club in Scottsdale, but who is no stranger to the elite neighborhood having worked at Desert Mountain and for Lyle Anderson Golf, said one of his first goals when he came to DC Ranch was to host a major tournament to its membership.

“(AGA executive director) Ed Gowan and I toured the course not long ago, and Ed expressed to me that he’d like to bring one of his organization’s bigger events to DC Ranch," Hyland recalled.

“Knowing that we’d never done that before – hosted a major tournament of any magnitude – I was very interested in getting that accomplished, and none are bigger than the Amateur."

As Hyland noted, DC Ranch is a redesign by Tom Lehman and Jon Fought, who basically took Scott Miller’s original design completed in 1997 and enhanced the green complexes. With five par 3s and a great stretch of golf called “the mountain holes" – Nos. 12-14 – the par-71, 7,000-yard layout “will be the perfect test for match play."

“For us to host the Arizona Amateur is a real honor," Hyland said. “I think what the players will discover about DC Ranch is that it’s a bit of a sleeper in that they’ll be surprised at the quality of the golf course and the variety of holes."

Hyland said there is a good reason why DC Ranch has defied the economy by adding 60 new members in the last year.

“Arguably, it’s the premiere family club in the Northeast Valley," said Hyland of the club that boasts 400 golf members, including Lehman, who lives just off the 10th hole.

There’s even a chance several of the members will contend for the Amateur title, Hyland added.

“I think that list includes the defending champ, Nicholas Losole III," he said. “I haven’t seen him playing or practicing here lately, but I guess that’s because he’s been at Northwestern, where he goes to college."

As always, Hyland is right down the middle with that assessment. Losole, whose family belongs to DC Ranch, recently competed in the NCAA tournament for the Wildcats. He certainly will be among the favorites for the Amateur along with Arizona State’s Philip Francis, who also competed in the NCAA tournament, where he was the “low Sun Devil" (T32).

One thing is for certain: College-aged kids have dominated this tournament for the past seven years, or ever since Ken Kellaney won the last of his five Arizona Amateur titles in 2003. Whether that trend continues at DC Ranch during the 87th edition remains to be seen.

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Energy abounds for AGA volunteer Dick Gardiner

By Bill Huffman The early bird might catch the worm, but it has nothing on Richard “Dick” Gardiner, the Arizona Golf Association’s consummate volunteer. Gardiner, who has been doing whatever the AGA needs him to do most since 1997 – and always with a cheerful smile! – likes to get a jump on the day. Perhaps all that positive energy is what keeps him “going and going” just like the Energizer Bunny. “I’ve been up since 2:30 this morning, and I’m still going strong (this afternoon),” said the 83-year-old Sun City resident, sounding just like the well-known commercial for batteries. “Truthfully, I don’t know how I do it.” Neither do some of his peers. Bo Ream, the director of rules and competitions for the AGA, said Gardiner’s zest for life is refreshing, but the bottom line is “we count on him.” “Because Dick is usually at our events one or two hours early, we’ve got a rolling bet to see if anybody can beat him to the golf course,” said Ream of the AGA’s 2004 Volunteer of the Year. “I know that I tried recently at the Arizona Stroke Play, thinking if I got there an hour early, I’d finally beat him. But when I arrived, there was Dick, and I guess he’d been there for a good 30 minutes.” Courtney Smyser, the tournament operations manager for the AGA, called Gardiner “our utility man.” “Dick is always in a good mood with a kind word for everybody,” Smyser observed. “Besides being our registration guru, he also handles pace of play as a spotter and serves as a marker when needed. He does whatever we ask of him and always with a smile. “Dick’s trademark is he’s an early, early riser. That, and he’s one of the Arizona Golf Association’s biggest supporters.” Such loyalty and devotion is a wonderful thing, added Lorraine Thies, the AGA’s assistant executive director. “I tell Dick he’s my favorite volunteer every time I see him,” said Thies, noting that the “favorite” tag is a bond the two have shared for nearly 15 years. “What’s so special about Dick is he’s done pretty much everything you can do as a volunteer, and one of the best things he’s done for us is be our No. 1 cheerleader. That’s pretty special, when you’ve got a great guy like Dick Gardiner being your all-around spokesperson.” Reliable, honest and genuine through and through, Gardiner says working with the AGA as a volunteer has been one of the highlights of his career. “I just like being involved; I like the work. It’s fun, it keeps me busy and I get to meet so many outstanding people,” said Gardiner, who was born in Nebraska, spent most of his professional life as a salesman in northern California, and moved to Arizona in 1995 to be near his older sisters, Earline and Aurel, who also live in Sun City. “I guess I’ve done a little bit of everything since I first walked into the AGA office (in 1997) and met Ginger (Monroy), a very nice lady who put me to work immediately stuffing envelopes. And I still get to do a little bit of everything, like recently when I drove Jennea (Bono) around the TPC (Champions Course) during the Stroke Play and she took photos. Now that was a fun assignment!” The game of golf always has been very good to Gardiner, who was born in Sand Hills of Nebraska in the little town of Brewster before moving a few miles away to Ogallala as a youngster. It was there that Dick and his parents and three sisters (one has since passed away) used to sift through the sand in search of arrowheads. “I’ve still got quite a collection,” he said proudly of the ancient artifacts. Eventually the Gardiner family moved to California when Dick was still in his teens, first to the San Joaquin Valley in the little town of Dos Palos and then on to the big city of San Francisco. It was there in the City by the Bay that Gardiner spent 28 years (1942-1970), a time when he served in the Navy, met and married his wife, Nola, and worked for Essex, a magna wire and electrical company based in Indiana. Dick was Essex’s sales rep on the West Coast. Asked about how such a busy guy ever found time to tee it up, Gardiner blushed and laughed aloud. “Oh, gosh, I started playing golf after I got out of the Navy in the late 1940s, and just immediately fell in love with it,” he said. “San Francisco had so many great public golf courses, and I got to play a lot of them like Harding Park, Sharp (Park) and Lincoln Park, which was one of my favorites with that incredible par-3 17th that overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge… “That was a time when I got to play a lot of great golf courses. Believe it or not, I once played Pebble Beach for a $25 green fee. But I played ’em all, and I loved ‘em all.” Gardiner, who at one time served as a past president at Lincoln Park, continued his golf quest in the early 1970s when he and his wife moved north to the Santa Rosa-Sonoma area. “That was a time when my game was probably at its best, and I got my handicap down to a 6,” he recalled. “Oh, I wish I could play like that again.” There are golden memories, like 1971 when he was the runner-up in the club championship at Bennett Valley Golf Course near Santa Rosa, and 1991, when he captured the Presidents Cup at Oakmont Golf Cub also in Santa Rosa. “I was the president of Oakmont the same year I won the Presidents Cup, but it wasn’t fixed,” Gardiner quipped. “That was a wonderful time in my life, and I really enjoyed playing golf in Santa Rosa and Sonoma except for all the rain – something we don’t have here.” Among Gardiner’s other golf accolades from his time in northern California, he was a past president of Lincoln Park’s men’s club. But following his wife’s death in 1995, he made the big jump to Arizona. “I guess playing-wise, one of my biggest moments since moving here came when I made a hole-in-one on the 15th hole at Willow Creek (in Sun City),” said Gardiner, who served as a past president of the Sun City Men’s Golf Association, which named him its Man of the Year for 2008. “That hole-in-one was pretty special, because the course is right across the street from my house, and I can almost see the 15th hole from my front porch.” As far as working with the AGA goes, Gardiner said he’s quite proud of the Kachina that is encased in his living room, the one he received for being the organization’s Volunteer of the Year back in ’04. And he’s also “pretty darn proud” of his role in helping to found the AGA’s Senior Cup Series. “There was a bunch of us that got (the Senior Cup Series) going, guys like Bob Terrell, Cecil Morris and John Ranslem, to name a few,” Gardiner pointed out. “And it’s turned out to be a very popular deal, a lot of fun for everyone.” Even though he doesn’t play in the series any more, Gardiner still makes it a priority to be there when he can. Oh, yes, and there’s one more thing about the Senior Cup that he really enjoys. “One of the best things about it is getting to work with Courtney,” he said. “She handles everything so well, and just does such a beautiful job.” “I always tell everybody I meet that the AGA does such a nice job with all of their events,” he said. “I’ve always believed that a lot of nice people make for a great organization. “That’s why I take being a volunteer seriously, and why I’m always up early. I like to be the first one there so I don’t miss anything. And I guess it’s the truth: Nobody gets there before me, something I take pride in.” Which made for a bit of kidding in March, when Gardiner showed up at Phoenix Country Club for the AGA’s annual spring meeting after most everybody else from the AGA staff was well into the evening. “Yes, I got there a little late, and Courtney and the girls were already there and taking care of things, so they gave me a little ribbing,” he said, chuckling at the thought. “Wouldn’t you know, Courtney said to me, ‘Dick, you’re late!’” Chances are Smyser had been waiting forever to lay that line on Dick Gardiner, even if it was a bit of a reach when it comes to the AGA’s early-rising Energizer Bunny.

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Golf legends conduct clinic at Ryder Cup Junior Academy

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – A group of 43 juniors were given a once-in-a-lifetime Captains’ Clinic July 13 from some of the legends of the game, including past U.S. Ryder Cup Captains Billy Casper, Dow Finsterwald and Hal Sutton during the Ryder Cup Junior Academy at the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance. Casper, a World Golf Hall of Fame Member and three-time major champion; Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA Champion; and Sutton; the 1983 PGA Champion, each took turns during the clinic to teach the students about the intricacies of the golf swing, preparation for both stroke-play and match-play formats, and the many mental aspects of the game. “This has all been so exciting and you can tell that each of these juniors is eager to learn and get better,” said Sutton, the 2004 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain. “There is a true appreciation for what we are doing and I know that these kids have what it takes to be great.” Finsterwald, the victorious 1977 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain, was also impressed by the students’ ability, willingness to learn and improve. “These kids have pretty fine games already and the changes they need to make are minimal,” said Finsterwald, who owns a playing record of 9-3-1 in the Ryder Cup. “The three of us are here to offer little tips and minor changes that they can take with them when they go back home.’ “We want to see the game of golf grow, and these are the type of people that can make it happen.” The Ryder Cup Junior Academy, which runs through Sunday, offers a full week of instruction to selected juniors. The Academy, developed in response to recommendations made by past United States Ryder Cup Captains, is designed to provide aspiring junior golfers, regardless of ethnic or economic background, an elite player- development experience with focus on competing in match-play and stroke-play formats. Casper, the 1979 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain who also competed on a record-tying eight U.S. Ryder Cup teams, was excited to participate and has been overwhelmed by the whole experience. “This is a special group of juniors who are getting an unbelievable opportunity this week at this Academy,” said Casper, whose 23 ½ points are the most by any U.S. Ryder Cup player. “We are happy to play a small part in it, and hope we can leave a positive impression on them for their future and the future of our great game.” The trio also fielded questions from students and observed individual golf swings on the practice range. South Florida PGA Section representative Jonah Wasserstrom of Hollywood, Fla., has only been on site since Monday, but has already learned a great deal about his game, what he does well and what he needs to work on going forward. He also had the chance to have Finsterwald work with him individually on the practice range. “This is a great opportunity for me but it’s also a little nerve-wracking,” said Wasserstrom “I want to impress these legends of the game so much, but I know that they are here to help, and they have so much already.” The Academy, a unique, once-in-a lifetime experience, celebrates the passion of the Ryder Cup, while inspiring participants to achieve greatness and to improve their lives through the game of golf. As part of the 2010 United States Ryder Cup Team’s outreach commitment, which has already impacted U.S- based organizations and students at colleges and universities nationwide, the team designated $50,000 each to create and support the Ryder Cup Junior Academy. Throughout the week, the junior participants will be working on all aspects of golf, including full-swing, chipping, putting, iron play, club fitting and course management. They will also learn about specific strategies when competing in match play formats. The Ryder Cup Junior Academy will be a seven-day program conducted annually each summer. About The PGA of America Celebrating its 95th year, The PGA of America has maintained a twofold mission of its founders: to establish and elevate the standards of the profession and to grow interest and participation in the game of golf. By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, The PGA enables its professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in a multi-billion dollar golf industry. By creating and delivering dramatic world-class championships and exciting and enjoyable promotions that are viewed as the best of their class in the golf industry, The PGA of America elevates the public’s interest in the game, the desire to play more golf, and ensures accessibility to the game for everyone, everywhere. The PGA of America brand represents the very best in golf.

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2011 Boys & Girls Junior Golf State Championships

Jacobo Smith, of Chandler, claimed the Boys State Championship at Forest Highlands Golf Club – Meadow Course, on the first play-off hole over Zach Wright, of Phoenix. Smith and Wright were tied at even par-144for two rounds. Smith recorded a par on the par 4, 9th hole for the victory.
In the Girls State Championship, Charatta Thongbai, of Gilbert, won with rounds 74-80, for a 2-day total of 154, to claim a two stroke victory over Saki Iida, of Chandler.
Smith posted rounds of 71-73, on the 7358 yard, par 72 Meadow Course at Forest Highlands. Smith’s final round included five birdies, on hole’s 3, 5, 6, 10 and 15. Wright also posted consecutive rounds of 71-73 and with five birdies in his final round. Blake Toolan, of Phoenix, finished in 3rd place with scores of 73-72 for a 2-day total of 145. Rounding out the top 5 was Brett Wilson, of Mesa (76-70) and Prescott Mann, of Scottsdale (69-77) who tied for 4th at 2-over par 146.
Thongbai posted an even par 36 with two birdies on her back nine to claim the Girls State Championship. Thongbai was able to hold off Iida by two strokes, the 2010 runner-up and 2009 Girls State Champion. In 3rd place was Madison Kerley, of Chandler, who posted consecutive rounds of 79-79 for a 2-day total of 158.
The tournament was organized by the Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA), Southwest Section PGA, Arizona Golf Association and the Arizona Women’s Golf Association for the third year. “By combining the efforts of all four organizations the state junior golf championships for the boys and girls has been elevated to a new level”, said Tom Cunningham, Executive Director of the Junior Golf Association of Arizona. “Matt Bailey, Director of Golf at Forest Highlands Golf Club and his staff were just terrific in hosting the event for the third year. Our staffs, the players and their parents and other relatives are most appreciative of their enthusiasm for junior golf and their support”. For full results go to:  http://jgaa.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/jgaa11/event/jgaa1126/contest/7/leaderboard.htm

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Forest Highlands hosts junior state championship

The 2011 Boys and Girls State Junior Golf Championship will return to the prestigious Forest Highlands Golf Club – Meadow Course, on July 12- 13. Forest Highlands Golf Club has previously hosted the event in 2007-2008 and 2010. For the third year in a row, the 2011 Arizona Boys & Girls State Junior Championships will be administered by the four state golf associations, the Junior Golf Association of Arizona (JGAA), Southwest Section PGA, Arizona Golf Association and the Arizona Women’s Golf Association. “The combined effort by all of the supporting organizations has elevated the Boys and Girls State Junior Golf Championships to a level that has made it one of the more popular junior golf events in the state. With the continued support and direct involvement by everyone the tournament will continue to grow in popularity,” said Tom Cunningham, Executive Director of the Junior Golf Association of Arizona. The Boys field includes the 2010 runner-up Neil Evans as well as Alex McMahon, who finished 3rd. Several 2011 tournament winners will be playing, including Zach Wright. Wright recently won the Phoenix City Junior, with rounds of 67-64 at Aguila Golf Course. Other recent winners include Antigua Milt Coggins champion Blake Cannon, Willie Low champion Michael Anderson, Tucson City Junior champion Kale Davidson and Yuma City Junior champion Dylan Kornberg. The Girls field is highlighted by 2010 runner-up and 2009 champion Saki Iida. Iida has had a strong 2011 summer, recently winning the Thunderbird Junior Classic and the Phoenix City Junior. Also playing is Yesong Han, who has won Mesa City Junior and has top 5 finishes in the Thunderbird Junior Classic, Junior World Qualifier and Phoenix City Junior.