2012 USGA Men’s State Team Championship
The last two times the USGA contested its Men’s State Team Championship a dark horse called Kansas galloped to the front of the pack.
In 2009, the Kansas squad, buoyed by Jon Troutman’s record-tying 64, set a first-day scoring record and later settled for second place after a tough tee time draw left it battling inclement weather in the second round. In 2010 at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., Bryan Norton had a medalist-winning total score of 5-under 208 with rounds of 69-71-68 and led the Sunflower State’s entry, which included Kansas Amateur champion Charlie Stevens and Tyler Shelton, to its first championship.
Kansas Golf Association Executive Director Kim Richey, charged with making team selections for the 2012 competition to be held at Galloway (N.J.) National Golf Club Sept. 19-21, says he realizes his Kansas entry won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this time around.
“What we’ve done in the last two events pretty much puts us up there in the top five states in the country as far as our team’s ability,” he says. “And I know Bryan, Charlie and Tyler -- they all want to go back. They want to defend. But I let them know they’re going to have to earn their way on the team just like everybody else. To be honest I’d have to say those three have a little leg up on the rest because I know they’ve got it in them. We’ll see what kind of year they have.”
For Norton, a veteran of several USGA championships including the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open, it would be another chance to represent his home state at a national competition and help boost the Sunflower State’s reputation as a “player.”
“Anytime the USGA hosts a national championship it gets your attention because they always have the finest venues and incredible, testing set-ups of the golf course,” he says. “I just love representing my state. In particular, because up until the last couple of (State Team Championships), I felt like we had really under-performed. It’s kind of fun to play with a little chip on your shoulder. We didn’t have any respect, but we hadn’t earned any respect up to that point. …we haven’t been thought of as a state that is incredibly deep with good players, but I’ve always known that we were.”
The watch list
As the 2012 KGA season unfolds, Richey will watch with a close eye as the various mid-am and senior events are contested. He says he wants to pick “the best three players he can.” But the selection process has other tasks, including making candidates aware of the event so that they plan ahead. Those measures have already begun, Richey says.
“You’re always going to run into problems like (one player) can’t get away from work, they don’t have enough vacation time or it doesn’t fit in their schedule,” he says. “That has happened to us in the past, so we get the three best players that are available. Since we did so well in the last two events…I think our players have this on their radar screen and they aspire to get on that team. So they’re going to do whatever they can to get on that team.”
With that in mind, Richey has already sent out his “feelers.”
“I sent out early notice to kind of a ‘hand-picked’ roster of players, letting them know they’re kind of on my watch list,” he says. “And to keep that week of the championship in September open on their calendar and make sure they don’t use up their vacation time or set up some other thing they can’t get out of. To a man I heard back from them and I don’t think a single one said they weren’t available. So I’ve already identified about a dozen players who I know from past performance would represent the state well and give us another great chance of finishing high in that competition.”
Richey says he looks at how prospective candidates do in KGA events and USGA events, and his decision has to made by mid-August, so that may eliminate late-summer events, like the High Plains Amateur, from the decision-making process. With school back in session, younger players are all but eliminated from the selection process too.
“One of the things about (the USGA Men’s State Team), because it’s in the middle of September, it pretty much eliminates any consideration of junior golfer or those playing golf in college,” he says. “If they just happened to have graduated in the spring and they haven’t turned pro and they have a job where they can get away those guys would be eligible. Or it might be a college player who has run out of eligibility, we might look at him. By in large, the guys on my watch list are mid-amateurs and a couple of seniors.”
Richey says he’s looking for the three golfers that are playing the best, those that have “a history of playing well and closing the deal.”
“Maybe they have won two or three years ago but haven’t won this year,” he says. “I want a guy who’s playing a lot instead of just one or two events because he’s so busy that’s all he can get to. It will jump out pretty easily who those guys are. Interestingly, the last two teams have been picked on a subjective basis this way, but if you compare who I picked to the player of the year points list, it pretty well matched up. And you can’t accumulate points on that list unless you’re playing a lot and you’re playing well.”
Richey says there are some player characteristics common to the last two Kansas squads that fared so well in the State Team. Each squad included Norton, twice the Kansas Amateur champion and a two-time KGA Senior Player of the Year. The 2009 team included Stanford golfer Dodge Kemmer of Wichita.
“In all cases they are guys who have a history of winning, a history of not giving up…real competitors who want to win and aren’t guys who look at this as a free golf outing and aren’t worried about competing,” Richey says.
Galloway National a ‘fabulous’ venue
The USGA Men’s and Women’s State Team Championships grew out of the celebration of the USGA Centennial in 1995 and have since been held biennially. The championships are open to players from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. State associations may use any criteria of their choosing in selecting their teams, which comprise three amateurs.
Richey says everything he’s heard about Galloway National is very good.
“Bryan Norton has some familiarity with it and says ‘it’s just fabulous’,” he says. “And I believe it. They wouldn’t take this event to any venue other than just a top-notch place.”
Designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1995, the club sits at the junction of pine barrens and coastline in southeastern New Jersey, near Atlantic City.
“We are thrilled by this selection and look forward to hosting the 2012 championship for the USGA and the 52 teams representing their individual states and districts,” Mike Killian, Galloway National’s director of golf, said this past summer. “It will be a great opportunity for us to showcase this Tom Fazio masterpiece for some of the very best amateur players in the country and to give back to the game of golf.”
The course has hosted the 2009 NCAA Division I Men’s East Regional, the 2007 and 2008 Ivy League championships and the 2002, 2006 and 2010 New Jersey State Golf Association Mid-Amateur championships, as well as sectional qualifying for the 2003 USGA Senior Amateur and 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur and local qualifying for the 2010 U.S. Open.
Richey says the style of course hosting the championship isn’t much of factor as he selects his 2012 squad.
“It’s interesting. You look at (2009 State Team venue The Country Club of St. Albans) over there in St. Louis versus Mayacama out in California, the last two venues where we did well, they’re pretty different kinds of golf courses,” Richey says. “But I think Kansas players are used to playing in the wind, playing places like Prairie Dunes, Flint Hills, Southwind, where you’ve got trouble left and right on pretty much every hole, where you’ve got to hit it straight. You have to watch the wind and control that. When you go to tight courses like that it doesn’t bother us any.”
Norton agrees playing KGA championships at some of the state’s most challenging venues can only help the Kansas team.
“The only was to play well in competition is to get your self in the mix and the KGA has always done a great job of scheduling our big events at great golf courses,” the former PGA Tour player says. “There is a great depth of very solid golf courses in this state and they’re different. It gives you great experience with varied conditions and even the different grasses.
“One of the things that has been tough for Kansas golfers in the past is our greens aren’t as fast, in general, as what you see in USGA events. That’s been the biggest adjustment. But the guys that played on these last couple State Team Championship teams have been guys who’ve qualified for other USGA events and they knew what to expect going in. That was a key.”