Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the legendary Tom Watson will captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Gleneagles, Scotland next week. Watson will try to lead the U.S. team to victory on foreign soil for the first time since he last captained the squad in 1993.
What you may not know is that the area’s best players have been dominating the national golf headlines the past several weeks.
The run of great play from area residents began with Robert Streb at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. The Kansas State alum caused an uproar throughout local clubs when he holed an eagle putt on his final hole of the championship. The NBC broadcast team promptly declared that the dramatic eagle putt was good enough for Streb to continue on in the FedEx Cup race. The putt momentarily put him in the top 70, but after some recalculating, Streb would fall just two FedEx Cup points short of continuing.
Even though his 2014 season was cut short, Streb has made quite a splash in his second year on tour amassing 1.3 million dollars and while becoming the 181st ranked player in the world. Streb also claimed the title of Kansas City’s best player when he took down the metro’s best at Loch Lloyd earlier this year during the Watson Challenge. His class as a player and person was on display at this year’s Watson Challenge as he and his wife promptly donated the winner’s check of $10,000 to the First Tee of Greater Kansas City.
“When Robert said that during the awards ceremony, my mouth just dropped open,” said KCGA Executive Director, Matt Williams. “I know he is having a great year, but he is only three seasons removed from scrapping it around in the mini-tour world. I mean ten grand is ten grand and it took some real class to step up and have an impact on our community like that.”
With the new PGA Tour schedule, Streb is not likely to stay idle for long. The official 2015 PGA Tour season kicks off at the Frys.com Open in early October which is an event he had reasonable success at last season.
Shortly after Robert Streb’s eagle putt dropped in Boston, the 2014 U.S Mid-Amateur Championship kicked off at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, PA. The event, which gathers the best amateurs ages 25 and over, boasts one of the greatest first place prizes in all of amateur golf. The Mid-Amateur champion is traditionally awarded a spot in the Masters each spring. Needless to say, the competition from the average “working Joes” is fierce.
St. Joseph’s Brad Nurski, is no stranger to big events. He has been an excellent player on the local and statewide scene, but has never had substantial success on the national level. After advancing through the Kansas City local qualifier as medalist, Nurski joined 264 other players from across the globe with the hopes of claiming one of amateur golf’s top prizes.
Nurski opened up with two solid rounds of 70 and 71 to finish one under in stroke play qualifying. The one under total would be good enough to share medalist honors with Scott Harvey of Grensboro, N.C. The two players received the first and second seeds in the sixty-four player bracket and went about their business. After five sets of matches, the two co-medalists would end up squaring off in the finals.
When asked if co-medalists have ever played in a USGA final, the USGA’S Mark Passey explained, “I’m sure our historians back at Golf House are scrambling to find out, but I am not sure it has ever happened. You typically do not see two players sustain such a high level of golf for an entire week.”
Unfortunately for Nurski, his incredible run would end in the finals. The inevitable question came from the media following the match. “Obviously you are disappointed with the finish, but what do you take away from this experience?”
Nurski responded, “I mean.. you know that you can compete with the top mid-am guys in the country. And that was my goal, and the goal is always to win, but Ijust didn’t come out on top today.
You know, obviously it’s going to open up a few doors for me which I didn’t have open when I got here. I’ll get to play in the U.S. Am next year and I’ll get to come back to this tournament for two years, so that takes a lot of weight off your shoulders when you know you don’t have to qualify for some things. And we obviously got the USGA State Team coming up in a couple of weeks and hopefully team Missouri can get a little revenge on North Carolina.”
As he mentioned, Nurski will team up with Skip Bermeyer and Phil Caravia, both of St. Louis in the USGA State Team Championship for team Missouri next month.
One of the members of the winning USGA State Team from 2010, Bryan Norton, also grabbed the national spotlight earlier today. A longtime stalwart in Kansas City area competition, Norton came up just short in the 2014 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship today in Newport Beach, CA. This was the first time Norton was eligible for the championship as all participants must be at least 55 years of age.
Norton has already amassed an impressive season with a victory in the Senior Coleman Invitational, earned a spot in the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree in Oklahoma and took the title at the Kansas Amateur at his home club of Mission Hills.
All that aside, Norton has always had his eyes set on an individual USGA title. Norton has been very close before. He suffered an injury in the final match of the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur and was forced to concede the match to Nathan Smith. The final match concession was the first of its kind in the 108 year history of the USGA.
Redemption will have to wait at least one year more as Norton came up just short in his bid at the Senior Amateur today. Norton dropped four of his first nine holes, but after birdies on holes eleven and twelve, Norton had clawed his way back into the match. His opponent Pat Tallent of Vienna, VA rolled in a thirty foot birdie putt on the par four 17th to close out the match 2 and 1.
Norton’s year will certainly be a highlight of his golfing career and as one of the “rookies” in Senior golf, he is poised to be a dominant figure in many more events in the future.
With all this local golf excitement, one burning question remains. Can Tom Watson lead what experts believe is an underdog American team to a victory in the Ryder Cup? A victory by the Kansas City icon would serve as the bookend on one of the greatest months in local golf history.
Watson has been downplaying his role as of late. “I am just the director. I put the pieces in place and the actors do their thing. I really don’t have much say in the outcome,” explained Watson.
That may be true, but Watson is the most successful American ever to play in Europe. His five British Open victories, dominant record and successful captaincy in the 1993 Ryder Cup can do nothing but bolster the confidence of the twelve man team.
No matter the outcome, the additional exposure on Watson has done nothing but enhance golf in Kansas City. “I can’t explain it, but there is just a buzz going around golf in Kansas City,” said Matt Williams of the KCGA. “Every day there is a great story about someone doing something amazing on the links and if team USA can win next week, there will be people celebrating in the streets. The level of competition here in Kansas City is some of the best in the country and it is exciting to see it play out in the world’s biggest events.”