Team WPGA wins third straight Palmer Cup Matches

Posted September 26, 2016 - By Mike Dudurich, Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich

Team WPGA at Latrobe Country Club for the annual Palmer Cup Matches against the Tri-State Section, PGA of America. Photo courtesy of the Tin Cup Photography.

The team of West Pennsylvania Golf Association amateurs is starting to get used to this winning thing.

For the third straight year, the amateurs knocked off the Tri-State PGA Section professionals in the annual Palmer Cup matches at Latrobe Country Club Thursday. This time, the score was 10-7.

The matches are played in a Ryder Cup-style format, with 10 singles matches in the morning and seven four-ball matches in the afternoon.

The rosters were filled with the best players from both sides, something that doesn’t always happen every year because of other commitments, other events, etc.

Thursday’s play featured a handful of really good, competitive matches and a little more than a handful of lopsided ones.

“That’s a good team,” said Oakmont Country Club professional Devin Gee. “They’re deep and have good players.”

Gee dropped a 5 & 4 decision to Erik Bertrand in singles and teamed with Connoquenessing CC’s David Yokitis to win 1-up over Bertrand and Rick Stimmel in the afternoon.

When the rosters were announced there was excitement because the WPGA team would have both Nathan Smith and Sean Knapp, two of the best amateurs in the history of golf in Western Pennsylvania, in the lineup.

Both played Thursday afternoon, but Knapp was hardly at full speed. He injured his right ankle earlier in the week and not long after had a recurrence of a right knee issue that caused it to swell, making walking a real issue. The injuries led to his withdrawal from the Pennsylvania Mid-Amateur earlier this week.

“The good news is it didn’t bother me swinging, but boy it was awful walking,” said Knapp, who did a lot of dragging that right leg as he made his way around Latrobe.

WPGA officials wanted Knapp to play in the senior matches, which would allow him to ride a cart, but Knapp said it hurt more getting in and out of the cart, so he declined.

“As always, this is a fun event to be involved in,” Knapp said. “It’s great competition.”

All things considered, Knapp played pretty well. It took birdies on the last two holes by Gordie Vietmeier to halve their singles match and he hit the ball very well when he teamed with Smith in four-ball against Butler Country Club pro Rob McClellan and Uniontown CC’s Aaron Gizzi.

The pros played strong on the back nine of the match and registered a 2 & 1 victory.

“As much as Sean struggled, he hit the ball pretty well,” said McClellan. “Every time he found a bunker he almost holed the shot. We knew that was going to be a tough match. They have a good team.”

Smith and Knapp have battled each other as well as have had a great relationship over the years.

They know each other’s games and Smith was impressed Thursday.

“My partner really gutted it out,” he said with a smile. “He not only hit it good, but he played well. It was a tough match, but it was fun.”

This was the 21st playing of the event and the Tri-State PGA had won six of the last 10 before the amateurs got on their current role.

“I think it’s like anything,” Smith said. “Everything comes and goes. It’s really changed a lot over the years. We have a younger team and the Tri-State guys are a little older. I’ve been saying this all year, the West Penn is loaded. You really have to play well to win events now. It was a great day.”

One of the best matches of the day was the one between Gee/Yokitis and Bertrand/Stimmel. The teams battled evenly through the first five holes before Yokitis cranked up his driver on the 295-yard par four sixth hole and drove the green. They won that hole and by the time the match reached the 11th hole, the pros were 4-up.

But Bertrand/Stimmel won four of the next five to tie the match. The pros won the 18th to win.