LEWISTON — Western New York golfers took back control of a tournament Monday that over the past two seasons had been dominated by their Canadian counterparts.
Three of the eight top finishers in the annual Porter Cup qualifier at Niagara Falls Country Club were recorded by those who call the 716 home.
Medalist Bryce Edmister is from just down the Thruway in Rochester as well, making it an even better day of finishes for upstaters. Edmister recorded eight birdies on a hot, blustery day on the escarpment on his way to shooting a round of 5-under-par 65.
That was one shot better than 22-year-old Patrick Sheedy Jr. of Clarence and 20-year-old Jon Clark of Orchard Park, both of whom carded a round of 4-under 66. Also qualifying for the 55th Porter Cup, which will be played July 24-27, was 19-year-old Austin Nowak of Lancaster, who shot 67.
Canadian flags had dominated the leader board at the qualifier the last two seasons, with four of eight spots in 2011 and five of eight spots last year going to golfers from north of the border. In that time, only three spots went to local players (Buffalo’s Chris Covelli made it in both years and Hamburg’s Brian Jurkiewicz made it in 2012).
Nowak set the early pace for the locals, making the turn at 1 over for his round before ripping off a stretch of 5-under through the first six holes of the back nine that included an eagle at the par-5 11th.
“I actually hit into the group ahead of me on 11. I was like 270 yards out, into the wind. I didn’t think I could get there, and I rolled it on to like 15 feet,” he said.
Nowak, who attends N.C. State but does not play golf for the Wolfpack, finished fourth in the New York State boys championship in 2010 as a junior at Lancaster, but played only one round as a senior because of illness. He plays out of Lancaster Country Club, but his competitive rounds have been limited while he’s in school and working part time.
“Not like this to be honest,” he said when asked if he felt a good round coming. “I felt pretty good. I played Sunday night, and played pretty well, but I didn’t see 67. I’ve only broken par twice all year in about 15 rounds. I didn’t expect a 67 by any means.”
Sheedy next took over the clubhouse lead. He recorded six birdies and had only one slip-up when he double bogeyed the par-3 fourth hole.
“I just hooked a 5-iron off the tee into the bunker and it plugged,” he said. “Then I hit the next shot over the green and couldn’t get up and down.”
No matter, he steadied himself and like Nowak, went after the stretch of holes to start the back nine, recording birdies on the 10th, 11th and 13th.
“One of my goals was to make the turn at even or better, and I shot even on the front, so I was in a positive mind frame from that,” he said. “After I birdied 10 and 11, that got me a little momentum going. My short game was pretty solid. I was a little squirrely with the driver, but the ball striking with my irons was really good.”
Sheedy, who plays out of Brookfield, graduated from Clarence and played at Florida Tech. He came back home last year and works as a civil engineer.
“I definitely thought a red number was possible. Every day I was practicing last week, it just kept getting better and better, he said. “I felt really confident coming into today,” he said.
Both Sheedy and Nowak were playing in their third qualifier, while for Clark it was “at least his fifth.”
The 2010 International Junior Masters champion attends the University of South Florida. He also trains at the Missing Link Golf Academy in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.
Over the summer, Clark plays out of Crag Burn. He carded a bogey-free round, with birdies at Nos. 2, 7, 14 and 16. On the difficult par-3 16th, he hit a 7-iron to within 3 feet.
“I’m hitting my tee ball really well, and when I hit my tee ball good, it gives me way more confidence,” he said.
Edmister, who will be a senior at Binghamton in the fall, recorded the round of the day thanks largely to his putter. He needed only 21 putts in his round, including a 6-footer on the par-3 18th.
“I just wanted a 65. It sounds a lot better,” he said.
Also among the top eight earning a spot in next month’s field were Kevin DeHuff (67), Nicholas Torrance (69), Stephane Dubois (69) and Hagen Barmasse (69).