LEWISTON – Local representation in the 55th Porter Cup is as strong as it’s been since 2010.
Eight players from Western New York are in the 84-player field this week at Niagara Falls Country Club. That’s the most since there were nine in the field three years ago.
For Porter Cup Tournament Director Steve Denn, it’s a delicate balance. He has a responsibility of bringing in the best field possible every summer — a job he does very well — while also keeping up local interest.
“I certainly want to give the locals an opportunity,” Denn said. “I also want to make sure the Porter Cup is relevant on a national and international level, so I don’t want to flood the field with local players. Looking at the scores and results of local players in the past, by and large they finish toward the bottom.”
Denn, however, recognizes that the first Porter Cup field in 1959 was made up largely of players from Western New York and Southern Ontario, so he’s trying to stay true to those roots.
“It’s tough because it’s a shortened season up here,” Denn said. “These college guys who come up are on scholarship. In effect, they’re professional golfers, just not collecting money. We feel that we give deserving locals enough of an opportunity to get in the field.”
Denn does that by holding a qualifying tournament in June that offers eight spots in the field. That’s an increase from the five spots that used to be awarded in the qualifier.
Three locals — Patrick Sheedy Jr., Austin Nowak and Jonathan Clark — are playing this week after earning their spots that way. There is also a spot reserved for the Buffalo District Golf Association points champion, as well as a new exemption for the champion of the Little Three tournament contested between Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure. Raman Luthra and Michael Carrig earned those spots, respectively.
The club champion at Niagara Falls also earns a spot in the field, which went to Michael Boss this year.
“For years we’ve discussed how many locals we should have,” said 44-year-old P.J. Alterio, a member who finished second in the Niagara Falls club championship and was a late entry to the Porter Cup field after some withdrawals. “We try to put out the best field possible. People have to earn it. Steve does a great job every year. It’s not easy.”
In order to give the local players the full experience, Denn has thus far resisted going to a cut after 54 holes.
“The more locals you have, the more people you get to come out and watch,” Alterio said. “That’s a good thing. The local players are usually the ones who are maybe toward the end of the field, but they are deserving. I think it’s an honor. Even at 44 years old, I still love it. I didn’t play well, but I enjoy it every single time.”
The last local player to challenge on the final day was Jake Katz, who played in the final group in 2010 before fading to a tie for 10th place. The last local winner was Ward Wettlaufer, back in 1965.
The best local score Wednesday was posted by Carrig, a 2-over round of 72. Nowak and East Amherst’s Danny Yustin posted rounds of 3-over 73, while Boss and Sheedy shot 6-over 76. Clark finished at 8-over 78, while Luthra shot 80 and Alterio shot 81.
Will there be any Mickelson magic for a third straight week?
It looks unlikely after Tim Mickelson opened his ninth Porter Cup with a round of 6-over 76.
Mickelson, the golf coach at Arizona State, is the younger brother of Phil, who is coming off back-to-back wins in the Scottish Open and British Open, his fifth career major.
“It was awesome. I was actually at the house with my parents watching it back home in San Diego,” Tim Mickelson said. “Obviously, they were very excited. Phil said it and I agree — we always thought it was going to be the toughest one for him to win.”
Phil Mickelson won the Porter Cup in 1990, and Tim has a fondness for it that keeps him coming back despite a busy recruiting schedule.
“This tournament holds a really special place in my heart because I’ve been doing it for so long,” he said.
As is usually the case, there were some late changes to the field.
Most notable was the withdrawal of Michael Kim, the No. 2 player in the Scratch Players World Amateur ranking. Kim, the 2013 NCAA Player of the Year, made it to the final of the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship over the weekend.
Corey Conners, a 21-year-old from Listowel, Ont., also dropped out after getting an exemption to the RBC Canadian Open, a PGA Tour event that starts today at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville. Conners got that exemption for being the highest-ranked Canadian amateur, at 29th in the Scratch Players rankings.