LAFAYETTE HILL, Pa.–It’s been eight years since Michael McDermott’s made his one and only appearance in an Amateur Championship final. Since, he’s clearly established himself as the top player in Golf Association of Philadelphia circles with one missing piece to an incredible résumé, an Amateur title. Cole Willcox of Philadelphia Country Club, on the other hand, has steadily emerged as an up-and-comer over the past few years. A late starter to the game, he only began playing golf in high school but has become a fixture when conversation reverts to young players to watch. On Thursday, each registered impressive semifinal performances to punch their respective tickets into Saturday’s 36-hole Amateur final. McDermott defeated clubmate and close friend James Donnelly, 4&3, in one semifinal while Willcox downed Zach Smith of Doylestown CC, another youngster on the rise, 5&3, in the other.
|Cole Willcox of Philadelphia CC called this par|
putt on No. 7 (par 4, 438 yards), which fell in, the
turning point of his semifinal victory over
Zach Smith of Doylestown CC.
The 108th Amateur Championship final will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday. “It feels great. The last time I was there was about as close as you can get without winning. [Michael Hyland] birdied the last hole and made a 30-footer on No. 1 to stay alive. It was a tough loss and I grew from it,” said McDermott, who is now 33 years old. “I felt good coming into this tournament. I’ve been playing well. I won the last couple events of the GAP season last year (Silver Cross, Patterson Cup) and the first one this year (Middle-Amateur). I definitely have momentum. [In this event] the matches have worked out right.” Added Willcox, a quarterfinalist in last year’s Amateur, “I’m looking forward it. [McDermott’s] obviously a great player. It should be fun. I’m relaxed when I come into these tournaments. I’m starting to realize I’ve been there and I can do it. I can hit the shots I need to. Knowing that I can do it definitely helps quite a bit.” Both players spurted away on the final nine holes in their respective semifinal matches en route to convincing victories.
|Jim Donnelly of Merion GC watches|
his par putt on No. 5 (par 5, 492 yards)
scoot past the hole in his semifinal
match with clubmate Michael McDermott.
Willcox, the fourth seed, trailed 1-down after the front nine but won each of the next six holes to close out eighth-seeded Smith. Willcox drained a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 10 (par 4, 378 yards) that was up-and-over the hill to draw even before taking the lead for good on No. 11 (par 5, 512 yards) when he knocked down a 7-iron from 160 yards that stopped 2 ½ feet from the cup. Two more pars coupled with two Smith bogeys pushed his advantage to 4-up. Willcox closed the match out on No. 15 (par 4, 422 yards) when he lofted a delicate chip shot from the hollow to the back right of the hole to a couple feet for par. Smith found the right tree line off the tee and eventually made bogey. “I was a little scared to start off with. He went birdie-birdie to start off with and just lipped out another on No. 3,” said Willcox, 20, of Berwyn, Pa. “I knew if I just kept plugging away and playing the course I could get it back to square and see what happens from there. “The momentum probably switched when I made that par putt on No. 7 to get it back to square. Even though I lost the next hole, I started to feel more comfortable. I knew I had the putter working. I figured if I could get to the back nine and throw a couple of good shots in there I knew I could make some birdies.” Willcox, a red-shirt sophomore at the University of Virginia, finished last year strong as well. He finished fifth in the Patterson Cup and second in the Silver Cross. Ironically, it was McDermott who won both events. Smith, 20, of New Britain, Pa., is a junior at St. Joseph’s University.
|Zach Smith of Doylestown CC needs|
to sink this chip on No. 15 (par 4, 422 yards)
to extend his semifinal match with
Cole Willcox of Philadelphia CC.
Opposite of Willcox’s match, McDermott started strong to open up a commanding lead. He birdied three of his first five holes to go 3-up. The reigning Middle-Amateur Champion and four-time William Hyndman, III Player of the Year rocketed a drive just five-yards short of the first (par 4, 352 yards) green and made birdie; smashed a stellar 4-iron on the difficult par 3, 235-yard fourth hole to 10 feet for a two; and dropped a 9-iron from 160 yards on No. 5 (par 5, 492 yards) to 12 feet. He lagged his eagle putt on the fifth green down to the hole, knowing he needed only birdie to win. Donnelly demonstrated the resiliency he’s displayed all week and chipped in on No. 8 (par 4, 482 yards) from 40 yards out for birdie to thwart McDermott for a bit and cut the deficit to two. Donnelly then had about a 10-footer on No. 9 (par 3, 119 yards) to drew even closer but watched that try just slip past. “Any opening you have against a player of Michael’s caliber you have to take advantage of it and that’s one I missed,” said Donnelly, 29, of Wayne, Pa., about his putt on No. 9. “This is definitely a big step in the right direction.” In essence, it was No. 10 (par 4, 378 yards) that really decided both players fate. Each player found trouble off the tee and then McDermott encountered more foliage issues on his second shot as well hitting a tree trunk in attempt to extricate himself. He was left with 115 yards to the hole hitting three and still had branches in his line to deal. Playing before Donnelly’s second shot, McDermott hit a punch about 60 yards and watched it roll out the remainder before stopping three feet from the hole. Donnelly chipped out to about 50 yards short of green, played up and missed an 18-foot par chance. Donnelly, who said he stopped playing golf for a stretch after playing at Duke University, in fact, credited a pep talk by McDermott after the Middle-Amateur Championship a few weeks ago as a factor for his strong Amateur showing. “One of the biggest reasons I’m here is actually Michael. He and I are very close friends. He gave me a phone call after the Mid-Amateur and basically reamed me out. In a nice way he said you need to start shooting much better scores because you are a much better player than you are showing.” McDermott jokingly added, “That pep talk nearly cost me.” McDermott, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., is the first finalist from Merion GC since Tug Maude fell in the title match in 2005. A victory by McDermott would mark the first time a player with Merion next to name has won the title since Max Marston took the 1923 Amateur as a representative of Merion Cricket Club. Willcox is Philadelphia CC’s first final’s representative since Lee McEntee won the 1997 Amateur. In the quarterfinals, Willcox defeated fifth-seeded Glenn Smeraglio of Yardley CC, 3&2, thanks to a blazing hot putter. Smith stopped home-club hopeful and 32nd seed David Liotta of Whitemarsh Valley CC, 2&1, also behind some clutch putting. “I was absolutely excited to getting this far but I was definitely disappointed in the way I played today,” said Liotta, 38, of West Chester, Pa. Liotta trailed 4-down after nine holes but won Nos. 10-12 to get back into the match. A missed green on No. 13 (par 4, 370 yards) resulted in a Liotta bogey and stopped his momentum. McDermott staved off a gutsy performance by qualifying medallist and No. 2 seed Mike Danner of Lu Lu Country Club in the morning to win 1-up and Donnelly overcame a three-hole deficit to Alan Borowsky for a 2&1 victory. Donnelly won seven of the last nine holes played in that match.—
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 136 Member Clubs and 56,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. The purpose of the Association is simple: To promote, protect and preserve the game of golf in the region.
4. Cole Willcox, Philadelphia CC, d. 8. Zach Smith, Doylestown CC, 5&3
7. Michael McDermott, Merion GC, d. 6. James Donnelly, Merion GC, 4&3
8. Smith d. 32. David Liotta, Whitemarsh Valley CC, 2&1
4. Willcox d. 5. Glenn Smeraglio, Yardley CC, 3&2
7. McDermott d. 2. Mike Danner, Lu Lu CC, 1-up
6. Donnelly d. 14. Alan Borowsky, White Manor CC, 2&1
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