Wind and nerves settle as players improve at Special Olympics golf

Special Olympics golf
Courtesy of Special Olympics
The field of 176 golfers from 23 programs completed their second round of three on Saturday outside of Atlantic City.
By
Sherry Major
PGA.com Contributor

Series: PGA

GALLOWAY, N.J.  – A cool, crisp fall Saturday morning brought calmer winds, more relaxed players and lower scores in the second round of the 2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament at the Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club. A field of 176 golfers from 23 programs representing the United States and Canada are competing in one of five levels of competition in the 14th annual tournament through Sunday. 

The Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament, presented by KPMG, is being hosted by the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games Organizing Committee, in conjunction with Special Olympics North America.  The 2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament is also being supported by tournament sponsors The PGA of America, USGA and PGA Tour.

2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament

Click here to return to our complete coverage of the 2013 Special Olympics golf tournament.

LEVEL V
In the 18-hole individual stroke play competition (Level V), Scott Rohrer of York, S.C., shot an 80 on the par-71 Bay Course for an overall 81-80—161 two-day total to maintain his lead. Jeremiah Doane, of Perry, Ga. (playing for the Tennessee delegation) shot 82-89–171 and Ahmad Rahman of Chapel Hill, N.C., shot 88-87—175.

"My day went pretty good. Didn't do so well on putting, so we're bouncing back,” said Rohrer. “I finished one stroke better than yesterday. My putting was my weak spot both days. The plan for tonight is just to relax. Tomorrow we're going to do our best to shoot in the 70s. That would be a good goal."

LEVEL IV
In the 9-Hole Individual Stroke Play competition (Level IV), two Special Olympics golfers recorded a 50, the day’s low score in Level IV, and finished 1-2 atop the leaderboard. Jonathon “PJ” Bolger of Port Colborne, Ontario, held his lead and improved his first-round score by two shots for a 52-50—102 and a two-shot lead over Matthew Duman of Moorestown, N.J. , who shot 54-50—104 for second place going into the final round on Sunday. 

"I was more relaxed today – I knew where to go and where not to go,” said Bolger, who is joined by his father as his caddie. “It went good. I had a lot of fun. Two strokes better than yesterday and I shot a 50.”

LEVEL III
The team of Eric Schmidt (athlete) and David Dauphin (partner) of Cary, Ill., improved their first-round score by seven shots, recording an 87-80—167 in the 18-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play competition (Level III) on the Bay Course. Spencer Jacobs (athlete) and Larry Jacobs (partner) of Rockville, Md., also improved their first-round score by seven shots, recording a 94-87—181 for second place after two rounds.

Schmidt and Dauphin played their second round with Level V defending champion and Special Olympics 18- and 54-hole record holder, Scott Rohrer. “We had a really good round today. Shot an 80 playing with Scott.  Scott’s a very good player,” said Schmidt. “I thought we played better golf than yesterday. Our driving was good. Now we’re more familiar with the course and our scores were better.” 

“Scott hits the ball far and it was an honor to play with him,” said Dauphin. “Today on the front nine, we hit seven out of eight fairways. Hitting that many fairways – and I think we hit five greens in regulation – it’s a lot easier to score when you’re putting the ball on the fairway. Yesterday we probably had a total of four fairways hit and maybe eight greens in regulation. So it’s a lot easier to score when you’re hitting greens.”

LEVEL II
The team of Kellen (athlete) and Devin (partner) Kaasa of Glenville, Minn., held their first-round lead with a 47-46—93 in the 9-hole Unified Sports alternate shot team play competition (Level II) on the Pines Course. The team of Andrew Martinez (athlete) and Michael Martinez (partner) of Kansas City, Mo., are in second place heading into the final round with 53-48—101.

"I feel good about how I played,” said Kellen. “I made some good shots and I'm very happy about it.”  

Devin, Kellen’s younger brother and playing partner, said, “We're not going to work too hard tonight, we'll just take the night off and relax. Tomorrow we're going to get out there and get the lowest score we can and hope for the best."

LEVEL I
The individual skills competition (Level I) tests competitors in six different shot-making skills and the highest score wins. John Burkarth of Herdon, Va., improved his first-day score by 22 points with an 86 on Saturday for a total of 150 and a 10-point advantage going into the final day. Andrew Moscoso of Baltimore, Md., added 56 points to his first-day score of 84 for a total of 140 points.

This is Burkarth’s first trip to a Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament. Going in to the final round atop the leaderboard, he's not feeling any pressure, characterizing the competition simply as "so far, so good." Burkarth says the driving station is his strongest skill, but would like to keep improving his short game.

Comments from athletes:

--Peter Thiessen, Level IV, Manitoba: “I did good. Had a bad hole on No. 10. Praise the good Lord I’m still alive.”

--Thiessen’s caddie, Peter Klassen: “We’ve been working together just over three years, we live in the same house and golf together in the men’s league. We’ve known each other through Special Olympics for a long time before, through bowling and other sports. I was the proprietor of a bowling center and got to know him and me and the wife took him in. That was three years ago.”

--Daniel Dehaan, Level IV, Bozeman, Mont. (representing Tennessee delegation): “There were fewer crowds around today and I played much better. We practiced yesterday in the sand bunkers and got better at it. My chipping was a lot better today. The best part of this experience is being with my friends and having a good time. It’s awesome.”

--Ahmad Rahman, Level V, Chapel Hill, N.C.: “I felt really good about how I played today. Putting and chipping were good. I feel that I improved on them.  It feels really good to be in my first National Championship.”

--Jeremiah Doane, Level V, Perry, Ga. (representing Tennessee delegation): “I had a decent round. I had holes that need improving, but I birdied the same hole I did yesterday (the par-3 17th) and I was very happy with my 89. The birdie on No. 17, I kind of owe that one to my caddie. Because if it wasn’t for the yardage being similar to what it was yesterday and her encouragement, I probably would have come away with a par or bogey.  Today was a learning day when it should have been a moving day after yesterday. But I’m just going to take it for what it is, just try to really do a good job tomorrow.  My game plan for tomorrow is to think less. The more I think about it, the more I end up kicking myself at the end of a hole, which I don’t need to do.”

--Chris Holmes, Level V, The Woodlands, Texas: “Today I had some rough times. I came through on No. 7. There were some tough shots where I was standing. Drives and irons were fine, putting was off a little bit but I came through. The greens were tough. They had some tough pin placements. I felt really good overall, though.”  

“On No. 18, I was in the trees and I had to punch out to the green. I didn’t have a shot in the trees, and had to do some hard feeling and thinking. I knew I just had to punch it out and get it close to the green for a great putt. When I was standing there on the green [facing a 20-foot putt for a double-bogey 7], I knew I was going to make it. The feeling afterward – I was in tears. I came through. I looked at No. 18 and thought, I have a chance of winning this. And I looked up and it dropped. And I just sat there and cried. Now I just want to bring it home tomorrow.”

--Drew York (athlete) and Marilyn Burnside (partner), Level II, Senatobia, Miss. (representing Tennessee delegation): Drew: “I played pretty good. The strongest part of my game today was getting off the tee box.” Marilyn: “It’s been a pleasure, this place is absolutely gorgeous. This is Drew’s first appearance in a national tournament and it is a treat. He’s done very well.” Drew and Marilyn have been playing together for three years and they play in tournaments around Tennessee.

--Jerry Coburn, Level IV, Seagirt, N.J.: “I think I did a lot better than yesterday. I was doing a lot better listening on my putting and I think I really putted a lot better than I thought. And finally, I got my wedge to work for me on the last hole. So I was like, ‘Okay, I got it on in four, now let’s get it in on the first putt.’ So I was really happy with the way I played. I was just doing everything I could do to keep myself within the 59 mark. That was my goal – to shoot a 59 today.”

On par on 18: “I was just thinking, ‘Alright, now, I don’t want to miss this putt in front of my family because my dad’s always said, ‘Just nice and easy and through,’ and that’s all I was thinking. Nice and easy and through, nice and easy putt, just do what [my caddie] Rick said. Just get it up there and let it roll into the hole. And when it went in, I just went completely like Tiger Woods, when he makes his par putts. It was a par I’ll never forget. I’ve never made a par in any Special Olympics competition – when I went to Shanghai I didn’t make a par. This is my first par in competition.”

About Special Olympics Golf
The Special Olympics Golf program began in 1988 with the assistance of The PGA of America and USGA.  Since then both associations contribute to the growth of the program with grassroots training, rules education, tournament administration and national program financial support.  The PGA Tour also provides ongoing financial support to the program. PGA Tour player Padraig Harrington and LPGA Tour player I.K. Kim are global sport ambassadors for Special Olympics, helping to implement golf programs and initiatives designed to spread respect for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Currently, 50 U.S. Special Olympics Programs offer golf training and competition, and more than 18,000 athletes participate in golf competitions in Special Olympics in North America.  Golf is one of 30 Olympic-style summer and winter sports offered by Special Olympics in more than 170 countries worldwide.

Next year, approximately 200 golfers from throughout the United States will compete at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, being held June 14-21, in the Princeton and Greater Mercer County area of New Jersey.  The 2014 Special Olympics USA Games will feature nearly 3,500 athletes, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, competing in 16 Olympic-style sports, with the support of 1,000 coaches; 10,000 volunteers and an estimated 70,000 family, friends and spectators.