The anticipation has been building for Round 1 of the 2011 Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament played Friday at PGA Golf Club. A field of 177 golfers from 21 U.S. Special Olympics programs, plus programs from Bermuda and Canada, are competing in five levels of competition in the 12th annual national tournament through Sunday, Sept. 25.
Athletes, coaches, families and friends arrived at PGA Golf Club for Thursday night’s Opening Ceremonies, which built on their anticipation for another exciting championship event. The PGA of America is a six-time host of the national tournament at PGA Golf Club and a sponsor of the Special Olympics golf program since 1988, the sport’s beginning with the global organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“We had a great time here with the Opening Ceremonies last night,” said PGA of America President Allen Wronowski, who is spending the weekend helping out at the tournament. “To see the excitement, pride and enthusiasm was just spectacular. They have worked so hard to get to this point and I join my fellow PGA Professionals in being proud advocates for Special Olympics golfers and the Special Olympics program. It is overwhelming to watch them compete and their friends and family cheering them on. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
On Friday, Grace Anne Braxton, a Special Olympics World Games gold medalist of Fredericksburg, Va., shot 83 for the Level 5 - 18-hole individual stroke play competition. Tyler Whitehurst of Palm Harbor, Fla., is just one shot behind Braxton in his first national tournament.
"I shot an 84 and made several pars,” said Whitehurst. “My second shot on 18 was really good. I used a 6-iron and had the wind in my face but left it only 10 feet from the hole. This course is hard, but it’s fun, it’s one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever played.”
In the Level 4 - 9-Hole Individual Stroke Play, Danny Peasley of Souris, Manitoba, Canada, shot a 41 for a 3-shot lead over Nicholas Urban of White Bear Lake, Minn. The 2011 tournament marks the first time that programs from Canada and Bermuda are competing in the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament.
Paul Kozora of Oak Park, Illinois, was paired with Peasley and shot 54 in Level 4 -9-Hole Individual Stroke Play.
“I had a birdie today that helped give me confidence going into tomorrow,” said Kozora. “The course is very challenging, but good. And I like the heat, it’s not bothering me. I’m going to use the same strategy tomorrow: hit them long and straight.”
Battling through a distinctly different climate than her hometown, Aimee Anwiler of Rochester, Minn., shot 72 in Level 4 and her first national tournament appearance.
“I had fun. Even though I tried to hit it straight, it liked to find the sand,” said Anwiler. “I like the course, though, it’s hard, but in a good way.” Her volunteer caddie, Becky Copler, jokingly said, “I told her Florida has lots of great beaches we could take her to, she didn’t need to visit the sand here!”
Scott Rohrer was the record-making gold medalist at last year’s Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament when he shot the 18-hole and 54-hole record of 71-75-75—221 in Level 5 - 18-hole Individual Stroke Play event. This year, Scott and his father, Jeff, are competing in the Level 3 - 18-Hole Unified Sports Team Play and shot 80 to lead Round 1.
The team of Kevin Hartley (athlete) and Steve Linderman (partner) of Tempe, Ariz., shot a Round 1-leading score of 46 in the Level 2 -9-Hole Alternate Shot Team Play. Andrew Martinez (athlete) and Michael Martinez (partner) of Kansas City, Mo., are two behind with a 48.
Level 2 competitors Elizabeth Crook (athlete) and her younger brother, Alex Crook (partner), of Houston, Texas, are competing in their first national tournament and shot 51. Their mother, Clyde, joined them for the trip to Port St. Lucie.
“Being partners has made them both (Elizabeth and Alex) help each other more. It has also made this a family sport – my husband and I play as well – she really likes it when we all play together. I love watching her brother coach her and the other players,” said Mrs. Crook. “While today was not their best day, it’s the first day, so they’re learning the course and settling in.”
The Level 1 - Individual Skills Competition tests competitors in six different shot-making skills and the highest score wins. After Round 1, there is a tie for first place between James “Jay” Cromwell of Rockville, Md., and Andrew Peters of Palos Park, Ill., who both scored 66. Phillip Shepard of Mount Airy, Md., is one shot behind with a 65 and Malcolm Gowdie-Harris of Port St. Lucie, Fla., is in third with a 64.
Shepard said, “My short game is good, but I need to work on my chipping. I’m really enjoying hanging out with all these people from different states and spending time with my family. I need to work on my chipping and long shots tomorrow. The competition is really good and the rest of Team Maryland is doing great!”
Gowdie-Harris added, “I’m having a lot of fun. I’m happy with my performance today and am going to keep the same strategy for tomorrow. The greens are a little fast so I have to adjust for that. I’m really enjoying the people I’m playing with and we’re having fun.”
Round 2 begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and will conclude at approximately 1:00 p.m. The final round is Sunday, beginning with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start, and medal ceremonies beginning approximately at noon.
The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament offers five levels of competition on the Ryder and Wanamaker Courses of PGA Golf Club, Sept. 23-25, 2011. Level I is an individual skills contest, where six golf skills are tested. Level II is alternate shot team play, where a Special Olympics athlete is paired with a non-Special Olympics partner of more advanced skill for a 9-hole competition. Level III is Unified Sports team play, pairing Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners of similar ability for an 18-hole competition. Levels IV and V are individual stroke-play 9-hole and 18-hole competitions, respectively.
The tournament closed Day 1 with a special PGA Play Golf America Clinic featuring PGA Honorary Member and renowned trick shot entertainer Dennis Walters. Tournament competitors also will be able to participate in a PGA Sports Academy Skills Contest on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at PGA Golf Club. This year’s tournament will be staged on Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day, Saturday, Sept. 24, when Special Olympics programs worldwide celebrate the movement’s founder.
The PGA of America, USGA and PGA Tour are presenting sponsors of the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament. KPMG is also a Special Olympics sponsor of the event. With the support of golf’s allied organizations, Special Olympics golf has grown to include some 18,000 athletes participating throughout North America and more than 28,000 athletes participating in golf in 25 international programs.
Day 1 Top Scores:
Level 5 - 18-Hole Individual Stroke Play
83 – Grace Anne Braxton of Fredericksburg, Va.
84 – Tyler Whitehurst of Palm Harbor, Fla.
95 – Andrew Williams of Hixon, Tenn.
Level 4 - 9-Hole Individual Stroke Play
41 – Danny Peasley of Souris, Manitoba, Canada
44 – Nicholas Urban of White Bear Lake, Minn,
51 – Cody Miller of Hillsborough, N.C.
Level 3 - 18-Hole Unified Sports Team Play
80 – Rohrer/Rohrer of York, S.C.
94 – Abney/Abney of Franklin, Tenn.
101 – Hawkins/Lowe of Mechanicsville, Md.
Level 2 - 9-Hole Alternate Shot Team Play
46 – Hartley/Linderman of Tempe, Ariz.
48 – Martinez/Martinez of Kansas City, Mo.
49 – Powers/Powers of St. Paul, Minn.
49 – Park/Boyle of Auburn, Ala.
49 – Newham/Ostrand of Mesa, Ariz.
Level 1 - Individual Skills Competition (high score wins)
66 – James “Jay” Julian Cromwell of Rockville, Md.
66 – Andrew Peters of Palos Park, Ill.
65 – Phillip Shepard of Mount Airy, Md.
64 – Malcolm Gowdie-Harris of Port St. Lucie, Fla.