GALLOWAY, N.J. – Blue skies and windy conditions made for a challenging first round of the 2013 Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational Tournament on Friday at the Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club. A field of 176 golfers from 23 programs representing the United States and Canada are competing in five levels of competition in the 14th annual tournament.
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.
Four players shot below 90 on the par-71 Bay Course in the 18-hole individual stroke play competition (Level V), with Scott Rohrer of York, S.C., shooting an 81 to lead the field. Scott was the 2012 Level V gold medalist and is the record-holder for his 2010 18-hole and 54-hole individual stroke play low score of 71-75-75—221 at the Highlands Golf Course in Lincoln, Neb.
Jeremiah Doane of Perry, Ga., (playing for the Tennessee delegation) is one shot behind Rohrer with an 82; Kyle Koopman of Stoney Creek, Ont., shot 87; and Ahmad Rahman of Chapel Hill, N.C., shot 88 in the first round.
In the 9-Hole Individual Stroke Play competition (Level IV), Jonathon Bolger of Port Colborne, Ontario, and Peter Thiessen of Winkler, Manitoba, share the lead with 52s on the par-70 (35-35) Pines Course. They are two shots ahead of Danny Dasis of Butler, Ala., Daniel Dehaan of Bozeman, Mont., and Matthew Duman of Moorestown, N.J.
"The greens were fast – I liked that," said Bolger. "[When I] go home, they're not as fast."
Thiessen added, “I love golfing, I've been golfing for Special Olympics for three years. It felt good to be out there, the weather was awesome and I feel good about my play."
Eric Schmidt (athlete) and David Dauphin (partner) of Cary, Ill., shot an 87 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., shot a 94 and are seven shots back heading into the second round.
"We played okay,” said Schmidt. “We left a lot of shots out there but I thought our round was okay. I'm not going to change much up tomorrow. Just hopefully get a lower score. [I need] better irons – being in the fairway is crucial on this course and I think if our approach shots are in we'll be able to get some birdies tomorrow."
The team of Kellen (athlete) and Devin (partner) Kaasa of Glenville, Minn., shot 47 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 six shots back with a 53.
“Tomorrow, I'm going to hit it in the fairway. Today, my putting was the weakest part of my game,” said Andrew Martinez. “I worked on my putting at the range afterwards and I'm ready for it.”
The individual skills competition (Level I) tests competitors in six different shot-making skills and the highest score wins. After Round 1, Andrew Moscoso of Baltimore, Md., is on top of the leaderboard scoring 84 points to earn a 19-point advantage over David Siewert of Herndon, Va., who scored 65 points for second place during the first day of the skills competition.
Comments from athletes:
--Michael Hedrick, Level V, Trumbull, Conn., shot a 96 on the Bay Course: “I had two pars today and nearly a birdie on the ninth hole. I had a great drive to start the back nine and had a really good ‘mojo’ going into the back nine. I’m deadly with my wedges and they got me out of sticky situations today.”
--Chris Holmes, Level V, The Woodlands, Texas, shot 100 on the Bay Course: “I’m playing decent so far, but fell short on some holes. I really hope to bring a medal back to Texas from the tournament.”
--Grace Anne Braxton, Level V, Fredericksburg, Va., shot 97 on the Bay Course, with her father, Harrison Braxton, as her caddie: “It feels really good [to be here]. But when I’m here, I play against the guys, I want to be tough, you know? It’s kind of challenging for me, playing from the blue tees was a little bit longer and a little bit more stressful for me.”
--Scott Rohrer, Level V, of York, S.C., shot 81 on the Bay Course, with his father, Jeff, as his caddie: “It’s very special to be here. It’s great to play with a bunch of guys that I know, and also some that I don’t know. I’m trying to make friends as much as possible."
--Jacob Miller, Level III, of South Carolina, shot 136 on the Bay Course with Unified playing partner Michael Purvis: “It feels nice to be [here]. It’s a good place to be. [To be at the SO Golf Invitational] makes me proud to be a Special Olympic athlete.”
--Dan Miller, Level II, of Ocean City, N.J., shot 56 on the Pines Course with Unified playing partner Twisted Dune Golf Club PGA Professional Matt Callaghan: "[The best part about playing in the Invitational multiple times is] memories. Everything is coming back to me. Sometimes I win, sometimes I don't – it doesn't really matter to me. I'm just here to have fun, I don't care if we win or not."
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.