AUTHOR : ALEX BLAIR
Alex Blair joined the Texas Links staff in 2007 after graduating from the University of Texas. At Texas, he covered sports and served as associate editor of The Daily Texan, one of the state's largest daily newspapers.
He has been a fan of golf ever since he watched Payne Stewart sink an improbable putt to win the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. When he's not pounding the pavement for the magazine, he reads any golf book he can get his hands on and enjoys playing his own 9-hole pasture golf course in Hallettsville...affectionally known as "Hallettsville National."
He brought the skills, enthusiasm, love for the game and work ethic that it takes to help us put out the nation's best local golf magazines, but in 2010 Alex decided to go back to school to get his law degree at Notre Dame.
Is more than one Houston USGA champion too much to ask for?
Ordinarily, yes, but not last year. In 2007, Texans won six individual national titles and one team championship. An embarrassment of riches, yet only one of those champions hailed from Houston. For us here at Houston Links, there's nothing better than when one of the golfers we cover wins a national championship. We crave it.
That's why last year was so frustrating. Just last week Kevin told me, "You know, if (2007 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion) Trip Kuehne was from Houston I would probably send you to the Masters to follow him around Augusta." That's the equivalent of telling a young rock writer you almost sent him to the Zeppelin reunion to party with the band.
My frustration was put in stark relief in October at the U.S. Men's State Team Championship. It was at Carlton Woods, a 45-minute drive from my house. I watched Kuehne, New Braunfels' Terrence Miskell, and San Antonio's Jon Mathias spray champagne on each other after leading Texas to a thrilling come-from-behind win. That's when it occurred to me that my work would be much more satisfying if some of our Houston mid-ams would get in contention for some of these national events.
Scratch that. Let's start out small. I'll take a state title. Houston didn't do so hot there last year, either. I covered three Texas Golf Association state championships in 2007. The Mid-Am Match Play, the State Mid-Amateur and the State Amateur. Mathias won the Mid-Am Match Play, Miskell won the State Mid-Am and both of them played in the final group at the State Am. Then they teamed with Kuehne to win Texas another national championship. Meanwhile, the highest finish for a Houston mid-am at the State Amateur was city amateur champion Kip Guidry...11 shots back.
Fortunately, it's looking like this could be a breakout year for Houston's crop of career amateurs. There are a number of Houston golfers who have the talent, but not the time. Take Andy Cooper and Sandy Pierce for example, two former Aggie golfers who are close friends.
They both have young families and busy work schedules, yet for two years in a row have dusted off their clubs and teamed to whip a field of former U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur champions at the Champions Cup. Cooper also won the inaugural Carlton Woods Invitational in 2006 (Mathias won in 2007, noticing a trend here?) and had the best showing of any Houston mid-am at last year's U.S. Mid-Am, finishing two shots out of match play. (FYI: six Texas mid-ams qualified for match play, none from Houston) I've always had a feeling at every tournament I cover that Cooper and Pierce are two to watch.
And then there's Robert McKinney, one of our favorites. McKinney is a serious golfer straight from central casting. The 1999 State Amateur champion always wears slacks and always—always—walks. When he set the Miramont Country Club competitive course record at the State Amateur with a 67, it was only five strokes off his age. McKinney generally competes with the mid-ams, but the State Senior Am is at Royal Oaks this year.
Two other major TGA events will be in Houston: the State Amateur at Houston Country Club and the State PubLinks at Memorial. Who knows? The last mid-am to win the state championship was a Houstonian: Bob Kearney in 2001. I'm almost prepared to concede the PubLinks to Miskell, the defending champion who has qualified for the U.S. PL at Memorial. Miskell is the same guy who played Carlton Woods Fazio's seventh hole in 6-under in three rounds at the State Team.
As far as the U.S. Mid-Am goes, the Houstonian I really have my eye on is John Dowdall, the South Texas Mid-Amateur champion. Dowdall is a former pro and was on the PGA Tour as recently as 1997. Conventional wisdom holds that if you're good enough to make it to the PGA Tour, you're good enough to beat anyone.
After a lengthy layoff, J.D. is just starting to regain his top form. He dominated the Medalist tour last year, and has started off 2008 by partnering with Jonathan Shipley to win the South Texas Four-Ball. At U.S. Mid-Am qualifying at Champions last year, Dowdall was extremely disappointed that he didn't qualify. He feels that if he can make it to the championship, he can win. I don't mean to call J.D.'s shot, so I'll let him do it:
"One of my goals is to win the U.S. Mid-Am," Dowdall told me in December. "I feel like I have the game, and especially the mental game, to win. Hopefully, (this) summer."