There might be a better way to tune up for this week’s Palm Beach Kennel Club County Amateur Tournament, but defending champion Austin Powell is pretty happy with the schedule he and his father, Greg, had this past week: Nine courses in Scotland over eight days, including Turnberry, the Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Troon and Royal Dornoch.
“Phil (Mickelson) has been over getting ready for the British Open, so it’s pretty neat to be playing the same courses he is,” Powell said by phone.
This year’s County Amateur will be contested Friday through next Sunday over 54 holes on both the North & South courses at Quail Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach and will feature five past champions as well as 2012 Palm Beach County Golf Association Player of the Year Scott Wilson and Senior Player of the Year Jimmy Key. The field of 150 will be cut to 60 and ties for the final round.
A 2011 graduate of Cardinal Newman High School who helped Penn win the Ivy League golf title in 2012, Powell, 20, saidwinning last year’s Kennel Club titlewas the biggest accomplishment of his young career. He’s ready to take that statement a step further.
“It’s one of the best tournaments I’ve had, and helped springboard me into a different echelon in terms of the way I view myself,” he said. “You can work hard and believe, but you need results to underscore that belief, and when I won it all clicked.”
And the results kept coming, in the form of a PBGCA Tour Championship victory in November and across-the-board better finishes in other amateur events.
Powell was four strokes off the lead when the final round at BallenIsles CC began last year, but an eagle on the par-5 third hole got him into the mix and another at the par-5 17th gave him the lead.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I’ve had two eagles in a round,” he said. “My two putts were only a total of about 20 feet, from 8 and 12. I struck the ball so well all week, and then my putter got hot when I needed it to be.”
The eagle at No. 17 proved particularly timely as Powell had just posted a three-putt bogey on No. 16.
“I’d been hitting the ball well the entire back nine and couldn’t get anything to drop. But getting the shot right back after the three-putt was big.”
Powell got up-and-down for par from 30 yards on No. 18, then had to sit and wait while the final threesome finished up. When Gary Nicklaus’ 30-footer for birdie hung on the lip, the win was secure.
“I was 60 yards away, but it looked like it was going in,” Powell recalled. “The ball was rolling for only two or three seconds, but they felt like two or three minutes.”
Powell said he’s confident he can make a successful defense of his title this week (“there’s no reason I can’t”) as he considers what direction his golf career will take when he graduates in two years.
“The next two years will be important in determining what I’m going to do,” he said. “I have aspirations to turn pro, but I’ll finish school, then focus on golf. I’d at least like to give it a shot.”
PGA of America takes bite: With an eye on its 100th anniversary looming in 2016, the Palm Beach Gardens- based PGA of America has announced it will open up an office in New York this fall. Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Ring will oversee the new operation, the goal of which is “to foster deeper marketing, broadcasting, public relations and communications relationships in the world’s largest media capital,” according to a release.
The Big Apple will be the focus of the PGA’s Centennial Celebration in 2016, with the 98th PGA Championship to be staged at nearby Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
First Tee programs heating up: First Tee of both the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast are offering a variety of reasonably priced summer programs for boys and girls ages 5-16, mixing golf instruction with life skills at numerous area facilities. For more information go to www.thefirstteepalmbeach.org and www.thefirstteetreasurecoast.org.
On a lighter note, three First Tee Palm Beach students — Ben Abramowicz, Tyler Mistretta and Skylar Ladd — teamed up with Tiger Woods to film a commercial for the USGA’s “While We’re Young” ad campaign recently at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound and 76 Golf World in Stuart. The spot, which spoofs Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line from “Caddyshack”, began running during the U.S. Open and has gotten plenty of air time since.
While Woods deliberately lines up and takes a putt on a miniature golf course that he misses right, the youngsters voice their frustration as they wait on the tee. Both cute, and funny.
New arrival at Old Palm: Former PGA Tour player and current CBS commentator Ian Baker-Finch, wife Jennie and their two children have moved into Old Palm in Palm Beach Gardens, joining Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel at Old Palm, which bills itself as “the premier private Club community in the Palm Beaches.”