BY JEFF FALK
QUENTIN – Did Mike Schmidt Jr. thoroughly enjoy himself yesterday on the golf course because he played well? Or did he play well because he was thoroughly enjoying himself on the golf course?
Either way, Saturday at Fairview Golf Course, the opening day of the 55th annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship, turned into ‘Mike Schmidt, Jr.’ day. While a record number of players were recording scores in the 70s, Schmidt was the only player in the field to register a round in the 60s – 66 to be exact.
Sparked by seven birdies, a quick start and a hot finish, Schmidt blistered the par-71, 6,011-yard layout for a five-under par 66. Schmidt, who played in the next-to-last group of the day, got his round to five-under par at Fairview’s tenth hole, endured a bogey bump a couple of holes later and then finished his tour with back-to-back birdies.
Schmidt’s 66 forged him a four-shot cushion heading into Sunday’s final round, as Steve Anspach joined him below par and in the 10:40 a.m. final group with a one-under 70. Justin Arnt, Scot Adams and Shane Gingrich were ‘Even Stevens.’
Checking in with 73s were Tim Leeper, Tom Kintzer, Rick Troutman, Bill Massar, Jr., Todd Warden and Caleb Ginder. A shot farther back were Cody Kersey and Ed Caudwill.
Jim Gardner, Steve Allwein, Andy Gibbons and Darren Lutz counted 75 strokes, while Dan Brown, defending champ Tony Deraco, Jared Cook, Tyler Shank, Russ Ditzler and Tim Springborn shot 76s.
Reigning Fairview club champion Ed Detwiller fired a 78.
An amazing 39 members of the 63-player field shot scores in the 70s, or 62 percent of it.
“The moral of my round for today was just having good people around me,” said Schmidt, who won the 2008 County Amateur at Royal Oaks. “The camaraderie on the golf course, and it was beautiful out there. It’s just a place to call ‘home’. I played good because I was comfortable, and I was made really happy by the people around me.
“I enjoyed myself today,” Schmidt continued. “I had fun. I just felt really good.”
After draining two short birdie putts early, Schmidt rolled one in from an amazing 40-feet on the 192-yard, par-three sixth hole to reach three-under for his round. He also converted short birdie putts at the par-five seventh and the 312-yard, par-four tenth.
“I tried to make a lot of pars,” said Schmidt, who has played in the County Amateur twice previously since winning it five years ago “I didn’t take chances. I just tried to hit it in the fairway, and try to find it. Obviously you don’t think you’re going to make birdies. I hit some crumby putts that went in and I hit a couple of good ones that didn’t go in.”
“I didn’t try to bite off more than I could chew,” Schmidt continued. “Tomorrow I’m just going to do the same thing I did today. Don’t take a whole lot of chances, and let it happen. All I’ll say is I got a little help today.”
The only difficulties Schmidt ran into came at Numbers 12 and 13, in the form of bogeys inside of 20 feet. But Schmidt completed his Amateur round like a pro, turning a 20-foot eagle putt at the par-five 17th into a tap-in birdie and then sticking his low-iron shot at the par-three 18th to within eight feet.
“I wouldn’t attribute playing better to playing more,” said Schmidt, Jr., a 33-year-old Palmyra native. “I think something has clicked for me. I figured out that maybe if I’m a little smarter I’ll play better.
“The golf course is in great shape,” added Schmidt. “I love these guys. I love that the golf course is in Lebanon County. We sort of take over the golf course for a weekend and they have it in great shape for us.”
Anspach deposited five birdie putts from within seven feet, but also encountered ‘The Bogey Man’ along the way.
“I hit the ball solid,” said Anspach. “I didn’t make any long putts, but I didn’t three-putt. It was hitting greens and putting. I had a good mental outlook on the day, not putting pressure on myself. Today I kept big holes out of it. That’s the name of the game: putting 18 holes together.”
“The course really didn’t play that tough,” Anspach continued. “If you could put in in play, you can score. I’m pleased how I played, but I didn’t have those big holes.”
A former baseball pitcher by fame, Anspach has never finished among the top ten in ten career starts at the County Amateur.
“I never had a good Saturday,” said Anspach. “I’ve had some good Sundays. I couldn’t put the two together. If you’re looking at the stats, it’s going to be hard to put the two together.
“I had no expectations coming in,” added Anspach. “And I don’t have expectations for tomorrow. I just want to play solid golf for me.”
Arnt was four over through ten holes, then reeled off four birdies over his last seven holes. Adams got it to three under with early birdies at Numbers One, Four and Five. And Gingrich made the turn at two-over par, before firing a two-under par over the back.