Mike Schmidt, Jr. has played as a former champion. He’s played as a defending champ. He’s played in it without any championship status at all.
So does Schmidt’s relation to past championships have any effect on his approach to future titles?
Schmidty, Jr.? His approach is as unwavering as his resolve.
Currently, Schmidt is gearing up for the 56th annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship, which will be contested this weekend at Royal Oak, as the event’s defending champion. After running away and hiding from the 2013 field, Schmidt will be seeking to become just the second competitor in the history of the County Amateur to repeat – Chad Schulze pulled off the feat in 1997 and 1998.
“I kind of feel like, ‘If you win, you would really like to defend this title’,” said Schmidt. “You don’t try to put more pressure on yourself, but maybe somehow it happens. It’s really difficult to defend. Not too many have done it. It says there’s a lot of good, high quality players who can win. Not only do you have to play well, you have to play better than everyone else.”
“Yeah, actually I do like it,” said tournament director Jimmy Gardner of the County Amateur tradition of rotating between Lebanon County courses. “In golf, there’s different levels of play. Some courses fit players better, or they’re more comfortable at certain courses. People may think, ‘I have a hard time competing at this course, but I’d have a better chance at this course.’ I enjoy the switching around.”
Last year at Fairview, Schmidt blistered the Quentin course for an opening round score of 66, or five-under par, and was never seriously headed on championship Sunday. Schmidt’s two-round total of 136 matched the lowest score in Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship’s history, and provided him with a five-shot win over runner-up Chris Gebhard.
“For me, it was a very mixed emotion weekend,” said Schmidt, who lost his grandmother just days prior to his triumph. “Something really high, something really low. I never had those types of emotion. It was fun. It was great. People were offering me congratulations and condolences at the same time.
“What’s nice is that they change the venue every year,” added Schmidt. “Some people might like one place over another place. I think you’ve got to find your comfort zone, because comfort leads to being relaxed, being relaxed leads to a better golf swing and a better golf swing leads to maybe scoring better. As a whole, it’s hard to defend, for multiple reasons.”
“Schmidty got out with a 66,” recalled Gardner. “He’s a heck of a player. He had a four- or a five-shot lead right out of the gate. Anybody who was chasing him knew that he was going to be tough to catch after that.”
The group which will provide Schmidt with his greatest resistance is a usual cast of characters, but an all-star cast nonetheless. If Schmidt is to repeat he will need to be better than Gebhard, Danny Brown, Andy Gibbons, Bill Massar, Jr., Tony Deraco, Cody Kersey, even Gardner himself.
“Since 2009, I’ve consistently tried to play,” said Schmidt, a graduate of Palmyra High School. “But sometimes life gets in the way. I like to play in the County Amateur. I like the people. I like the camaraderie.”
“Jr. being defending champion, he’s had a track record of playing extremely well,” said Gardner, himself a past champ. “There are a lot of good players in the field. I’m OK. You never know what’s going to happen. It’ll be the guy who plays solid and putts well. All you can do is tee it up and see what happens.”
Too often the health and well being of the Lebanon County Amateur is measured by the size of its field. This year’s turnout of 41 players is one of the smallest in the history of the tournament.
“That’s just normal any more,” said Gardner. “It’s the nature of it. The number of players is down everywhere. We don’t have the days of 80-plus players any more. We’re happy they came out and gave it a whirl. We’re happy with the guys we get. We don’t have young people coming out to play. I feel my group is part of the younger guys, and we’re in our late 40s. Is it a money thing? I don’t know. We don’t have the younger influx any more.
“I’ve been doing this a little while,” Gardner continued. “It is what it is. The association (Lebanon County Golf Association) itself is great. The association is extremely healthy. We get the people we get.”
“I think the people who play in it take a lot of pride in it,” said Schmidt. “At the end of Sunday you can ask yourself, ‘Did you play well enough to play in the match play tournament (in October).’ I take pride in it. I’m born and raised in Lebanon County. I think the association is healthy. I don’t know how you grow it (County Amateur) and make it bigger. I’m curious as well.”
Royal Oaks measures 6,747 yards in length and plays to a par of 71 (36-35). While mostly flat, Royal Oaks does present players with different lies, risk/reward options and forces them to manage water.
“You’ve definitely got to be patient,” said Schmidt. “To win any of these things you’ve got to be able to putt well. There’s plenty of guys who can hit the ball plenty far and plenty straight and put themselves in position. At the end of the day, it’s the guy who can putt well for two days who is going to win.
“Yes, I like it (the rotating course system) because the guys in the county take pride in the places they play out of,” continued Schmidt. “There’s a sense you’re defending your home course. Each course gets to showcase what they have to offer. I think they give us a quality product every year.”
“The course is in great shape,” said Gardner. “The greens are nice. There’s no secrets in golf. You’ve got to keep it in play. Obviously if you putt well you’re going to score well. If you putt well, you’re going to be in contention. That’s the case at almost any course.
“Royal Oaks is an extremely nice course, a great course,” Gardner added. “I can’t answer for people. But when you’re in an individual event, you’re by yourself.”
|8:30 AM||JIM GARDNER||DAN BROWN||STEVE ALLWEIN||MARK NOVIS|
|8:40 AM||ANDY GIBBONS||CHRIS GEBHARD||GREG ADAMS||DAVE BROWN|
|8:50 AM||JUSTIN ARNT||TONY DERACO||SKEET WENTLING||JON HURST|
|9:00 AM||STEVE SHERK||TOM PLUNKET||BRUCE GWIN||KERRY WENTLING|
|9:10 AM||BRYAN BATES||RICHARD McCRACKEN||MATHEW ROWE||WILLIAM BEASLEY|
|9:20 AM||MIKE SCHMIDT JR.||CARL JOHNSON III||TYLER MASSAR||BILL MASSAR JR.|
|9:30 AM||MIKE GRIFFE||ERIC BOLTZ||DARREN LUTZ||SCOT ADAMS|
|9:40 AM||KEVIN LONG||CHRIS KOOPMANN||JORDAN RHEN||NATE WENTLING|
|9:50 AM||CHRIS BAEZ||JEFF BEARE||TYLER SHANK|
|10:00 AM||JESSE BROWN||CODY KERSEY||STEVE ANSPACH|
|10:10 AM||RAYMOND BUCKMAN||DARREN ARMEL||JUSTIN AYERS|