The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

June 10, 2014

Ihm optimistic about defense of championship

JOHNSTOWN — Steven Ihm led after all four rounds of last year’s Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions.

The University of Iowa standout hopes to extend the string another four rounds. Ihm returns to defend his title as part of a record field of 89 golfers in the 61st Sunnehanna Amateur, which opens today at the par-70 Sunnehanna Amateur Country Club course.

“The course is in great shape and I’m looking forward to the chance to compete again this year,” said Ihm, an All-Big Ten selection for the second straight year. “It’s another good field. It should be a fun week.”

Ihm brings experience and a familiarity with the Sunnehanna course.

“You learn how to stay patient,” he said during Tuesday morning’s Roger McManus Amateur Sponsor event. “It’s a golf course you can’t be overly aggressive on, especially with some of the pin positions they’ve put in out there. You have to stay patient and make your putts, and the round will take care of itself.”

A few new twists will be part of this year’s tournament, which begins on a Wednesday for the first time and concludes on Saturday. The schedule change from the traditional Sunday finish was made partly because of the Father’s Day holiday on Sunday, Amateur co-chairman John Yerger said.

One golfer withdrew on Tuesday, putting the field at 89, or six more golfers than last year’s record field.

“The size of the field, while it is larger than we would prefer, I think is a testament to the interest and the reputation of the Sunnehanna Amateur and should be taken as a compliment,” Yerger said. “I think the goal is to try to have it somewhat smaller next year to make it more manageable.

“We had some great players that wanted to play late, and there was no way we weren’t going to have them as a part of our tournament.”

Joining Ihm as top returnees are: Stewart Jolly (ninth at Sunnehanna in 2013), a member of the 2014 U.S. Palmer Cup team who helped the LSU Tigers reach the NCAA semifinals; Matthew NeSmith (T-sixth), a second-team All-Southeastern Conference pick at the University of South Carolina; Tom Lovelady (T-18th), who tied for third at the NCAA Auburn Regional while playing for the University of Alabama; Nathan Smith (T-18th), the 2011 Sunnehanna Amateur champion; Brandon Matthews (T-36th), the Pennsylvania Player of the Year in 2013 who finished second in both the state’s amateur and match play; Anthony Paolucci (11th) a second-team All-PAC 12  selection at the University of Southern California who will play his third Sunnehanna Amateur; and Oliver Schneiderjans (T-27th), a first-team All-American, NCAA runner-up and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year at Georgia Tech, and member of the U.S. Palmer Cup team.

There is a strong crop of 10 junior golfers, too.

Among those, University of Texas recruit Scottie Scheffler won the 2013 U.S. Junior Championship. David Snyder was a quarterfinalist at the Western Amateur last year and a quarterfinalist at this year’s Australian Amateur. Davis Riley won the Terra Cotta Invitational Championship and was last year’s U.S. Junior runner-up.

“It always elevates your game whenever you’ve got an extremely competitive field,” said Kramer Hickock, an All-Big 12 Conference selection from the University of Texas. “There is more pressure to play well. You either rise to the occasion or you don’t. It’s just a matter of knowing that you belong.

“Once you know that, you can play with anyone. I like playing with better players. It helps me elevate my game. There are 89 good players this week. I think anyone will  have the chance to win.”

Ihm expects a strong challenge for the green jacket he claimed last June in the 60th anniversary event.

“It’s always fun to play a field like this,” Ihm said. “Anybody can win it. You’ve got 89 players here and all of them are probably ranked highly.  It’s always fun to come out and play your best.That’s how you can judge where your game is at in the world, really.”

Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.

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