Quest for national public links title begins Monday

It may seem like eons ago when the Olympic Course at Bremerton’s Gold Mountain Golf Club hosted the Washington State Amateur Golf Tournament back in 1997.

But that event was the genesis of a project that ultimately grew into the club playing host to the United States Golf Association’s 81st U.S. Amateur Public Links, which begins Monday morning.

Years of work and planning will pay off as 156 of the country’s best amateur golfers tee it up for the five-day tournament.

The field will face 18 holes of stroke play Monday and Tuesday before the field is narrowed to 64. From there, match play will be used until just two golfers are left for Saturday’s 36-hole championship round.

At stake is a berth in the 2007 Master’s in Augusta, Ga.

And all of this is now happening because the brand-new Olympic Course, which opened a year before hosting the state amateur, caught the eye of all those who played it.

“The course had held up,” General Manager Scott Alexander said. “And when I say held up, I mean the scores were not extremely low. So the course had held up very well against the state’s competition.”

It was then the thought of hosting a national championship came to mind. And because Gold Mountain is a municipal golf club, the U.S. Amateur Public Links made the most sense.

After a couple of years of checking the particulars and a few visits by the USGA, the Olympic Course was awarded its national championship in 2002.

And the work to get ready hasn’t stopped since.

The course itself underwent a few changes. Water was added along the right side of the 18th hole and tee boxes on No. 1, No. 6 and No. 13 were extended, bringing the yardage up to 7,061 yards.

Alexander said the rough has been grown up along the fairways and around the greens while the fairways themselves will be shaved down and the speed of the greens will be increased to 11 on the USGA Stimpmeter.

The course is ready, and now so is the entire field. Qualifying rounds around the country pared down the 4,739 entrants to just 156.

Although there are no true local golfers in the field, there will be a few from western Washington having a go at the Olympic Course.

Yelm’s John Cassidy, 24, won the local qualifier last month at Gold Mountain with rounds of 69-71-141 and will be joined by Ryan Keeney of Redmond, who gained an automatic berth by making the quarterfinals of the APL last year.

Other qualifiers with Washington ties include Tim Feenstra of Lynden, a three-time Division II All-American at Western Washington University, Choo TzeHuang of Singapore, a recruit to the University of Washington golf program, and 15-year-old Andrew Yun of Tacoma, who finished tied with Choo but lost a playoff, leaving Yun as the first alternate.

Since then, however, a spot has opened up and Yun also will be in the field.

Cassidy will be playing in his fourth U.S. Amateur Public Links and made the round of 16 during the 2003 tournament. He’s had success before in his career, particularly at a young age, but it’s more sustainable now.

“I just regained the love and appreciation for the game,” Cassidy said. “For a while there, I had some success as a younger junior, but with expectations and things going on, I kind of got burned out and didn’t really want to play all that much.”

After winning state as a high school freshman, golf wasn’t a high priority for Cassidy. Finally, while attending Tacoma Community College, he got the spark back.

“I kind of got a resurgence in my love for the game, and my will to play well,” he said.

In 2002, he qualified for his first U.S. Amateur Public Links. He then went on to Nevada-Reno and recently completed his third and final year of competition with the Wolfpack, finishing with some impressive golf.

He fired a 72-69 during the first two rounds of the recent NCAA Championship at the Crosswater Club in Sunriver, Ore., and was tied for 13th.

That alone has given him plenty of confidence going into the APL, being played on a course at Gold Mountain he knows well.

“Probably more than anything, knowing that I can compete with the best collegiate players in the country, I know I can come out here on a course I know and know I can beat them,” Cassidy said.

“I just feel real comfortable on it,” he said about the 7,061-yard Olympic Course. “A lot of the shots set up well for my eye. I’m real used to the greens and how they break around here.”

That small group will try to add to the list of winners that have ties to the area.

The most well known and recent winner is Ryan Moore of Puyallup, winning the title in 2002 and then again in 2004.

The 2004 U.S. Amateur Public Links title for Moore, however, was a piece of astounding golf history, as in a matter of months he won the NCAA Championship, the Sahalee Players’ Championship, the APL, the Western Amateur and then the U.S. Amateur in what many regard as the finest string of amateur golf since Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam in 1930.

“Winning every tournament the whole summer is kind of what made that year so special,” Moore said. “I just kept going, and obviously a big part of it, to keep it going, was the PubLinks.”

Paul Ramsdell of PNGA Media contributed to this story

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