FORT WAYNE – One hundred fifty-six players will tee it up today at Autumn Ridge Golf Club. And, because of one big absent name, the playing field has been leveled in everyone elses pursuit of the City Tournament championship.
Scott Pieri, who won five of the last seven titles, was controversially stripped of his amateur status this summer by the United States Golf Association because he lent his name to a commercial for retailer Golf Etc., even though he received no financial compensation.
Pieri, 45, has decided to remain a professional – perhaps the Champions Tour is in his future – and its greatly altered the outlook for others in the Fort Wayne Golf Associations marquee event.
With him not playing, it definitely makes it more interesting and brings a lot of players back into the fold, said Johnny Strawser, who shot a 3-under 210 last year at Pine Valley Country Club to take second place, three strokes back of Pieri.
Now the tournament, which has been played annually since 1926, shifts to Strawsers home course.
I feel good about (my chances). This golf course isnt the easiest in the area, and having the knowledge from playing it 30 or 40 times a year definitely helps me, said Strawser, the club champion at Autumn Ridge and the FWGAs reigning Player of the Year.
Among players to watch are four-time champion Sam Till Jr., who finished third last year at 2 under; and three-time champion Steve Vernasco, who helped Autumn Ridge to victory with a 75 in Sundays Interclub Championship at Autumn Ridge, though teammate Kevin Irons shot a 70.
B.J. Hayden, representing Coyote Creek, fired a 4-under 68 at Autumn Ridge in that tournament.
Sixty-nine players came into this year exempt from having to qualify for the City Tournament, leaving another 133 players to vie for 89 open spots July 27.
The top qualifiers were Jared McGinn, who shot a 4-under 68 at Brookwood Golf Club, and Brad Hughes, who posted a 2-under 69 at Cedar Creek Golf Club.
The field will be cut to the top 120 players, including ties, after Saturdays second round at Autumn Ridge, which hasnt played host to the tournament since Dan Hall won in 1996.
At Autumn Ridge, youve got to keep the ball in play, and the greens are really tricky, Strawser said. They dont appear hilly, but you have to know the subtle breaks. Its going to end up that whoever makes the most putts wins.