It’s a little soon to start tossing around the term “dynasty,” but back-to-back titles in the GAP Team Matches does accord Little Mill Country Club a certain measure of respect.
Little Mill’s victory, sealed May 12 in the Team Matches’ playoffs, is all the more impressive coming as it did against three iconic clubs on the local golf scene: Overbrook GC, Merion GC and Philadelphia Cricket Club.
That, and the fact that Little Mill’s prospects for a repeat looked bleak after Week Two, when the Marlton, N.J., club’s team took a beating at the hands of Llanerch CC.
“After the Week Two loss to Llanerch, we felt deflated,” Ryan McCarty, Little Mill’s captain, told the GAP staff after the win. “But we stayed together and won the next week against Huntingdon Valley (to get into the playoff). We felt like we had a second life coming in.”
Of the four teams to make the playoffs, Little Mill was the only one to lose a match, going 2-1; Philadelphia Cricket, Merion and Overbrook all went 3-0. In the playoffs, however, Little Mill prevailed with 66 points, edging Philadelphia Cricket’s 62.5.
Little Mill became the first club to repeat as the winner since the 2005-06, when Tavistock CC managed the feat.
The triumph for Little Mill meant a letdown for Philadelphia Cricket, as the club, one of the four founding members of GAP, once again was denied its first title in the Team Matches.
“Everybody was disappointed, but at the same time, everybody is just looking at the future,” said Cricket’s Rob Savarese Jr.
Meanwhile at Little Mill, where the elite Division AA team is a mix of youth and experience (handicaps range from +2.7 to no higher than 1.5), they believe they answered any lingering questions about their win last year.
“We didn’t know if it was a fluke, because we came out of nowhere,” said McCarty, the captain, referring to the club’s debut last year in Division AA. “Winning again definitely makes us feel pretty good about ourselves.”
Don’t look now but it’s time for the first of four GAP major championships of the season, the 29th Middle-Amateur Championship.
Glenn Smeraglio, from Mercer Oaks GC, is the defending champion in the two-day 36-hole stroke-play championship, set for Wednesday and Thursday at Chester Valley CC in Malvern.
Although Smeraglio, 52, is a three-time winner of GAP’s Silver Cross and a two-time winner of the Patterson Cup, his win last year at Laurel Creek CC was his first title in the Mid-Am, reserved for amateurs 25 and older.
Rather than go into the Mid-Am overly confident, Smeraglio is going in humbly, especially after what happened to him the last time the Mid-Am was at Chester Valley, in 2002.
“I’m going in feeling like I let one get away from me the last time it was there,” he said last week.
In 2002, Smeraglio missed a couple of near tap-in putts in the second round, giving Oscar Mestre of Overbrook GC all the opportunity he needed to seal the victory. Smeraglio finished second, two shots back.
Smeraglio, for one, prefers the Mid-Am’s stroke-play format to the Amateur’s match-play format, which he believes favors the younger guys. Why? Because stroke-play rewards consistency and the ability to avoid the bigger number.
“The young kids can bomb it, but they also can make mistakes,” said Smeraglio. “In match play, mistakes cost them a hole, not the match. In stroke-play, you have to grind it out over two rounds.”
Smeraglio comes into the Mid-Am playing pretty well, having captained the Mercer Oaks Division AA team to a second-place finish behind Merion in Section 4. Asked about his competitors in the Mid-Am, Smeraglio gave a well-deserved nod of respect to two-time winner Chip Lutz of LedgeRock GC, the reigning two-time GAP Senior Player of the Year and two-time Golfweek/Wilson National Senior Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, on the young end of the Mid-Am field, keep an eye on first-timer Ben Smith, 25, a member of Little Mill’s winning Team Matches team.
Once again, Pine Valley is proving to be quite the lure for the Philadelphia Open.
Last week, GAP announced it has added a fourth qualifier for the Open, set for July 23 at Pine Valley. Most years, two qualifiers is sufficient.
GAP has already scheduled Open qualifiers at Indian Valley CC (June 19), Woodcrest CC (June 20) and Whitford CC (June 27); add to that Bellewood GC (July 2). Registration for qualifiers closes June 5.
The Open field will have 72 spots; currently 29 amateurs and pros have earned exemptions into the field. Assuming no player with an exemption drops out of the field, that leaves 43 spots up for grabs at qualifiers. So far, 334 players have registered for qualifiers, a number GAP expects will reach 400 in the coming days.