MAMARONECK, NY – Though grey clouds shrouded Winged Foot Golf Club for much of Friday’s second round of the 86th Anderson Memorial fourball tournament, there was joy in the heart of every member and competitor. Winged Foot celebrates its centennial anniversary this year:
100 years of rousing cheers,
of frothy beers and smiling peers,
of hearts sincere and friendships dear.
Happy anniversary to the Yankee Stadium of golf!
Better still, the tournament stroke play scoring record fell. Nico Donaldson and Mark Costanza from Isleworth Country Club in Florida fired a 5-under 65 over the fearsome West Course on the heels of their sizzling, bogey-free 63 on the East Course Thursday morning. Their 12-under par total bested the teams of Trevor Randolph and Chris DeJohn (Arcola Country Club) and Mark Harrell and Derek Rende (Chattanooga Country Club) by three shots and claimed the medal play scoring record by a stroke.
The members, already buoyed by the 100th year anniversary celebrations, were especially jubilant and toasted the pair long into the night.
“We had no idea about any record,” Costanza admitted, still somewhat surprised and humbled by the accomplishment. “The number one goal was to get into match play. We just wanted one more birdie, and then we hoped we’d have a shot at the medal. but to be medalist and to hold a record here is just terrific.”
“Yeah, we’re so grateful to get to come here and play in this event and spend time with all the members,” added Donaldson. “This is the best fourball event there is, and we play in many fourball events all over. This event takes the cake.”
Three consecutive birdies early got the pair rolling. First Donaldson hit a soft cut driver dead center of the fourth fairway, then hit a pitching wedge to eight feet for the day’s first birdie. Constanza followed with a birdie immediately thereafter, though an unconventional one.
“I hit a poor drive into the left rough on five,” he began. “But then I laser beamed a 235-yard 5-iron to 12 feet and made the putt.”
As an aside – a 235-yard 5-iron…to 12 feet…out of the rough. Did you spit up coffee on your laptop? What’s the matter, don’t you have that shot? Totes jelly much? Mind you: these guys are investment bankers, several years removed from college. They are not pros.
But such is the depth and breadth of skill of the field at the Anderson Memorial, where the most venerable amateur names in the game play the greatest 36-hole facility in American golf side by side with up-and-coming strapping young lions and professional hopefuls. When the field is that strong, even mighty Winged Foot can yield low scores and players can go on runs. That’s how you achieve separation from the field on the leaderboard, and that was the move Donaldson and Costanza were making.
Donaldson birdied the short, par-4 sixth with a drive, chip, and kick-in putt to cap the back-to-back-to-back run. But the tandem would strike again on the inward nine, this time with consecutive birdies at 11 and 12.
“11 is a hole I play with 3-wood off the tee instead of driver, then I cut a little three-finger 9-iron in there from 130 yards a la J.P. O’Hara,” Costanza jibed puckishly. O’Hara is the long-time Anderson memorial Tournament Director and a two-time winner of the event, in 1884 and 1986. According to clubhouse gossip many an opposing player would grumble frustratedly as O’Hara – himself an indelible part of Winged Foot history – would repeatedly defy golf physics with the things he could do with his little three-finger 9-iron shot.
Constanza would birdie 12 as well, though it was less of a highlight reel and more of a jungle safari. First hooking his tee shot dead left, he hit a 100-yard slice 3-wood back into play.
What, you don’t have that shot either?
He wound up in rough about 30 yards off the green in one of Winged Foot’s most ferocious spinach patches. So, he pitched it to one foot.
Finally, after 30 holes without a bogey, Winged Foot finally laid a glove on the team from Isleworth. The 205-yard par-3 13 was flummoxing players all day. Here was where the bloodletting was happening. Several golfers airmailed the green so badly, they seemed to be playing back from the East Course. Others hit so far right they never found the ball. And no matter which side you missed on, the green is so narrow they’d play ping-pong back and forth over the putting surface from some of the thickest and juiciest of Winged Foot’s rough.
“We both chunked our chips,” Donaldson admitted sheepishly.
That bogey nearly derailed their chance for the record.
“I guess the most important, defining moment of the day was the birdie on 16, the final one we got,” Costanza recalled. “That’s the one that got us the record, though we didn’t know it at the time. Nico hit a 160-yard 8-iron out of the rough to 12 feet.”
The tandem now enter the match play portion of the event, which can tend to be a graveyard for number one seeds, especially on the West Course which hosts the match play this year. (The bracket stage venue alternates from West to East each year.) The pair open their quest with a formidable task – Chris Troy and Ben Loomis of Winged Foot. Gracious hosts or no, the members will be up early and supportive of the hometown boys. Any Winged Foot team, no matter what their seed, is, of course, a threat to win.
Still, the road to the title is long, and those same Winged Foot members, and indeed many competitors are touting the team of Derek Rende and Mark Harrell from Chattanooga Golf Club as the favorites.
“Those guys are dynamite,” offered one competitor. “They could go deep in this tournament.”
The Tennesseans tied for second in the medal play, carding 9-under 131 over the two days, including a bogey-free 67 Friday on the West Course. The pair opened their day with an easy, textbook birdie by Harrell on one, then had to scramble for much pf the front nine.
“We hit a dry spell after that and had a few testy par saves early,” Harrell explained. At the uphill, 231-yard par-3 third they both hit the green, but this is Winged Foot. Just “hitting the green” is not enough, even though it took a Herculean shot to get there.
“We both had 40 or 50 footers. Those were difficult 2-putts on these greens, and we both were left with 10-foot putts for par. One of the putts fell, but the temperature again ratcheted up at the par-4 fifth, where their drive landed in the fairway bunker, and their approach stopped 50 yards short.
“Luckily I had a clean look at it, and got it up-and down,” Harrell said.
Then came the shot of the day, at the iconic par-3 10th. Grinding hard but seemingly going nowhere and with a murderous back nine about to start, Rende smoothed a 6-iron that covered the flag all the way. It settled 20 feet from the cup with a green light look which he converted.
“You’re always happy with 20 feet on that hole. There’s nowhere to miss,” Rende breathed, relief still showing on his young face.
Now they were off and running. A textbook birdie at 12. A safe par at 13. Then came the birdie at 17. A Brobdingnagian drive left a mere wedge in the green at the 460-yard par-4 with the wickedly curvaceous green. He hit the wedge to one foot.
Now the pair from the gorgeous 1896 Donald Ross course in the Smokies face one of the most decorated and celebrated pairs in amateur golf – Kevin Marsh and Derek Meinhart from Hudson National. Marsh is a machine on the golf course, and particularly lethal in match play. Unflappable, experienced, and a magician with golf clubs, a victory by Marsh would be welcomed by the entire amateur golf world as he’s been a fixture for decades.
Indeed, the entire round of 16 looks like a murderer’s row. Other marquee matches in the first round include the team from Peru, Patricio Alzamora and Patricio Salem of Lima Golf Club versus Jack Larkin and Brent Whitehead from Belle-Meade. Alzamora won this event in 2014 with a different partner and has gone deep into the match play portion of the tournament on several more occasions. In another pairing promising fireworks, Trevor Randolph, a past winner of the Travis Invitational and his partner Chris DeJohn, playing out of Arcola C.C., square off against Stephen Nicolas and William Parker of Winged Foot.
“it’s just so much fin to be here for the 100th anniversary, we’re really grateful,” Harrel admitted candidly. “Every shot you hit, you’re walking in history and talking about it and soaking it in all day. It’s all around us and it’s just so cool.”
It is indeed. Countries from all across the globe send teams from their most iconic clubs. Year in and year out nearly all 50 states are represented. And the blueprint was so successful – so viable and so vibrant – the USGA added a fourball event to their lineup of national championships.
But for the members, every day is a major championship, every member is a long-lost friend, and every meal is a banquet. Just setting foot on the property you are overwhelmed with Winged Foot’s majestic vistas and nigh unparalleled history. But for them stewardship and camaraderie are the goals, and they set the gold standard. They know it’s what they do themselves that make then great, but what they do for golf. That’s why I need winged Foot, you need Winged Foot, and all of golf needs Winged Foot. So, thank you Winged Foot for all you did, for all you are doing, and all you will do in the next 100 years. From what we’ve seen thus far, we can’t wait to see the next 100 acts.