Enough to move on: Local golfers pace Kansas Am qualifier
By BRETT MARSHALL
By BRETT MARSHALL
When the 33 golfers teed off Tuesday morning at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course in a Kansas Amateur Championship sectional qualifying round, there were 12 available spots to move on to the 104th edition of the state's premier amateur men's tournament in late July.
And when the final scores were posted by mid-afternoon on a day that saw the temperature reach 98 degrees and the wind blowing at a steady 18-23 mph with gusts up to 30 mph, four of those dozen qualifiers were Garden Citians.
Two of those — Taylor Larsen and Juan Ollarzabal — shared medalist honors with Andrew Manley of Salina as each shot 1-over-par 73.
Shawn Audrain and Trent Specht were right behind with 74s along with Goodland's Gage Ihrig and Ronnie McHenry of Topeka.
Fourteen-year-old Daniel Gaspar, who had played well in the recent Men's City Championship over the weekend shot a 78 and ended up on the short end of a four-way sudden death playoff for the final three spots and is now an alternate for the Amateur.
The biggest surprise of the day, and the biggest victim, was Grant Vollertsen, the local dentist who was just coming off a strong performance in winning his second City Championship on Sunday with a 72 at the Dunes. He struggled in with a 79 and just missed a potential playoff for the final spot. A triple bogey seven on the par-4 10th and a double-bogey on the par-5 16th doomed Vollertsen, who was a match play qualifier at last year's Amateur.
The championship proper will be played July 21-27 at Mission Hills Country Club in Mission Hills, and the mystery course to the local qualifiers will be distinctly different from Buffalo Dunes with its tree-lined fairway and small greens.
But for the moment, Larsen and Ollarzabal wanted to enjoy the moment of not only qualifying, but also tying for the low round of the day.
"I got off the box (tee) so much better and gave myself a lot of good looks," Ollarzabal said of his steady round which included a double-bogey and one bogey offset nearly by two birdies. His nines of 36-37 came from a strong effort off the tee.
"I drove the ball so well, and I was able to give it the length I needed to play out to the flags," Ollarzabal said. "My lag putting was phenomenal. If I was 30 feet or outside I got my lag putting to that two-foot circle all day. Having played in the city tournament helped me know what the course conditions would be like."
The trip to this year's Amateur will be the third in the last four years for Ollarzabal, including his 2013 performance when he made the 64-player match play but lost his opening match.
"It shows me what it takes, and I feel I've improved my game, especially on the greens. I'm giving myself the best opportunities and hitting to the right points."
For Larsen, the day focused on his short game and keeping the ball out of the deep native grass rough that is a trademark enemy of golfers who play at the Dunes.
"I hit the ball pretty well, and when I did miss greens, I didn't miss too far," said Larsen, who just completed his freshman season at Garden City High School where he earned the Player of the Year in the Western Athletic Conference. "I had some fairly easy up and downs for pars."
Larsen had two bogeys and one birdie on his scorecard, with his birdie coming on the short, par-5 13th, where he laced an 8-iron second shot to 20 feet and two-putted.
"That was an easy tap-in and got me in a good spot," Larsen said. One of his biggest saves of the day came on the par-4 ninth where his second shot flew over the green and his pitch shot came up 20 feet away and he drained the par putt. "That was a big, big putt for me. I wanna make match play, and I know there's still room for improvement. My putting still needs to improve, but then so does every part of my game."
Specht's 74 was something of a roller-coaster ride for the 2013 City Men's champion. He made triple-bogey on the par-5 fifth, double-bogey on the par-3 12th and closed out his round with bogeys and the 17th and 18th holes. In between, he birdied five of the first six holes on the incoming nine, making those at 10, 11, 13, 14 and 15.
"Just really a crazy, crazy round," Specht lamented afterward. "I wasn't happy finishing bogey, bogey. The good news I made it out of the sectional."
The Amateur will have 36 holes of stroke play qualifying with the low 64 players advancing to match play, which will be played over a period of four days.
Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.