EVANSVILLE, Ind. – There’s always something interesting going on during the City of Evansville Men’s Golf Tournament. This year’s event was no exception.
A total of 173 golfers competed for 63 spots during Saturday’s qualifying round. It marks the most participants for the tournament since 2008 and the first time two courses have been required since 2016.
There were low scores at both sites: Fendrich and Helfrich Hills. Lots of suspense with an 8 man playoff (could have been 10). Even drama for the final spot in the main event. It’s all a day in the life of the city’s golf rating.
Mitchell Johnson and Matthew Godsey paced the field with 6-under 64s. Johnson, an Evansville North High School graduate, posted an impressive 10 birdies, including four in a row, to end the day.
Godsey, a junior at the University of Brescia in Owensboro, overcame a bogey on his first hole, the par 4 10, to play flawless golf the rest of the day. Godsey finished with seven birdies.
“My main goal was to make the cut,” Godsey said. “As soon as I started cranking it up, I wanted to see how low I could go. It just all came together in one day. I’ve been practicing a lot to get to the skill level I want to be at.”
One player, James Schroeder, has been entwined with this tournament and one of the qualifier’s two sites, Helfrich Hills Golf Club, a course that opened in 1923 and was designed by architect Tom Bendelow, for years.
Schroeder won the Dan Scism Scholarship in 1995. When he was 14, his family moved across from the Michael D. Helfrich House, which is located behind the 10th green.
Nothing in his mind surpassed this year. Her round only played a small part in it. Schroeder claimed the last qualifying spot of the Helfrich group with a par in a one-hole playoff against Stephen Smith.
Your caddy? Will, her 10-year-old son. Her oldest, Zach, had the second-lowest round at Helfrich to qualify as well.
“I love this tournament and I never qualified,” said James Schroeder. “This year, my boys played for the first time. (Qualifying) is a great blessing, but it probably means more because of them.”
Zach Schroeder, a young man on the rise at nearby Mater Dei, was one of the few to succeed at Helfrich. He posted a 4-for-75 with three birdies to finish one shot behind Tyler Raben in the bottom round. His younger brother, Matthew, an incoming freshman, fired an 87 to miss the cut by just four shots.
“Zach shot a big touchdown,” his father said. “He was four putts away from winning the qualifier. It’s great to have us all together today. Getting that last spot was an icing on the cake.”
And the final places in the tournament (the first round will be played on July 16) required additional holes at Fendrich. This is where the 8-man playoff occurred, as well as some controversy.
Ten players finished 4 out of 74 with five places up for grabs. However, two were not present at the 10th hole when their names were called. Those five points of advancement were then determined on a hole.
Tom Gayhart, Steve Wassmer, Dustin Ross, Lucas Zielinski and Don Neel parred on the first playoff hole. Four of them ran with Gayhart the only player to make it to the green. The best shot was Zielinski.
After hitting his second long shot, he hit a perfect pitch over a hill that nearly rolled into the cup. Zielinski, who said he was running for the playoffs and needed to buy a hat at the pro shop, couldn’t see the pin.
“I don’t want (that take) again,” Zielinski said. “That’s one of the best shots of my life, probably. We think that 74 would be 100% in. We had lunch and weren’t planning on playing golf again.”
Players often struggle to get back in time for the playoffs (obviously, two didn’t make it), and Zielinski said he didn’t have a belt and needed to buy the hat.
“I wasn’t going to play without a hat,” he said.
Mason Royalty birdied the third playoff hole to win what was originally an alternate position. However, he received a place in the tournament when it was determined that a player who shot more than 74 did not meet the primary residence eligibility requirement.
Tournament rules state that entries are open to male amateur players who are residents of Vanderburgh, Posey, Warrick or Gibson counties.
This is all part of the fun of a local qualifier. And the city tournament hasn’t started yet. Action will take place July 16-17 at Fendrich Golf Course, July 23 at Rolling Hills Country Club, and the final round will take place July 24 at Evansville Country Club.
Follow Evansville Courier & Press sportswriter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.