By Jay Skurski | Buffalo News Sports Reporter
Back in 2011, John Peterson came to the Porter Cup after making some bold claims.
A free spirit from Fort Worth, Texas, Peterson claimed “the top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour … if given the opportunity.”
As far as controversies go in the golf world, a small one erupted. Peterson’s comments felt like a reach when he said them, and should still be classified as such. Not since Phil Mickelson did it in 1991 has an amateur won on the PGA Tour. But some recent performances by amateur players do make them worth revisiting.
The latest example came over the weekend at the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open, where 21-year-old amateur Jared du Toit went into the final round of his national championship as part of the last group, trailing leader Brandt Snedeker by only one shot.
He couldn’t finish the Cinderella story, closing with a 1-under-par round of 71 to finish in a tie for ninth place.
“To not have my best stuff and still shoot under par out here, the final round of the Canadian Open, feels pretty good,” du Toit said.
Blair Hamilton, a teammate of du Toit’s on the Golf Canada National Team, echoed Peterson, “I’ve always said, the best amateurs in the world, if they’re on their game, they can beat anybody.”
Which brings us to this week’s 58th Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club. Some of those amateurs, including du Toit, will be in the field.
In her first year of putting together the field, assistant tournament director Cassie Stein has rounded up 17 of the top 100 in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.
“It’s been a really exciting year,” Stein said. “I’m very grateful they’ve given me the opportunity. “Being out on the recruiting trail, talking to players, it’s been a lot of fun.
“With social media, I’ve had players contact me on Twitter. It’s a whole different age and just a whole different group. I hope I did a good job in recruiting some of the best players from around the world.”
His performance at the Canadian Open rocketed du Toit to No. 6 in the world, making him the highest-ranked player in the field.
Here are nine more players, in alphabetical order, who can be considered top contenders for the tournament, which begins Wednesday:
- Derek Bard: The 21-year-old from New Hartford is seeking to become the second straight winner from the University of Virginia, following Denny McCarthy in 2015. Bard finished as the runner-up to former world No. 1 amateur Bryson DeChambeau at the 2015 U.S. Amateur. By way of that finish, Bard earned spots in this year’s Masters and U.S. Open. He missed the cut by just three shots at Augusta.
Just once in Porter Cup history has there been back-to-back winners from the same school, with Bard and McCarthy looking to join Georgia’s Brian Harman (2007) and Adam Mitchell (2008).
- David Boote: The 22-year-old from Surrey, England, is playing in his second Porter Cup. A recent graduate of Stanford, Boote is ranked 38th in the world and finished tied for third at the 2016 Pac-12 Conference Championship.
- Harrison Endycott: The native of Sydney, Australia, is playing in his second Porter Cup after tying for 12th last year. Endycott is ranked 22th in the world and won this year’s South Australian Amateur. He’s looking to become the third Australian champion, joining Simon Nash (2002) and Geoff Drakeford (2014).
- Taylor Funk: The son of PGA Tour veteran Fred Funk, Taylor Funk is ranked 57th by SPWAR. The junior at Texas is a former state high school champion in Florida.
- Gavin Hall: A Porter Cup veteran now making his fifth appearance, Hall will play his senior year for Texas in the fall. Ranked No. 16 by SPWAR, he first finished second as a 15-year-old, and placed third in 2015.
“Gavin Hall. You’ve got to start with him first,” Stein said of this week’s contenders. “It’s his fifth time here and he hasn’t finished outside the top 10, so that’s got to say something. I would definitely put him on everyone’s radar.”
- Scott Harvey: The 38-year-old from Kernersville, N.C., leads the mid-amateur entries – those players at least 25 years old. Harvey finished in a tie for sixth last year and will compete in his eighth Porter Cup. He’s looking to become the first mid-amateur winner since Gene Elliott in 1998. Elliott is back in this year’s field after a seven-year absence.
- Travis Smyth: The 21-year-old tied for 27th in his first Porter Cup in 2015. The 2016 runner-up in the Australian Amateur is ranked 28th by SPWAR.
- Alejandro Tosti: The 20-year-old junior at the University of Florida is a Porter Cup veteran, making his fourth appearance. Ranked 47th by SPWAR, he’ll be looking to improve on a disappointing tie for 36th in 2015.
- Federico Zucchetti: Ranked just outside the top 100 at No. 111 by SPWAR, Zucchetti is believed to be the first-ever Italian player in the Porter Cup field. The 21-year-old is a senior at Texas Tech.
A total of seven countries are represented in this year’s field. There are 10 players from the Buffalo area in the field, including Nicholas Morreale, the latest entry by way of his recent victory in the Niagara Falls CC championship.
Add in the three players from the Rochester area, including Hall, and this year’s tournament will have a slightly more local feel than in the recent past.
Stein thinks that’s a good thing.
“I think it definitely increases interest,” she said. “It brings more people out here and gets more eyes on the tournament. … There’s so many players on a hot streak now that are local.”
Included on that list is David Hanes, who after qualifying for a spot in the Porter Cup went on to win the International Junior Masters earlier this month.
McCarthy isn’t in the field to defend his title because he turned pro at the end of last summer and is currently on the Web.com Tour. He earned his victory with a par on the first playoff hole over Carter Jenkins, who has also started a professional career.
That’s been the story for several top amateurs this year, largely because the Walker Cup isn’t on this year’s calendar. Generally, the best amateur players delay turning professional so that they can compete in the amateur version of the Ryder Cup.
Without that option this year, players like DeChambeau have turned pro.
Nevertheless, Stein is excited about her first field.
“There’s a lot of good players,” she said. “You could name anyone and I’d say they have a chance to win.”
Stein focused on player recruitment as the tournament underwent a change in leadership following last year’s event. Steve Denn stepped down after 15 years as tournament director, with Dena Armstrong and Michael Vitch taking over as co-tournament directors.