By Mike Meiler [email protected]
LEWISTON — James Blackwell is finally getting another crack at the Porter Cup.
Blackwell, born in Buffalo and raised in North Tonawanda, debuted in the tournament back in 2012. He had just wrapped up his high school career at St. Joe’s and was headed to Ball State.
He figured he’d be a Porter Cup mainstay, at least for the next couple of years.
Real life didn’t cooperate.
“I didn’t play well,” Blackwell said of his college time after Wednesday’s opening round of the 60th Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club. “I was good enough to make the team, but I didn’t — I just now started playing well.”
“Honestly, I was playing so bad when I was in school, the summers especially,” he added. “When I was in college, at least during the school year I could somewhat put together a game. Then during the summers it was like I couldn’t do anything. For a couple years, I didn’t really play any summer tournament golf.”
After winning his share of amateur events in high school, including the 2011 New York State Golf Association Junior AmateurChampionship and the 2012 Buffalo District Golf Association Tournament of Championship, Blackwell had just two top-5 finishes in four years at Ball State, placing second in the Butler Spring Invitational as a freshman and fifth in the PGA Minority Collegiate Championships as a senior.
He is an open book about his relative struggles.
“My biggest problem was I didn’t have a shot when I was in college,” Blackwell said. “I have always had a draw, but for whatever reason I tried to hit a fade, and I lost it for years. I’m just now going back to the draw.”
Real life is a little more complicated.
In September 2009, months after winning the New York State Catholic Championship as a freshman, Blackwell was in a car accident on the 290. The car he was in hydroplaned on a rainy night and flipped three times.
Blackwell had broken bones in his hand, a sprained wrist and bulging discs in his back and neck. He nearly lost a finger.
“I had to change my swing up a little bit after the accident,” he admits.
To this day, while Blackwell said he’s fine golfing, he can still feel the effects after a round.
“Some days are better than others,” he said. “I was hitting balls on the range (after Wednesday’s round) and it got to the point where it was like, ‘Alright, I’m not going to be able to move after this.'”
Blackwell graduated from Ball State in 2016 and got involved in politics, working as an assistant to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. He also assists his aunt, Leecia Eve, who is running for New York State Attorney General.
That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for golf, but Blackwell has seen his game improve over the past few years.
In 2010, he won the club championship at River Oaks Golf Club. He won the same title this year at NFCC, earning his spot in the Porter Cup.
“It wasn’t a goal of mine,” he said. “I was coming out here and playing once a week coming into it. I started playing well, and I wanted to do the (Porter Cup) qualifier but signed up late so I figured I’d try the club championship.”
Blackwell shot a 6-over 76 on Wednesday and a 2-over 72 on Thursday, putting him in a tie for 59th through 36 holes.
He is 8-over collectively on the front nine holes and has played both back nines even. While he hasn’t been thrilled with his performance, Blackwell said it’s shown the maturation of his game.
“If you take me two years ago with what I shot on the front nine,” he said Wednesday, “I was probably going to the moon on the back nine.”
Blackwell will tee off the third round at 9:20 a.m. today.