FWGA City Championship
Where: Sycamore Hills
Field: 156 players, cut to top 120 and ties after second round
Patrick Kelley knows the ins and outs of Sycamore Hills, which was founded by members of his family. He spent many a round during his formative years on the Jack Nicklaus-designed grounds, enough to know that if you get in trouble, you'll take yourself right out of a tournament.
So when asked what the key to playing Sycamore Hills is, Kelley, 30, lays out a warning in advance of the City Championship, which runs there today to Monday.
“It's avoiding a number worse than bogey,” Kelley said, “and that's the biggest thing out there. You're going to make bogeys, so it's about avoiding trying to make too much out of a shot and getting yourself into trouble.”
Even though he doesn't get to play as much tournament golf as he'd like – he's a merchandise planner for Bath & Body Works and works out of Columbus, Ohio – he knows how difficult it is to win the City Championship, which is run by the Fort Wayne Golf Association. Kelley won the tournament in 2013 after a playoff at Autumn Ridge with Joe Hayden.
“It's a long three days, especially since I'm now eight or nine years out of college and not playing tournament golf much anymore,” Kelley said. “It's an exhausting three days, emotionally and physically, and it's just a grind.”
But Kelley has shown this season he can still make things happen on the course, including a wild victory in the FWGA's Amateur Open at Brookwood Golf Club last month.
Kelley survived a battle at the finish with Nick Kocks and Kevin Irons to win.
Kocks came onto the 18th hole with a one-stroke lead and birdied, yet Kelley and Irons eagled to force a playoff.
“Then, I got stuck behind a tree on the first hole and had to punch it out to just save par,” Kelley said. “What I didn't realize was that Kevin had taken a penalty stroke. I thought I was already out of the playoff.”
On the fifth playoff hole, it was down to Kelley and Kocks on a par-4 playing about 312 yards. Kelley put his tee shot over the green and Kocks put his tee shot about 15 feet from the cup, before Kelley chipped in for eagle to win and make himself one of the favorites for the City Championship.
“I walked up there on the green and found a spot where I wanted the ball to land,” Kelley said, “and luckily it found the bottom of the cup.”
With last year's champion, Mitch Rutledge, not playing this year, here are the other players to watch in a strong City Championship field: five-time winner Sam Till Jr., who has also won the Senior City five times; Indiana Tech golfers Kocks and Caleb Kroft, who leads the FWGA's Player of the Year standings; Johnny Strawser; Travis Hemsoth; Derek Gauthier; B.J. Hayden; Marty Rifkin, who is a member at Sycamore Hills; Luke Miller, Patrick Allgeier; Callahan Elzey and Michael Brothers.
The City Championship hasn't been at Sycamore Hills since 2008, when it was won by Scott Pieri, and the course has undergone several design changes since then and become a more mature course that has hosted national championships for the United States Golf Association, PGA of America and a Web.com Tour event.
But the heart of the course is something the Kelley family knows well; it was founded by Patrick's great uncle, Jim Kelley, and cousin, Tom Kelley, who has won the tournament a record nine times.
“I've played out there way too many times to count,” Patrick Kelley said. “I know the course very well.”