It might be an understatement to describe the field for the Men's City Championship, the 54-hole marquee event of the Fort Wayne Golf Association season, as wide open.
None of the winners of the last 17 tournaments are in this year's pairings. Most of them – including 2019 champion Patrick Allgeier, 2018 and 2017 winner Nick Bienz, 2016 victor Mitch Rutledge and five-time champion Scott Pieri – have turned professional.
The only players in the field who have won before are Steve Vernasco (1989, 1999, 2002), Mike Meehan (1992), Win Fisher (1990) and Ken Rodewald (1957), meaning this could be the year in which those who have been in contention before finally break though.
No one has had more close calls than Joe Hayden, who lost in the 2013 playoff to Patrick Kelley, finished third in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and was fourth in 2010 and 2011.
Asked Friday if those near-misses have bothered him, the 48-year-old Hayden said: “Not so much. I mean, maybe when I was a little younger, but not now. I'm pushing 50 and having a family and career, with golf I don't take it quite as seriously anymore. So, sure, I'd love to win. I'd love to win a bunch of them. But time's running out. I'm playing pretty well right now and think I have a chance if I can make some putts.”
The tournament will be at 6,560-yard Coyote Creek Golf Club, which last hosted the event in 2015 when Sam Till Jr. was victorious at 3 under. The event runs today through Monday and there will be 156 players, just over half making it in via an open qualifier at Autumn Ridge. (A note to spectators: Social distancing will be in place and carts will not be available.)
Coyote Creek is a course that Hayden knows well, since he's been playing there all his life. Coyote Creek, which can trace its roots to 1929, was the site, then known as The Elks, where legendary golfer Arnold Palmer won his first professional paycheck in 1955 at the Fort Wayne Open. While it used to be a particularly foreboding tournament site because of its length, modern clubs and long hitting have evened the playing field.
“As long as the conditions are good, favorable, not a lot of wind, I think scores will be pretty low,” Hayden said. “So, you've got to make a lot of birdies. There are some good, young players that are going to make some birdies and I think it's going to take probably 10- or 12-under par to win.”
Certainly, the college players accustomed to facing long courses in tournaments, will be a factor and they include Logan Ryan, who plays for Emory University and tied for second last year; Callahan Elzey, who plays for Purdue Fort Wayne; and Garrett Willis, who plays for Valparaiso.
“Most of the par-4s, for relatively long hitters, would be just wedges in anymore with the equipment and the balls and how far everybody hits it now,” Hayden said. “Most of the par-5s are reachable in two, so you have to take advantage of those. There are some good par-4s, where par is a good score, but I think it's going to be a birdie-fest if the wind doesn't blow.”
There is a substantial list of players who have had chances to win in past years but haven't quite been able to string together three great days of golf, so this weekend provides a redemptive opportunity for the likes of Johnny Strawser, Ryan Olbin, Kevin Irons, Travis Hemsoth, Josh Neal and Tom Botteron.
The favorite may be Rory Ransburg, who this summer won the Fort Wayne Amateur Open at Autumn Ridge with a 36-hole score of 3 under and captured the Hall of Fame Championship at Brookwood with a 36-hole score of 12 under.
The City Championship has taken place annually since 1926 and is a beloved community event.
“Fort Wayne, for being a fairly small city, golf is steeped in tradition around here,” said Hayden, the sales manager at Windows, Doors & More.
“It's just kind of a golf town. I don't play in a ton of tournaments anymore, but I always look forward to the City Tournament just because it brings out all the good players and some old friends out to play, too.”
If you go
When: Today to Monday
Where: Coyote Creek Golf Club
Round 1 times: 7:30-9:30 a.m.; 12:30-2:27 p.m.
Par: 72; Yardage: 6,560
Players to Watch
• Rory Ransburg
• Joe Hayden
• Logan Ryan
• Johnny Strawser
• Kevin Irons
• Matt Zedrick
• Ryan Olbin
• Travis Hemsoth
• Garrett Willis
• Callahan Elzey
• Bradley Hardin
• Win Fisher