The 17th hole at Pine Valley Golf Club proved pivotal in the final matches of the 93rd George Arthur Crump Memorial Tournament. In the Open division, Michael McDermott from Bryn Mawr, PA made an eagle two to kickstart wins on the last two holes for a 1 up victory over Bill Williamson from Cincinnati, OH. John McClure from Austin, TX made a birdie three on his way to outlasting Randy Haag from Orinda, CA in 19 holes to secure the Senior division title.
In the week leading up to the tournament, Pine Valley members and staff saw a course already exhibiting the prime, firm tournament conditions that the Crump Cup is known for. Tuesday rains from Hurricane Jose passing up the New Jersey shoreline softened the course but as past champion Gene Elliott pointed out, “this course drains very well and we’ll see it firm again in no time.” With warm and sunny weather the rest of the tournament, Elliott was spot on. By Friday players would never have known it rained earlier in the week and over the weekend several longtime Crump competitors said the course was playing as well as they’d ever seen it. The conditions left players thinking that golf course superintendent Richard Christian and his team must be the best in the game.
36-hole stroke play qualifying to identify match play flights resulted in both familiar names and new participants. The two mid-amateurs who have stood out above the rest in the past year, Scott Harvey and Stewart Hagestad, qualified as the top two seeds with Harvey earning medalist honors at two-over 142. Past champions McDermott, Michael Muehr, Jeff Knox, Carlton Forrester, and Stephen Summers all qualified in the top-16 for the championship flight. First time Crump Cup participants Hagestad, Jamie Miller, Michael Brown, and Derek Busby did well in their rookie years to make the championship flight as well. Jeronimo Esteve earned the last spot in a four-for-one playoff at 10-over 150.
In the Senior division, John McClure earned medalist honors by four shots with a one-over 141. Past Open division Crump Cup champions Randy Haag and Gene Elliott were among the top-8 in the Senior championship flight, as were past Senior division Crump Cup champions Bob Kain and Steve Smyers. First-time Crump Cup participant and 2016 USGA Senior Amateur champion Dave Ryan also made the championship flight with three shots to spare as the cut came at 12-over 152.
A rematch of last year’s thrilling final match at the US Mid-Amateur looked to be lining up perfectly with Harvey and Hagestad on opposite ends of the draw. Upsets, however, were the story on Saturday morning when both players lost. Jeronimo Esteve, who has twice represented his native Puerto Rico in the World Amateur Team Championship, upended Harvey 4&3; Bill Williamson, runner-up in the 2013 US Mid-Amateur, knocked off Hagestad 4&2.
Three of the five past champions did survive in the first round but only McDermott and Muehr advanced to the semifinals as Williamson continued his run to the finals by defeating defending champion Knox. Jamie Miller played more holes than anyone on Saturday, 41 in all as he defeated Michael Brown in 19 holes and Esteve in 22 holes. Miller earned himself a semifinal matchup against McDermott while Williamson was set to play 2008 and 2014 champion Muehr.
Saturday’s senior play saw one round of match play and lined up two excellent Sunday morning semifinal matches. Medalist McClure would face current USGA Executive Committee member and past Senior Crump champion Bob Kain while Gene Elliott and Randy Haag would face off in a rematch of their match in the finals of the 2000 Crump Cup that Haag won.
Sunday at the Crump Cup is one of the best days of golf of the year. The morning semifinal matches are played in a quiet and peaceful setting typical of the club’s secluded environment that famous writer James W. Finegan coined “A Unique Haven of the Game.” This is in contrast to the environment for the final where hundreds of spectators line the fairways to watch the matches and get a glimpse of the world’s best course. Some first-time finalists have spoken about the nerves they felt standing on the first tee not having realized the public was allowed in to spectate on Sunday afternoon. The club should be applauded for opening their doors to the golfing world each year and the crowd’s presence only serves to enhance what is already one of the most exciting days in amateur golf.
McDermott and Williamson won tight contests in the semis earning themselves a place in the final and their caddies a ticket to the trophy presentation. Pine Valley has a wonderful caddie program and one of the neat traditions at the Crump Cup is the finalists’ caddies being invited in to the clubhouse to be recognized by club president Jim Davis during the ceremony. On the senior side, McClure edged out Kain in their semifinal match and Haag made five birdies on his way to defeating perhaps the hottest senior amateur in the country this summer, Gene Elliott.
The crowds started to come in just before 1:00 in time to see McClure vs. Haag off first followed by McDermott vs. Williamson. Handicapping these matches would have been difficult even for Vegas. All of these men had the mettle to get it done and the spectators were in for a treat.
McClure and Haag had a back and forth match. McClure won the first three holes but Haag managed to get the deficit back to 1 down at the turn and win 10 to get back to all square. From that point on it was a tight match and neither player was more than 1 up. Haag stood on the 17th tee with a one hole lead but McClure’s approach to a few feet secured a birdie and sent the match down 18 all square. With Haag on the green in regulation and McClure trying to get up and down, the advantage on 18 looked to be with Haag. He had an extremely fast putt down the hill for birdie, however, and ran it six feet by. When his par putt to win lipped out and McClure calmly holed a four footer for bogey, they were off to extra holes.
George Crump carefully designed Pine Valley’s first hole to serve as both a stern opener to one’s round as well as a dramatic deciding hole for a match when played as the 19th. Many a match has been won with bogey on this hole and that’s precisely what happened here after Haag’s wayward tee shot left him scrambling from the right trees and a double bogey couldn’t match McClure’s bogey. McClure played in his first Crump Cup in 1992 and had been medalist before but now, after many years of trying, he can call himself a Crump Cup champion.
Meanwhile, in the Open division, McDermott and Williamson were playing a back and forth match as well. Williamson got out to an early lead but McDermott battled back and they stood on the eighth tee all square. Both hit wonderful approaches to the top tier on the smallest green on the course, Williamson to 15 feet and McDermott to 6 feet. Williamson made his putt and, as the match play saying goes, first in wins and McDermott missed to fall 1 down. Williamson’s hot putter continued by making a 30 footer on nine for another birdie to go 2 up and seemingly start to pull away. But the match remained tight and, like Haag, Williamson reached the 17th tee with a one hole lead. Again the 17th proved pivotal and McDermott outdid McClure’s birdie when he holed his approach shot for an eagle two! This brought the match back to all square heading to 18 and a par for McDermott won the hole and the match 1 up. A few days later McDermott said he still couldn’t believe what happened on 17.
This is McDermott’s second Crump Cup title and comes five years after his first. He’s coming off a 2016 in which he won the Philadelphia Amateur and made the quarterfinals of the US Mid-Amateur. Plenty of great golf is ahead for McDermott and he no doubt will continue to chase Philadelphia legends Jay Sigel and O. Gordon Brewer, Jr. who have nine and five Crump Cup titles respectively.
The George Arthur Crump Memorial Tournament is played in memory of the man who conceived and built Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. Pine Valley is widely recognized as the best golf course in the world and was created by Crump to provide the ultimate test for the expert player. His intent was to design a course that would prepare Philadelphia’s top amateurs for national competition and this dream was first realized when Philadelphia-area club member Max Marston won the 1923 US Amateur. In the years that followed Philadelphia has seen several national champions, including J. Wood Platt, William Hyndman, III, Jay Sigel, O. Gordon Brewer, Jr., Buddy Marucci, and Chip Lutz.