U.S. AMATEUR
With Father Watching, Melnyk Opens With 73 August 11, 2014 By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Butler Melnyk learned from his father, Steve Melnyk, the special role that amateur golf can play in one's life. (USGA/John Mummert)

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Butler Melnyk is right where he wants to be.

OK, so maybe he would have liked to have scored a couple of shots lower on Monday, but there he was, knocking in a short putt for a closing birdie and a round of 1-over 73 in his first U.S. Amateur, as his father watched proudly from behind the green.

"All my life I’ve talked to them about what a wonderful role amateur golf will play in their lives, and now they understand it," said Steve Melnyk, the 1969 U.S. Amateur champion, whose two sons, Dalton and Butler, have now both played in USGA amateur championships.

"They get it," said Steve Melnyk, 67. "They know the values of the game, the traditions of the game, the people of the game… how to act, how to play."

Butler Melnyk, 31, is an agent for the Wasserman Media Group who realized during his college career at the University of Georgia what role the game was destined to play in his life.

"I quickly noticed that you’ve got to really love it to want to do it professionally – to do it every day – and I realized I didn’t have that," said the younger Melnyk. "It’s no big deal; I still love the game, and I still want to do this [play in the U.S. Amateur] every year if I can. I don’t know how realistic that is, but I’m here to have fun and see what happens."

Melnyk came into his first U.S. Amateur fresh off a life-altering event, the birth of his first child, son Grayson, 13 weeks ago.

"I’m learning how to live my days on 4 or 5 hours’ sleep," said Melnyk. "Nobody can prepare you for it; all your friends try to tell you, but you’ve just got to experience it. It’s been unbelievable."

Melnyk, of St. Simons Island, Ga., qualified for the Amateur as the medalist out of the Moravia, Iowa, sectional qualifier, but his job and recent fatherhood made preparations for the championship a challenge.

"I played in a local tournament and then put the clubs down for about three weeks," said Melnyk. "I practiced a couple of days last week to try to get ready for this, and my bosses were nice enough to let me not go to the PGA."

Melnyk felt like his lack of playing opportunities caught up with him once in particular on Monday, on the par-5 first hole, his 10th of the day.

"I’m still kind of miffed about that hole – I laid up perfectly to 145 yards," he said. "I tried to hit a hard pitching wedge and came up out of it and ballooned it a little bit. If it had gone another yard or so, it would have been fine, but it plugged in the face of the bunker. I blasted out to the back of the green and three-putted down the hill. That’s purely rust."

Still, he rallied to make birdies on his 16th and 18th holes of the day and had his sights on extending his stay this week.

"My goal is to make match play," said Melnyk. "I’m playing pretty good, for me. It’s just hard to trust it when you’re going from zero to 100 in a U.S. Amateur – it’s the biggest tournament we play."

Melnyk credits his presence in the field to a visit with a former mentor.

"I heard that one of my clients was going for a lesson with Todd Anderson [director of instruction at Sea Island Golf Club], and I decided to tag along," said Melnyk, who worked with Anderson in college. "He said something that triggered a swing thought with me, and I’ve been playing well for a while. I decided I wanted to try to qualify for the Amateur and the Mid-Amateur. Of course, there’s a difference between playing well and playing well out here [at the Amateur]."

Melnyk’s father, who also won the 1970 Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A and competed on two USA Walker Cup Teams, knows that difference well. He never pushed his sons into the game, but offered guidance whenever he was asked.

"I started them, and hopefully gave them the right set of fundamentals, and then I just sort of stayed out of the way," said Steve. "They’re really good athletes, and they played several sports. I think if anything, I kept them away from the game much longer than most parents who have good golfers would. I didn’t let them play any junior golf until they got to be 15 or 16. Both of them were late bloomers as a result, but that’s OK."

Dalton Melnyk, 34, has played in both the U.S. Mid-Amateur and the U.S. Amateur Public Links, while, as Steve Melnyk put it, "This is Butler’s first foray."

"My dad had a very decorated amateur career," said Butler. "His pro career probably wasn’t what he wanted it to be, but golf has put him where he is today and it’s given our family a lot. When we started to get serious about the game, he said, I’m here to help, you’ve just got to ask."

"They never really saw me compete," said the elder Melnyk, who played professionally for several years before injuries led him to take a role in the broadcast booth for 22 years, mostly with CBS and ABC. He has also worked as a course designer, and is currently an investment banker with Warren Stephens, out of Little Rock, Ark. After he earned reinstatement as an amateur in 2009, Melnyk played in the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur, and though a work conflict will force him to miss the 2014 championship, he hopes to compete again in 2015. In the meantime, he relishes the chance to play with his sons.

"We play together a lot," said Melnyk. "A month ago, we played together at an event in Brunswick (Ga.), at the little club where I grew up. The three of us played together for two days. Of course, they played the back tees and I played the senior tees. They hit it so far past me – they’re much longer than I ever thought about being, but it’s fun to watch."

This week, the new grandfather is walking the fairways as his son competes in the U.S. Amateur.

"Golf is a great metaphor for life," said the senior Melnyk, whose second grandchild, Dalton’s first child, is expected soon. "I think Debbie and I have done a good job as parents, but the credit goes to them, they’re pretty neat kids."

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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