U.S. MID-AMATEUR
Notebook: NFL Bloodlines on Display at Saucon Valley September 5, 2014 By Joey Flyntz and David Shefter, USGA

T.J. Brudzinski used to play football like his brother, Bob, who was in the NFL for 13 years. (USGA/Chris Keane)

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – With the first NFL Sunday of the season set to kick off tomorrow, it’s only appropriate that relatives of two former prominent football players teed off in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club on Saturday.

T.J. Brudzinski, the brother of former Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins standout linebacker Bob Brudzinski, shot a 5-over-par 76 on the Old Course, while Stephen Cox, the son of former Browns and Redskins punter and kicker Steve Cox, carded a 75 on the Old Course.

The Brudzinski brothers grew up in football-mad Fremont, Ohio, and both went on to play for the beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. Following an All-America season in 1976, Bob was drafted by the Rams in the first round of the NFL Draft. T.J. was no slouch, garnering all-state honors as a wide receiver his senior year in high school before walking on at Ohio State, where a knee injury put an end to his football-playing days.

T.J. may not have been able to play anymore, but he still got to experience the lifestyle. Bob played in three Super Bowls – 1979 with the Rams and 1982 and ’84 with the Dolphins as a member of the vaunted Killer Bees defense, all losses – and T.J. attended Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, Calif., to see the Dolphins play the Redskins.

It was awesome. He was such a good player and that defense was dominant and fun to watch, said T.J. Unfortunately, [Redskins Hall of Fame running back John] Riggins went crazy in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins had the lead most of the way, just couldn’t stop Riggins.

Although the pigskin newsContents run deep, golf was always prominent in the Brudzinski family. The parents were accomplished players at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fremont.

Bob played the game frequently in his free time during his NFL career and the brothers still have that competitive spirit.

Bob’s become a really solid player, said T.J. He’s about a 7 or 8 handicap, but I still kick his butt all the time.

Stephen Cox was too young to remember his dad’s playing career, but he briefly started following down the same path before forging a different one in competitive sports.

I kicked and punted until high school, but gave it up after my freshman year, said Stephen. My heart just wasn’t in it.

Instead, Stephen focused on golf and basketball, both of which he played at his father’s alma mater, the University of Arkansas.

Interestingly enough, Cox played for legendary college football coach Lou Holtz at Arkansas. Holtz, who is widely known as one of the great motivational speakers in the sports world, was a guest speaker at the Mid-Amateur Players’ Dinner on Thursday.

Lou and I were able to meet for about 15 minutes, said Stephen. That was a really neat deal, talking about dad and his career. My dad always told me about the great stories he would tell, so it was really exciting to finally listen to him speak in person.

One of the last straight-ahead kickers in the NFL, Cox had a booming leg and was used as a punter and kickoff specialist for the Browns and Redskins. Cox booted a 60-yard field goal for the Browns in 1984, at the time the second-longest field goal in NFL history, and earned a Super Bowl ring with the 1987 Redskins.

Did Stephen ever get to try on dad’s Super Bowl ring?

Oh, you betcha, Stephen said. It’s funny, my dad’s ring is the smallest one on the team, being a kicker and all. The rings The Hogs got, they would probably fit on two of my dad’s fingers. But Super Bowl rings don’t come along that often and it’s really rare to say you’ve worn one.

Stephen may not be chasing a Super Bowl ring this week, but his play has him in position to make match play with a strong showing Sunday at the Weyhill Course. Should he make it that far, he’ll look to make it further than his round-of-16 showing two years ago and maybe clutch a giant trophy on Thursday.

Olson Competes In Championship For Which He Served  

Thomas Olson shot a 13-over 84 in the first round on the Old Course, but few golfers seemed more content with their performance.

That’s because after so many years of service to the game, Olson, the oldest player in the U.S. Mid-Amateur field at 68, got to reap the rewards of a USGA championship.

Olson was honored with one of the highest USGA honors in 2006, when he received the Ike Grainger Award, which recognizes those who have given 25 years of volunteer service to the USGA.

It’s extra special considering he specifically served on the Mid-Amateur Committee before moving to the Senior Amateur Championship Committee 13 years ago.

That’s really special, because when I came to the dinner [on Thursday], I knew half the guys in the blue jackets, Olson said. And to actually make a qualifier at age 68 against these 25-year-old kids is not something I would have dreamed I could have ever done.

Although he moved to Nebraska more than 50 years ago, where he served the Nebraska Golf Association for more than 30 years, including a stint as president, Saucon Valley represents sort of a homecoming for Olson.

I actually grew up in Allentown [Pa.] and played here. Of course, we weren’t playing from the back tees then, said Olson, laughing. I’ve been back here a few times throughout the years and it’s always special.

Desai Cousins A Formidable Duo

Cousins Nick and Nikhil Desai both moved from Zambia to America to attend college and now both are competing in the U.S. Mid-Amateur thanks to one another.

Nick, 47, and Nikhil, 39, both qualified out of the Colts Neck, N.J., sectional at Trump National G.C. with Nick making the cut right on the line and Nikhil advancing out of a 4-for-1 playoff with Nikhil serving as his caddie.

The cousins play together frequently throughout the year, with Nikhil traveling from his home in Florida to meet Nick in New Jersey, where he is a member at Baltusrol Golf Club. So it was only natural that Nick would lend a helping hand.

The funny story is on the fourth hole, he had a 25-footer for the win and he was reading it right to left, said Nick. And I said, ‘No way, that’s left to right all the way.’ Nikhil heeded Nick’s advice, drained the putt and punched his ticket to Saucon Valley.

Nikhil’s birdie putt gave the cousins two of the eight available spots.

We figured there were eight spots and we just needed two, said Nikhil. He can have one, I can have one.

This won’t be the last time this month the cousins join forces on the golf course. They are registered for U.S. Amateur Four-Ball qualifying Sept. 23 at Paramount Country Club in New City, N.Y.

Better Late Than Never

Jeff Santora has played a lot of golf courses blind before. He’s just never done it in a national championship. Due to job obligations, the 26-year-old from Millbury, Mass., couldn’t get to Saucon Valley until Friday night, therefore missing the two official practice rounds. The last player in the 264-player field to register did lean on a friend who played the courses at Saucon Valley while at nearby Lehigh University and other information he could find online. His local caddie also helped.

Unfortunately, Santora opened with a disappointing 9-over 81 on the Weyhill Course.

I started a new job in April with J.P. Morgan and I don’t have that many vacation days, said Santora, who played at Division III Salem State in Massachusetts. We do a lot of client reporting the first 10 business days of the month, so the first half of the month is tough. As much as this [championship] is important, it’s just as important to keep the job. It worked out well that the [qualifying rounds] are on Saturday and Sunday.

Santora, however, didn’t think his score was due to a lack of course knowledge.

This course is tough, he said. It’s a USGA event.

Santora, who started playing golf when he was 14, did arrange with his boss to have Monday and Tuesday off in case he made match play. But it likely will take a round in the 60s on Sunday at the Old Course to make that happen.

Otherwise, he won’t be late for work on Monday.

Role Reversal

Earlier this summer, Trent Roush had the experience of a lifetime serving as his father’s caddie at the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla. Ty even got on the TV broadcast a few times after getting into fifth place through four holes. When he knocked a shot to a foot on No. 8, ESPN2 showed the shot and putt. When it happened again two holes later, Ty again got on TV and Trent could be seen in the background.

I still have the clips on my cellphone, said Trent. He didn’t make the cut, but I wouldn’t do anything differently.

So when Trent, a financial representative for an insurance company, qualified for this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, Ty, the owner and head professional at Riverside Golf Club in Mason, W.Va., agreed to come caddie for his 31-year-old son.

In fact, the two both won their respective qualifiers in the Greater Columbus, Ohio, area, a two-hour drive from their home. Trent qualified for his first U.S. Mid-Amateur (second USGA championship) a couple of weeks after returning from Oklahoma.   

He said if you did that, I guess I owe you one, said Trent, who carded an 84 on the Weyhill Course on Saturday.

When asked to compare Saucon Valley with Oak Tree National, Roush said: They are both equally impossibly hard in their own different way. Out there [in Oklahoma], the fairways were larger, but you had to be pinpoint accurate [off the tee] because it would roll out of the fairway. Here, the rough is just so brutal. The fairways are the smallest I have ever played.

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org. David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.