BETHLEHEM, Pa. –After carding a 2-over-par 73 at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Weyhill Course on Saturday, Christopher Baloga put himself in good position to advance to the match-play portion of the 34th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Six bogeys over his first eight holes on the Old Course on Sunday, however, put those chances in serious jeopardy.
Baloga, 31, of Baltimore, Md., responded with a 1-under performance on the inward nine to safely qualify for match play (73-75).
I told my caddie going to 18 that I felt like nothing was going right, Baloga said. I had trouble adjusting to the slower greens [due to heavy rain on Saturday night], they were playing a lot slower than yesterday. It seemed like every time I had a 10- to 15-foot putt, I’d come up short.
Baloga turned things around on No. 3. After an errant tee shot that he thought may have been out of bounds, Baloga attempted a shot through trees to the green and barely snuck it through to the green and ended up saving par when a double-bogey-6 seemed to be in the cards.
A former collegiate golfer at Towson University in suburban Baltimore, Baloga now coaches the men’s golf team at Loyola University, just a few miles down Charles Street from Towson. He inherited a strong Greyhounds program five years ago and he has kept the ball rolling. Loyola won its seventh consecutive conference championship last year, spanning both the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Patriot League. Two of Baloga’s players (Keegan Boone and Bart George) qualified for this year’s U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club. Baloga earned Patriot League Coach of the Year honors a season ago, and believes his experience working with others may have played a role in Sunday’s turnaround.
Coaching has helped me a lot, he said. I don’t get as down on myself as I used to. This is like bonus golf for me. Usually, I’m done playing after August. I’m really excited to be playing in this event, but I’m even more excited for next week to start our season. That tells me that coaching is what I should be doing: coaching more than playing.
Although he is thriving as a coach, Baloga is quite an accomplished amateur golfer in Maryland. In addition to playing in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay and 2009 USGA Men’s State Team for Maryland, Baloga was the Maryland Player of the Year in 2010 and 2011, winning several amateur championships in the Washington-Baltimore area.
I don’t get to play as much as I’d like because of the coaching schedule, said Bologa. I’ve been nominated for the State Team multiple times, but have had to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts. That’s a great event and I’m hoping to adjust my schedule and play in it again.
While match play still beckons this week, Baloga’s USGA championship season won’t completely end at Saucon Valley. He is reuniting with former Towson teammate Jeff Castle, who briefly played professionally on the mini-tour circuit and regained his amateur status last year, to attempt to qualify for the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship next year at The Olympic Club. They will play in the Oct. 20 qualifier at Argyle Country Club in Silver Spring, Md.
Family Coaching Tree
When the Ellis family – father Dean and 25-year-old twin brothers Dan and David – get together, they try not to talk shop. That’s because all three are currently NCAA Division I assistant golf coaches and sometimes they’re recruiting the same players.
Dean, who served as Northern Michigan’s men’s basketball coach for 20 years, recently got back into coaching as the men’s and women’s assistant at South Dakota State, while David started at Central Florida last spring. Dan, who competed in this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur but failed to make match play with rounds of 76-78, accepted a position at his alma mater, Michigan State, last April after spending one season at Coastal Carolina.
It’s a cool thing, said Dan after his round Sunday on the Weyhill Course. My grandfather was a three-sport high school coach in the Upper Peninsula [of Michigan]. He coached track, football and basketball. [So] I’ve been around coaching my whole life. Both my brother and I decided to go in the same career path. It’s a pretty cool thing.
To play in the Mid-Amateur, Dan had to miss Michigan State’s appearance in this weekend’s Gopher Invitational, the University of Minnesota’s tournament. But he did edge MSU’s head coach, Casey Lubahn, at their Mid-Amateur sectional qualifier by two strokes.
And this spring, South Dakota State is coming to MSU’s tournament, so Dan will meet up with his father. MSU did not schedule any events with Central Florida in the field this year. That doesn’t mean Dan and David, who also played at MSU, don’t cross paths on the recruiting trail and occasionally try to woo the same golfer.
We don’t like to talk about it much, said Dan.
As for his golf, Dan said he was never tempted to turn professional. With a young family, traveling the circuit wasn’t appealing and he prefers the camaraderie of the amateur game.
Just being able to compete free and loose during and after the tournament, you don’t have any cares if you played bad, said Dan, who previously qualified for one U.S. Junior Amateur and one U.S. Amateur Public Links. I will probably stay an amateur forever because of that.
Miller Furthers Family Golf Pedigree
James Miller was never forced into playing golf, despite his parents’ success in the game. His father, Allen, played on two USA Walker Cup Teams (1969, 1971), the 1970 USA World Amateur Team and competed for 15 years on the PGA Tour. His mother, Cindy, played three years on the LPGA Tour and his older sister is a producer at Golf Channel.
They were laid back, said James, 29, of Silver Creek, N.Y. They said play if you want.
So James did. He was the 2007 Buffalo District Golf Association Player of the Year and he competed at Division I Augusta State. He also tried his hand at professional golf for three years until a boating accident completely changed his life.
There were five of us in a four-person boat, said Miller, who carded rounds of 78-75 to miss the match-play cut at this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur. I wasn’t sitting in a seat. We went over a wave and I went face-first into the front of the boat.
Miller broke his jaw in three spots, shattered six bones in his cheek, injured his nose and got four front teeth knocked out.
After plastic surgery, Miller chose to give the real world a chance. He landed a job at Morgan Stanley in Buffalo and regained his amateur status two years ago.
I always loved amateur golf, said Miller. It wasn’t the worst decision [to play professionally]. It’s just hard when you wanted forever to follow in your parents’ footsteps. But [the accident] was a good reason to get me where I am now. It gave me an out.
Growing up, James said he didn’t hear many stories from his dad’s glory days when he competed on Walker Cup Teams with the likes of U.S. Amateur champions Vinny Giles, Steve Melnyk, Lanny Wadkins, Bruce Fleisher and Bill Campbell, and future U.S. Open champion Tom Kite.
Golf Channel was doing something recently about the Ryder Cup and I saw a picture of my dad with Melnyk and those guys, said James. But I don’t hear a ton [of stories from him]. He was a quiet guy.
Vickers Comes Up Short In Return To Saucon Valley
Warren Vickers is the only player in this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur field to have competed in the 1983 U.S. Junior Amateur held at Saucon Valley Country Club. But the Phoenix, Ariz., resident competed solely on the Old Course that year. Ironically, it was the companion Weyhill Course where Vickers had the most success this week. He carded a 3-under 68 on Sunday for the championship’s lowest round. No other competitor bettered 70 at Weyhill.
Vickers, however, carded a disappointing 85 Saturday on the Old Course to miss the match-play cut by two strokes.
Saucon Valley drew approximately 600 volunteers to assist with the championship, some of whom came from nearby Lehigh University. Three members of the school’s women’s basketball team – Katie O’Reilly, Liz Jordan and Sarah Williams – helped run score cards on Sunday at the Weyhill Course.
For O’Reilly, a senior from Colts Neck, N.J., it was her first experience on a golf course.
It’s been fun, she said.
Mid-Amateur committee member Peter McGeoch, of Columbus, Ohio, who was in the 18th-hole scoring tent, said the helpers have been fantastic both days.
I had a guy from the track team and the men’s basketball team and now these girls, and they’ve all been great, he said.