THUNDER BAY -- The Strathcona Invitational is the one local golf tournament where the city’s rising wave of young talent hasn’t been able to break through.
Evan DeGrazia is hoping on Saturday he took the first steps in changing that.
The 19-year-old shot the low score of the day during the 18-hole qualifying round of at the Strathcona Golf Course, carding a four-under 68.
“I hit basically every green and had 15 feet for birdie probably 10 times and made a few of them,” DeGrazia said after the round. “It was pretty smooth sailing until the last few holes where it was a rocky finish but it was a really good round.”
Even a bogey on No. 18 still kept him four shots clear of the field, though the wide margin will be minimalized starting on Sunday as the tournament switches to a match play format.
The low 15 scores from the qualifying round, along with defending champion Jordan Gehl, advance to the championship flight for a 16-man bracket.
Gehl, who defeated Jamie Depiero in last year’s final, shot a five-over 77 but will still be seeded No. 1.
That means DeGrazia, who notched a dominating victory earlier this year in the Keg District Open to qualify for PGA Tour Canada’s Staal Foundation Open, will be the No. 2 seed and will start even with his opponent as the round of 16 tees off Sunday morning.
DeGrazia, who lost to Gehl in the semifinals last year, thinks keeping up strong play on the greens will be crucial to having a deep run.
“I think I’ll just need to knock down some putts,” he said. “That’s been the theme all season for me, making putts. I rolled in a few nice ones (Saturday).”
While DeGrazia and other local standouts such as Jeff Hunter, Evan Littlefield and Brett Shewchuk have claimed trophies in the city’s other majors, success at Strathcona has remained elusive.
In large part, that can be attributed to the dominance of Robert Cumming and the semi-retired Barry Caland, who had combined to win the last six Invitationals prior to Gehl’s win last year.
Cumming, a four-time champion in 1996, 2005, 2011 and 2012, finished with a two-over 74 to also advance to the championship flight.
While the score was higher than what he was hoping for, all that matters is advancing to the match play draw.
“I just usually want to shoot par in this round because it doesn’t matter how low you go, you just have to get in that top-16,” Cumming said. “I wasn’t great today. I made a few errant shots but I hung in there and grinded it out.”
The format switch will have to lead to a switch in mindset for the players heading into the final two days of the tournament.
The hole-by-hole nature of match play means disastrous holes are not as costly as during stroke play, meaning players can be tempted to play more aggressively.
Cumming, a nearly 20-year veteran of the event, has been in just about every situation imaginable.
That has come in handy over the past few years when he has found himself down in the late stages of a match.
“Whether I get up early or down early, whatever happens I’ve been there before so I shouldn’t get too rattled,” Cumming said.
Those round of 16 matches are scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
In the senior division, Randy Robinson will face off against Randy Fossum in one semifinal while Rollie Turrie and Hank Wilke battle for the other spot in the final. Those matches will start at 10 a.m.
The super-senior division will see semifinal matches of Brian Mallon versus Tony Stokaluk while Guy Wolframe will take on Glen Fossum. Those matches are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
This year’s tournament features 88 golfers in the regular division, 16 in the senior division and 24 in the super-senior.
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