Thayer, Vollertsen headline area golfers at Kansas Am
By BRETT MARSHALL
When the month of July rolls around for Sean Thayer, it usually means it's time for his golf tournament season to begin.
For Grant Vollertsen, it is a time that he is hoping he can regain the form that propelled him to the 2012 High Plains Amateur Championship at The Golf Club at Southwind last August.
So it is today when Thayer and Vollertsen, along with five other Garden City and area golfers, tee it up for the 103rd Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship.
This year's championship, which begins with 36 holes of stroke play qualifying for the 156-player field, will then move into match play on Thursday with the low 64 golfers chasing the coveted state am title.
Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills is this year's venue and the course, designed by reknowned architect A.W. Tillinghast (think Bethpage State Park and U.S. Open designer), plays to about 6,600 yards, par-70 and is tree-lined with small, severe, sloping greens.
"It's in the best condition I've ever seen it," said Thayer, who in 1999 won the state crown at nearby Milburn Golf and Country Club, thus becoming the only golfer west of Hutchinson to win the most prestigious amateur tourney in Kansas. "It's an improved golf course."
As usual, the Amateur is the first tournament of the season for Thayer, a former University of Kansas golfer. Unlike years past, though, his July has not involved much play or practice time to hone his game. Instead, his family has moved from their Southwind area home into Garden City recently, and he has spent much of his time watching his son, Cooper, play summer baseball.
"I'd probably be more in line for baseball father of the year than winning something in golf," Thayer joked during a telephone interview Monday evening. "For me, it's all about managing my way around the course and not making a high number. Number one, is to qualify for match play. Perhaps if I do that, I can play my way into shape and see what happens. I'm here to have fun, see a lot of the guys and enjoy the experience. I have no expectations coming in this week. We'll just see what takes place."
Thayer is familiar with Indian Hills, having reached the semifinals in 2003, the last time the tourney was played at the club. He lost by a 2 and 1 margin to eventual runner-up Jay Hepler. Casey Harbour won the tournament title that year and the only other time the Amateur has been conducted at Indian Hills was in 1985 when Thayer's former KU teammate, John Sinovic, won the title.
"The driver will be my key club because it's the best club in my bag," Thayer said. "If I keep it in play, then I'll have wedges and short irons to the greens and that's preferable to hitting middle irons into the small greens."
Vollertsen, meanwhile, played this past weekend in the Dodge City Invitational, an event he won in 2012 but struggled in recently.
"The golf course is nice and I'm just hoping to be ready tomorrow," Vollertsen said in a telephone interview just after completing a Monday practice round. "My game's not in good shape. In fact, it's gotten a little worse over the summer. I'm hoping it comes together in the next two days. My short game's OK and that's the key to this course. I like the course and I just want to be able to keep it together."
Vollertsen captured his most prestigious tournament at the High Plains Am, where he shot rounds of 67-69--136 to win by three shots over a talented field of golfers from Kansas and Colorado. The High Plains is conducted by the Kansas Golf Association and the win provided him an exemption from sectional qualifying for this year's Amateur.
Thayer tees off at 8 a.m. today and 12:30 p.m. Wednesday while Vollertsen is in the 8:30 a.m./1 p.m. grouping. Also competing are Shawn Audrain of Garden City (8:20/12:50), Brick Beymer of Lakin (8:40/1:10), Alex Zuzelski of Syracuse (12:50/8:20), Brady Buxman of Ulysses (1:10/8:40) and Juan Ollarzabal of Garden City (1:30/9:00). Sublette native Gary Lucas, who now resides in Topeka, is also competing and plays at 9:20 a.m. today and 1:50 p.m. Wednesday.
The 2016 Kansas Amateur returns to The Golf Club at Southwind, which will play host to its fourth Amateur. The club has previously hosted the tournament in 1990, 1997 and 2006.
Golf note: Garden City's Taylor Larsen won the Kansas Junior Golf Association's individual title at the Junior Section Team Championship for the 14 to 15 year-old division last week at Hutchinson's Carey Park Golf Course. Larsen shot rounds of 70-68--138 to win his age group by four shots over Wells Padgett of Wichita.
Other local/area golfers who competed included Lane Durst of Garden City in the 11 and under division (15th with scores of 52-51--103); Sion Audrain of Garden City in the 12 to 13 year-old division (7th with scores of 76-76--152); Brandon Peters of Ulysses in the 12-13 age group (15th, 88-80--168); Juan Ollarzabal of Garden City in the 16 and over division (tie 10th, 77-70--147) and Danielle Gaspar of Garden City in the girls division (10th, 108-87--195).
Ollarzabal and Larsen then advanced into the boys match play tournament at Prairie Dunes Country Club.
Ollarzabal defeated Ben Masku, 4 and 3, in his opening match before losing to Zach Kirby of Dodge City, 2-up, in the second round. Larsen opened with a 19-hole victory over Levi Bone of Dodge City before losing to James Henderson, 1-up. In consolation matches, Ollarzabal lost, 3 and 2, to Caleb Haight while Larsen lost 1-up to Chase Hanna. Larsen and Ollarzabal then met in another consolation match with Larsen winning, 7 and 5.