In the fall of 1995, Jerry Stahl came out to play Naples National Golf Club.
“This is a fantastic golf course,” he told then-head professional John Calabria. “What a great venue for a USGA championship.”
Calabria went to Naples National founder Dr. Charles Benton, and they discussed Stahl’s comments, but for various reasons, hosting a USGA event wasn’t in the club’s plans.
Starting the Terra Cotta Invitational soon was.
Twenty-six years later, some of the top men’s amateurs in the world are in the middle of the tournament’s 25th edition — it wasn’t played last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunday’s champion will join a list that includes Matt Kuchar, Justin Thomas, Emiliano Grillo, and Bud Cauley.
And the ones who don’t get to hoist the Terra Cotta jug? Well, they’ll join a list that’s just as impressive. Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Cameron Champ, and Scottie Scheffler have done just fine without winning the Terra Cotta.
“There are a lot of people that are big on the PGA Tour that didn’t win it,” said Denny Glass, who has been the tournament director since 2006.
Going into Sunday, three teenagers top the leaderboard, and are the only players under par. N.C. State commit Caleb Surratt, a junior in high school, and Cohen Trolio, an LSU commit from West Point, Mississippi, are tied for the lead at 3 under. Surratt double-bogeyed No. 16 to fall out of the lead. Maxwell Ford, who is a Georgia commit, is in third at 1-under 143 in the tournament, which has a presenting sponsor, Workday, for the first time.
A pair of former U.S. Mid-Amateur champions — 2016 champion Stewart Hagestad, 30, of Newport Beach, California, and 42-year-old Scott Harvey of Kernersville, North Carolina, who won it in 2014 — are tied for fourth at even par.
Naples High grad James Tureskis, who plays for Florida State, is sixth at 1 over, and Naples High junior Sam Kodak, a Seminoles commit, is tied for eighth at 2 over. 2020 Daily News Boys Golfer of the Year Jack Irons, who did not play high school golf this season, is tied for 10th at 3 over.
Jackson Van Paris, a Vanderbilt commit, had the day’s low score with a 3-under 69 and is tied for 10th.
Sunday’s leaders will go off between 9:30 and 10 a.m. There is no admission and the public is invited.
Reed, a former Masters champion, is among those who have played the Terra Cotta the most but haven’t won it. He tried five times from 2007-11, with his best finish in 2007, in second place, but eight strokes behind Peter Uihlein. He tied for fifth in 2009, a stroke behind C.T. Pan, another current tour player. Reed was third when Thomas won it in 2010, and tied for fourth when Grillo won it the next year.
Terra Cotta’s beginnings slightly more humble
But the Terra Cotta didn’t start out like it’s played now.
There were 16 players in the first in 1996, and Calabria, now a golf ambassador at Grey Oaks Country Club, enlisted former top amateur John Harris, who is a current PGA Tour Champions player and Calusa Pines Golf Club member, to help construct it for Thanksgiving weekend.
“Our notion was that the golf course belonged to the members and having 16 players really wasn’t going to interfere with regular member play that much even over Thanksgiving weekend,” Calabria said.
Jerry Courville Jr., who had won the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1995, was the first champion in a field that included Trip Kuehne, Buddy Marucci Jr., and Steve Scott. All three of them had lost in U.S. Amateur finals to Tiger Woods in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Harris also played, as did Naples’ Lee Booker and Boomer Erick and Fort Myers’ Tom Case. Robert Floyd, a son of Raymond Floyd, was scheduled to play but didn’t because of illness.
Kuchar beat Garcia in the semifinals the next year, and went on to win after becoming the U.S. Amateur champion earlier that year.
“It was a lot of fun,” Calabria said.
Glass, who started running the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island in 1994, also helped Calabria get some players in those early years.
“He reached out to me and we talked about players and procedures and things like that,” Glass said. “That’s how I first ever talked to him.”
Coincidentally, Glass became a member at Naples National a few years after that. And then the club decided to put Glass in charge of the tournament in 2006.
“They wanted to elevate the tournament into a stroke-play event and get (amateur) ranking points,” Glass said.
That meant expanding the field, more than doubling it from 20 to at least 50, and going away from match play.
“I had to reach out to try to get players because people didn’t really know that much about it,” said Glass, who has a field of 70 this year and turned away 200 applicants.
The change in field and format also changed the makeup of who was playing — more so who was winning. The older amateurs and mid-amateurs still play to this day, but almost all of the champions, beginning with Arnond “Bank” Vongvanij in 2006 in that first year, have been college players.
Top amateurs such as Harris, Tommy Brennan, Gene Elliott, Danny Green, Sean Knapp and Tom McKnight had won it in the years after Kuchar did. Brennan and Elliott are playing this year.
“I understand now expanding the field,” Calabria said. “All things evolve over time, and. you get the best guys to come.
“I was very proud of being instrumental in bringing that tournament into existence.”
Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/04/24/patrick-reed-justin-thomas-matt-kuchar-terra-cotta-invitational/