Altoona’s Fink qualifies for US Amateur

Altoona native Artie Fink Jr. already has a long list of golfing achievements, accumulated from more than nearly two decades of high-level competition.

Through the years, the accomplishments have come at all levels – local, statewide and even the national level.

With that said, Fink’s latest feat might just top the list: He has qualified to play in this year’s United States Amateur Championship, scheduled to be played next week at the Country Club in Brookville, Mass.

Fink, 43, qualified with stellar play at the regional qualifying event held at Everett’s Down River Golf Club on July 24. His 36-hole score of 6-under par 138 was two shots clear of his closest competitor as he captured the only spot available at this qualifying site.

The event was especially satisfying for Fink, as his 15-year-old son, Derek, was along to caddy for his dad.

“It was fun to have him there,” Fink said. “It was a really great day. I hit the ball well and had an extremely good day on the greens, which were running about 13 on the stimpmeter.”

Two rounds of 69 earned Fink a spot in this year’s U.S. Amateur.

Several years ago, Fink had a run of close misses in this event, finishing as an alternate three times. In 2005, Fink qualified for the U.S. Public Links Championship, and in 2010 he was selected to play in the USGA State Team Championship as one of three participants from Pennsylvania.

As prestigious as those events are, the U.S. Amateur is still a step or two above.

Among the 13 national championships the USGA conducts annually, the U.S. Amateur ranks behind only the U.S. Open in importance. Past winners include some of the greatest names in golf history – Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

This year’s tournament will have added significance as the event will be commemorating perhaps the greatest single event in American golfing history – the 100th anniversary of 20-year old American Francis Ouimet’s victory over Britain’s golf greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

This landmark golfing achievement took place at the Country Club in Brookline and was portrayed in the 2005 motion picture “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” starring Shia LaBeouf.

The course also hosted the 1999 Ryder Cup, famous for the furious a American comeback victory that was capped off by Justin Leonard’s event-clinching putt on the 17th hole.

All this awaits Blair County’s top amateur golfer. Fink will arrive in Brookville on Saturday to begin his practice sessions along with good friend and fellow Sinking Valley member Terry DelBaggio, who will help as Fink’s caddy.

The tournament will begin Monday with 312 golfers playing 36 holes of stroke play over two days – one round at the Country Club and another at neighboring Charles River Country Club.

The low 64 scores will qualify for the match-play portion of the championship, which begins on Wednesday. Eighteen-hole matches of single elimination will follow and conclude with a 36-hole final match on Sunday.

Fink is looking forward to the experience.

“This is definitely one of the top events in the world,” he said. “It will have some of the best amateurs and best college golfers in the country. I’m really excited to get started.”

Local golf professional Tom Koehle of Iron Masters has known Fink for nearly 20 years and admires him.

“Artie is a first-class individual,” Koehle said. “He not only dominates our local golf events, but he does so with real sense of class.”

Long-time friend and golfing partner Todd Homan remembers Fink since their days together in high school.

“Neither of us even played golf when we were young,” Homan said. “So it’s great to see how good Artie’s become. He has the greatest competitive drive of any one I know. When he’s playing well, he can almost will the ball into the hole.”

Homan, along with the entire local golf community, couldn’t be happier to see Fink participating in one of the game’s most prestigious events.

“I’m ecstatic for him,” Homan said. “It’s a shame it’s so far way, but we’ll be able to follow it on television and the Internet. We’re all rooting for him.”