Area trio poised for Oakmont event

One of the most prestigious tournaments in the state will begin next Monday at historic Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh.

The 119th West Penn Amateur Championship will be contested over 54 holes of stroke play with the champion crowned on Wednesday afternoon.

The West Penn Amateur is held annually at some of the most prestigious courses in western Pennsylvania. This year, however, is especially appealing for the chance to play and compete at one of the premier courses in the entire country.

“We’re fortunate that the Oakmont membership is willing to offer their course to host our championships,” WPGA director of competitions Mac Wolfe said. “They are currently on a rotation to host events about every eight to 10 years for us.”

Local golf standouts Artie Fink Jr. and Greg Ferguson qualified to play in the WPGA Amateur the last time the event was held at Oakmont in 2011.

To determine this year’s final field, multiple qualifying tournaments were held at sites across western Pennsylvania, including the Country Club of Meadville, Latrobe Elks Golf Club, Birdsfoot Golf Club in Freeport and local Sinking Valley Country Club.

Several local golfers were part of the 36-man field that played at Sinking Valley on June 3, competing for six available spots. Ebensburg Country Club’s Max Kirsch shot the low round of the day, a 1-under-par 71, to grab the top spot.

In addition to Kirsch, two Altoona-area golfers were among the other five golfers to a earn spot in this year’s field. Carding a 1-over par score of 73 was Duncansville’s Steve DeStefano, who plays out of Summit Country Club. The 53-year-old DeStefano has been a mainstay on local golf leader boards for years and has captured the Summit club championship a record 11 times.

“When I saw the event was at Oakmont this year, I just had to give it a shot,” DeStefano said. “It’s such a special place.”

DeStefano has been fortunate to play at Oakmont about a half-dozen times over the past 15 years, but this will be his first time under tournament conditions. He’s been working extra hard on his game and trying to replicate some of Oakmont’s heavy rough and difficult lies while practicing on local courses.

“I’ve been hitting the ball pretty solid recently, so I’m looking forward to next week,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic, but just qualifying to play there is meaningful to me, especially at my age. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Quintin Dziabo, of Cresson, also qualified for Oakmont at the event held at Sinking Valley. The 34-year-old Summit member used a conservative approach to earn his spot.

“I bogeyed the ninth and 10th to go to 3-over,” Dziabo said. “But after making a birdie on 11, I decided to tee off with my four-iron the rest of the way.”

Dziabo, an all-around athlete, was the first 1,000-point scorer in Penn Cambria High School basketball history and later starred on the Penn State-Altoona golf team. He’s focused his efforts on competitive golf in recent years but has yet to play the historic Oakmont layout.

“Sometime you just play better the first time you see a course,” Dziabo said. “I’m excited for the chance to compete there, and I’ve been working hard, especially on my short game.”

In addition to penalizing rough, Oakmont has long been famous for its fast and firm greens.

“Every par you get there will be a good score,” Dziabo said. “I’m not going into the tournament with any crazy expectations. My approach will be trying to stay away from the big number.”

Dziabo’s father, John, an accomplished golfer himself, will be sharing some of the Oakmont excitement. He’ll be caddying for his son when the West Penn Amateur Championship begins on Monday.

When the tournament gets under way, Dziabo and DeStefano will be part of the 76-man field teeing it up. A cut will be made on Tuesday after 36 holes to the low 32 scores and ties.

The remaining field will then play 18 holes on Wednesday to determine who will take home the 2019 WPGA Amateur Championship trophy.