Thin field opens up hunt for City Open

The absence of a few has opened up the opportunities for many.

The field is a little more level for the 27th annual Times-Republican City Golf Tournament, which begins Saturday at American Legion Golf Course and finishes at Elmwood Country Club on Sunday.

Defending champion Ben Wollam, a junior-to-be at Grand View University, is one of a few notable names missing from this year’s group which has made forecasting the field much more difficult.

“It’s sort of a tough field (to predict) this year because I think it’s going to be a little more wide open than some other years,” American Legion Golf Course club pro John Schrempf said. “When you take out players like Ben, now all of a sudden instead of three or four guys that could win, you might have eight or 10 or 12.”

Wollam and incoming Bobcat senior Michael Schrempf – last year’s second flight champ – are competing at the Northwest Amateur in Spencer this weekend. Nine-time champion Matt Steddom also is not in the tourney for the second year in a row, while weddings and a slow-pitch softball tournament have removed a few other contenders from the field including Clint Schneider, who claimed 10th in the tourney last August and was runner-up in 2010.

Two-time champion Sam Zoske has placed among the top-five in five of the last seven tourneys including 2013’s fourth-place effort and is the expected frontrunner but he’ll get a push from several other experienced players.

“Sam Zoske with his experience is probably the odds-on favorite but you’ve got a couple of guys with Pat Ryan and maybe Tony Giannetto and some of the senior guys who have been around for years competing in this,” said Schrempf, who also mentioned Troy Underhill and Tim Rohde.

Underhill was the opening round leader last summer and ended up in fifth, while Rohde claimed runner-up as the senior champ and has played in the championship flight a tourney-record 23 times and taken second twice. Ryan has made the group of top-16 (plus ties) 22 times including a pair of runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2006.

John Danielson is back in the tourney and should be a threat at the top of the leaderboard as well. The former Southern Illinois golfer and all-Missouri Valley Conference first team honoree finished runner-up in 2007 and has four top-6 finishes under his belt.

The first group will tee off at 8 a.m. with eight minutes separating each of the 30 quartets completed by the last foursome at noon. Only the top-16 (plus ties) will be in contention for the title on Sunday.

“Obviously with Ben and Matt not in it, it opens things up a bit,” Zoske said. “John Danielson has been out of the mix for a while but he’s a great player who’s back in the field. Then you have guys like Pat Ryan and Troy Underhill.

“With these local courses anything can happen. These guys can play just as well as anyone else so everybody kind of has their work cut out for them.”

Zoske has often excelled on his home course at Elmwood, but has yet to put everything together at American Legion.

“Just getting out at the Legion, the course always seems easy but I never score that well,” Zoske said. “I just need to focus a little bit more and try to take advantage of all the birdie holes all the way around. A 66 or 67 would be a real good start out there.”

Elmwood is also where Underhill does most of his golfing in Marshalltown though he believes this year’s tournament could feel a little different with how each course plays.

“I played the Legion today and it’s in fantastic shape,” the eight-time championship flight qualifier said. “The greens are a little more acceptable to laying the ball on and throwing some close shots to the hole. They’ve been working on Elmwood’s greens a lot so they’re not in the best shape they’ve been in so it could be real different courses that we play on this year. It will be fun and interesting.”

Nine strokes separated last year’s championship flight after the opening round led by Underhill’s 67. Though as he learned last year, one hole can turn things around, for better or worse, in a hurry.

“I’d like to come out and play like I did on the first day last year even though we’re switching courses,” Underhill said. “Last year at Legion I wouldn’t say I played bad. I had one bad hole and then things just didn’t click after that. To win this tournament you have to play (well) both days and that’s just what I have to do. They’re different courses this year.”