Venetia native Connor Schmidt joined an elite group of golfers when he won his second straight Western Pennsylvania Golf Association amateur championship.
Schmidt became the first repeat winner of the tournament since Nathan Smith won the event four straight times from 2007 to 2010. Arnold Palmer and Bob Reilly also won it four years in a row.
“Back-to-back means a lot to me. It’s a proud accomplishment,” said the 22-year-old son of Aimee and Ralph Connor. “It’s very cool to have my name on the trophy with some of the best amateurs and to be in the same company as somebody like Arnold Palmer.”
A dozen birdies and 19 pars paved the way for Schmidt’s Aug. 25 victory at Allegheny County Club in Sewickley.
“I did a bit of everything well,” Schmidt said. “I hit my driver straight and my wedges tight. I had nice irons and was rock solid putting. Putting was the best aspect of my game.”
Schmidt shot a 2-under-par 68 in the final round to finish the two-day event with a 6-under par 136. He opened action with a 69 to take a one-stroke lead.
He two-putted the final hole for a par as he won the tournament by two strokes over Kevin Fajt from Hannastown Golf Club.
Schmidt had an impressive run of six birdies on the first seven holes on his final round. He parred seven holes on the back nine, recovering well from a double bogey on No. 10 and a bogey on No. 16.
Schmidt follows another golfing great’s technique to clear such hurdles. He said Tiger Woods gives himself five steps or five seconds to get really mad or say whatever he wants after a bad hole.
“I try to do the same,” Schmidt said. “Usually I try to forget as soon as possible. I had to forget those holes and calm myself down. It’s easy to say that but hard to do.”
It’s not difficult for Schmidt to ignore the leaderboard. He said he only looked three times as he approached the No. 11, 14 and 17 holes.
“It’s good to know where you are and I wanted to know what I needed to do,” he said.
While Schmidt led after the first round, he staved off familiar competition in the final round.
Fresh off his victory at the Pennsylvania Open, Jimmy Ellis tied Bethel Park’s Brett Young for fourth place. Both shot 69s each day to finish with 138 scores.
Alec Stopperich took third overall (137), three strokes off the winning pace set by Schmidt.
Louis Olsakovsky was seventh in the event. He carded a 71-69–140, while Jake Sollon tied for eighth place with a 141 and Tanner Johnson tied for 11th with a 142.
Ellis, Stopperich, Sollon and Johnson are all Peters Township High School graduates. Olsakovsky is from Upper St. Clair.
“There are really good amateurs out there and having expectations of winning again made it harder but I knew I was playing well,” Schmidt said. “If I played the way I have been, I could win.”
Schmidt had done his share of winning before COVID-19 canceled or postponed tournaments, such as the qualifiers for the U.S. amateur championships. Schmidt qualified in 2017 and 2019, but because slots were determined by exemptions, he earned a berth only as an alternative.
Before he turns pro, Schmidt hopes to qualify for the U.S. amateur. Next year’s event will be held Aug. 7-15 at Oakmont Country Club.
“I’ve played well there before,” he said. “So it will be exciting to be a qualifier. But that’s a long-term goal.”
While he might challenge for the Palmer Cup, which pits the best pros and amateurs in the Tri-state, Schmidt is virtually done with his summer season. His fall season of competition at Drexel University has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He’s anxious to complete his studies in business analytics and supply-chain management so as to focus on his final semester of collegiate competition. In the spring, Schmidt hopes to lead the Dragons to a conference championship. With two seniors and a talented incoming freshmen class, Schmidt believes the goal is achievable.
“We have the best team ever assembled. It could be one of the best teams in school history,” he said. “If we work hard, the sky’s the limit for us.”
After that, Schmidt puts no limits on his future. He said joining the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour is the immediate objective. The tour is akin to playing in baseball’s minor leagues, Schmidt said.
Former Peters Township product, Tom Nettles, just missed the cut. The 25-year-old McMurray resident competes on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica circuit.
“My original plan was to turn pro this fall but due to the pandemic you can’t plan anything because most qualifiers were canceled,” Schmidt said.
“Anything can change. It’s hard to predict the future but I’ll continue to pursue my goals. I’m on track with that.”