Western Am back at the Point
NILES — From 1963 until 2008, the Point O’Woods Golf & Country Club hosted one of the top amateur tournaments in the nation.
In its prime, the tournament would bring 10,000 people or more to Benton Harbor to watch the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange and Andy North play amateur golf.
But when the galleries began to decrease, the Western Golf Association decided to move the tournament closer to home in Illinois.
There were also differences between the WGA and the patrons of the Point, which kept the tournament away from the area until last January when it was announced that the 116th Western Amateur would return.
Chris DiMarco won the final championship hosted at the Point in 2008. He was just down the road practicing for the 40th U.S. Senior Open at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame last week and participated in the media day for the tournament, which will be July 29 through Aug. 3.
DiMarco, who played in two Western Amateurs, was glad to be back at the point.
“It was pretty nostalgic, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I was 19 years old, so it was 31 years ago that I won. I can remember the holes. Obviously, everything is different, but I just remember a lot about that week. I remember first and foremost that it almost didn’t even happen.”
DiMarco was riding with University of Florida teammate Dudley Hart. They played in the Southern Amateur before heading to the Porter Cup and Hart had played poorly.
“Dudley was playing poorly and wasn’t the most gracious loser, so to speak,” DiMarco said. “He said, I’m going back home. This is before cell phones and everything else. He was my ride. I was 19. I couldn’t rent a car.”
DiMarco made a call to his parents to see what he should do. She told him to stay put and she flew from Buffalo, New York and rented a car so he could get to Benton Harbor for the tournament.
“I just remember how grueling it was,” he said. “God rest her soul. I thank her all the time about it. She actually drove me around Lake Michigan up to Milwaukee to qualify for the U.S. Am the next day. We had a lot of golf in four, five days for sure.”
The win at the Point gave DiMarco a jumping off point for his professional career.
“I think winning this gave me the belief,” he said. “I was always pretty good at golf and I kind of just always got better. I played football and golf up until ninth grade. Once I decided? To go strictly golf I just got continually better year after year. I went to college on a book scholarship. It wasn’t much. Got me into school, which was great, University of Florida. I just kind of worked my way up. All-American my second year; third team my junior year; and then first team my senior year.”