By MICHAEL BURWELL
When it comes to golf, age really is just a number.
Just ask Findlay’s John Zitkovic and Spencer Shoemaker.
Zitkovic, 59, a 1975 Findlay High School graduate, and Shoemaker, 20, who graduated from Findlay High in 2015, will be two of several area competitors who will tee it up at the Ohio Amateur Championship at Findlay Country Club beginning Wednesday.
“I know my place in this field and to go out there and play with guys that are hitting it 30, 40, 50 yards by me and still being somewhat competitive with them, I’m proud of that,” said Zitkovic, who will be competing in his third straight Ohio Amateur and 10th overall. “I don’t get to play a lot, but I do practice a lot and I think it’s really neat that these younger players, whether they’re local or not, these young high school/college players are as good as they are these days.”
“Golf’s one of those games where you can play up until however old you want, and to be honest, I think it all comes down to the chipping and putting and within 100 yards,” said Shoemaker, who is making his third appearance in the event. “There’s still some guys out there around their 60s who can just get the job done around the green and that’s what they can do.
“I think that no matter how old you are, if you have that mental mindset and you can chip and putt, you can definitely play the game.”
More than 140 golfers, who advanced to this year’s Ohio Amateur through six qualifiers held across the state the past two months, will begin play Wednesday morning. A 36-hole cut after Thursday’s round will reduce the field to the top 60. A second cut will trim the field to 40 for Saturday’s final round.
Zitkovic has had a long golf history that includes finishing third in the medalist standings and leading Findlay to a third-place team finish in the 1974 OHSAA state golf tournament. He was the first Findlay Area Golf Association player of the year as well in 1975.
He went on to play golf collegiately at Eastern Kentucky University and won two events. His amateur career includes qualifying for the since-discontinued USGA Amateur Public Links Championships seven times (reached quarterfinals in 1996). He also won two Ohio Public Links Senior championship titles (2010, 2015) and was a three-time Toledo Metro Golf Association player of the year.
Zitkovic, who said this will likely be his last Ohio Amateur, said his goal this week is to make the 36-hole cut.
“Just trying to make it to the third day anymore is really my goal. I’ve been fortunate enough to do it a number of times when I was younger and two years ago (at Coldstream Country Club in Cincinnati),” Zitkovic said. “It’s really cool, this will probably, might be the last one that I play in and I don’t even know if I would have played this year if it wouldn’t have been here.”
For Shoemaker, whose father, Vinnie, and Zitkovic graduated together, golfing in the biggest amateur event in the state at a familiar course is something he hopes to use to his advantage.
His confidence is at a high level as well.
Shoemaker, who is coming off a successful freshman season on the University of Toledo’s golf team, won the Midwest Collegiate Amateur Series tournament at Findlay Country Club on June 23. He shot an even-par 72 in the first round and fired a 5-under 67 in the second round to win by five shots.
“Confidence level right now is pretty high. Coming off the win at the Midwest Collegiate Series with a 67 was big for me,” Shoemaker said. “I know that if I just keep my putter rolling and the putter gets hot, I can really do some damage.”
Shoemaker qualified for the Ohio Amateur in 2012 and made the 36-hole cut last year.
In high school, Shoemaker was a four-time Division I state tournament qualifier for the Trojans and finished tied for third his senior season when he advanced as an individual.
Perhaps most importantly, he knows how crucial putting will be on Findlay Country Club’s lightning-fast greens.
“I think putting will be a big strength. My putter’s rolling really well and with these greens and how tough they are, being able to know the breaks is going to be a huge advantage. I think that as long as I can keep the driver in the fairway and hit some greens, it’ll be good,” Shoemaker said.
Here’s a look at other Ohio Amateur storylines:
Other area competitors
Zitkovic and Shoemaker aren’t the only golfers with area ties. Wharton’s Kory Kotterman, a Riverdale and University of Findlay graduate who played golf for both schools, tied for first place at the Ohio Amateur qualifier at Fremont Country Club in early June to qualify for the Ohio Amateur.
Kotterman qualified for the Ohio Amateur from 2008-11, including making the 36-hole cut in 2009, and also qualified in 2006. As a senior at Riverdale in 2004, he finished tied for 19th in the OHSAA Division III state tournament.
Matt Beckett, an all-Ohio golfer for Van Buren who led the Black Knights to the Division III state title in 1990, qualified after finishing tied for 28th with a 6-over 77 at the Ohio Amateur qualifier at Worthington Hills Country Club. The current Worthington resident notched his first Ohio Amateur berth since 2012 when he finished 22nd at Brookside Golf and Country Club in Worthington. Beckett also qualified several times in the mid 2000s.
Findlay’s Jonathan Brimley received an exemption to the event as the reigning Findlay Country Club club champion, and University of Findlay golfer Ryan Wilburn, a junior from Bellevue, also qualified after a tie for 15th showing at the Fremont Country Club qualifier.
University of Findlay assistant coach Jacob Miller is also competing.
Seven of the top 11 finishers from last year’s Ohio Amateur are in the field this year, including defending champion Joo-Young Lee of Hilliard. He fired a final-round 4-under 68 at Zanesville Country Club and beat Dublin’s Jared Howard with a birdie on the first playoff hole to win last year. Overall, 20 of the top 43 finishers from a year ago are back.
Robert Gerwin II, the 2001 Ohio Amateur champion, and Kevin Kornowa, the 2002 champion, are also in the field.
Send an E-mail to Mike Burwell