Met Junior turns 100 at Nissequogue

Golf coach Butch Harmon during the third round

Golf coach Butch Harmon during the third round of the Match Play Championship golf tournament. (Feb. 19, 2010) (Credit: AP)

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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Long before Butch Harmon was famous for being the swing coach for Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and many others, he was just a kid known as Claude Harmon Jr. who won the 1961 Met Junior.

Harmon beat Mike Turnesa Jr. in the final, witnessed at Inwood Country Club by their respective fathers, both champion golfers. "In the first book that he wrote, in the introduction, he says, 'I knew I could play golf when I beat Mike Turnesa,' " said Turnesa, now head pro at Rockville Links and a friend of Harmon who can laugh at having lost 8 and 7 that day.

The point is the Met Junior, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next week and is the oldest junior championship in the country, offers memories for a lifetime. Many lifetimes.

"It was really the tournament I wanted to win the most, and up until I won the NCAA [Division II], it was my fondest golf memory," said Tom Patri, who credits his win over Tom Dee at Whipporwill in 1976 for helping him get recruited to college. It sent him on his way to becoming director of instruction at Friar's Head and to being repeatedly named among the Top 50 instructors in the nation.

The centennial will be held Tuesday through Thursday at Nissequogue Golf Club, an eye-catching course on Smithtown Bay that is old enough (est. 1966) to be worthy of history and young enough (renovated 10 years ago by Stephen Kay) to be relevant to juniors.

It was built on the former estate of William J. Ryan, owner and publisher of The Literary Digest. His home still is the stately white clubhouse. C.K. Martin designed the course to take advantage of beautiful vistas and rolling terrain. Some of the terrain was too rolling, so Kay leveled many of the fairways and redid many bunkers. Head pro John Elwood said the club was concerned that the course was so hard, a guest would play it once and never want to return.

People now want to come back again and again to see and play the signature par-3 17th hole, which is right on the bay, has an elevated tee and requires a carry over wetlands.

Patri was medalist in the qualifier at Nissequogue the year he won the Met Junior. "I remember thinking it was hard, it was not going to take a really low score to qualify, and it was an easy golf course to get it going the wrong way on," he said. "It's a great match-play course."

Next week the winner will have to get through six matches in three days. But the tournament, open to the public, also will be a showcase for Nissequogue.

Turnesa has good feelings about Nissequogue, having once held the course record with the 65 he shot in an interclub match. "I looked at the scorecard when I was there this year and saw somebody had broken it," the Rockville Links pro said.

He has nothing but good memories of the Met Junior, too, despite still having the newspaper headline that said his father once lost by the same big margin to Harmon's dad. The tournament repaid Turnesa in 1994, when he went up to Mt. Kisco and watched his son, Marc, a future PGA Tour player, win the trophy.