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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

LI pro Hebron wants ‘public’ put back in links

For many people in golf, there is a special dignity in any event that includes “public” in its title. That goes for the Metropolitan Golf Association Public Links Championship, won on Thursday by Long Islander Michael Miranda. And if one leading figure has his way, it will someday again feature a U.S. Public Links tournament.

Michael Hebron, director of golf at Smithtown Landing, a public course, is starting an effort to get his fellow members of the PGA of America to revive the national championship for public golfers, an event that the U.S. Golf Association phased out after 2014.

“I’ve talked to a few people in golf about this. It immediately came to my mind that this was an opportunity for my association to step in,” said Hebron, a member of the PGA’s Hall of Fame. His idea is still in the formation stage and is well short of a formal proposal to the national board. But Hebron is convinced of the potential value to a sport that is looking to broaden its appeal.

“Public golf is so important,” he said, adding that he saw first-hand the importance of the U.S. Public Links. “I used to teach Ralph Howe of Sayville, and he won the Public Links.”

Howe won in 1988, becoming the first lefthanded champion and the first Publinx winner to be invited to play in the following year’s Masters — a tradition that carried on through 2014. The USGA replaced the Public Links on its schedule with a four-ball championship that officials thought would have more excitement value.

There was no shortage of excitement, though, for Howe, his family and friends when he played at Augusta. He now is pastor of a church in Florida and still maintains the love for golf that was stoked by his national championship. Last week he was co-medalist at a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Senior Open, so he will be in the field at Scioto Country Club in Ohio next month, aiming at another national title.

“I had tremendous experiences in the Public Links. I played in it four times,” Howe said. “It didn’t feel any different than the U.S. Amateur. There were great players on great golf courses.”

He has great respect for the USGA, saying “I’m sure they must have thought it through.” But he added, “The bottom line for me is that all the talk in golf is about growing the game. Well, a good way to grow the game is through public golf courses. The idea of a Public Links Championship seems like an ideal one to me.”

For now, Long Island’s public golfers can shoot for the Met Publinx. Miranda, a former Suffolk High School champion for Middle Country who plays out of Pine Ridge Golf Club in Coram, scored a two-shot victory over three golfers, including fellow Long Islanders Kyle Brey (Bethpage State Park) and Jonathan Jeter (Nassau Players Club).

Middle Bay sparkles

Considering that the former Middle Bay Country Club nearly was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy and a resulting flood of debt, the sight of golfers playing the course in a local pro tournament Tuesday was touching and rewarding for head pro Ronnie Wright.

“We had spectacular reviews from the Met PGA board as well as every player,” said Wright, who was involved in saving the course, which is now called The Golf Club at Middle Bay and has switched from private to public.

Josh Fritz of Fresh Meadow won the event, which was part of the Met PGA Assistants Tour, with a 2-under-par 70. Wright said it was gratifying “just to see that caliber of guys out here.

“As a golf professional,” he said, “it makes me feel like we’re doing everything we can to grow the game, for `pros and Joes’ alike.”

Chip shots

Who says golf and nature are not a good twosome? The website reports that Tennessee state parks courses have replaced gas mowers and other equipment with electric models in part because the quieter machines are less disturbing to wildlife . . . And who says golfers aren’t intrepid? A Las Vegas TV station reported last week that not only were two men playing the fifth hole at Las Vegas National Golf Club during a storm, but they also went into a stream to rescue a woman who had been caught up in a powerful current.


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