My year in golf: Ron Balicki

Augusta State head coach Josh Gregory shares an embrace with Carter Newman after they won the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Newman won his match, 7 and 5.

Augusta State head coach Josh Gregory shares an embrace with Carter Newman after they won the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Golf Championship at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Newman won his match, 7 and 5.

Men's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Joey GarberGeorgia  68.61 
2Robby SheltonAlabama  68.62 
3Patrick RodgersStanford  68.67 
4Ollie SchniederjansGA Tech  68.81 
5Cameron WilsonStanford  69.05 

Men's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Alabama 68.92 
2Georgia 69.62 
3Georgia Tech 69.62 
4Oklahoma State 69.72  10 
5California 69.81  11 

From a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives experience, to a young man getting his bars as a second lieutenant in the Army, and plenty of emotional and exciting golf along the way, 2011 was, as Frank Sinatra once sang, a very good year.

And I’m glad and thankful I was able to be there.

So, while there were plenty of great tournaments and wonderful moments, I’ve narrowed this past year down to my Fab Five, some of which were not about tee shots, putts, birdies or bogeys.

Here we go:

• • •

5. The U.S. Amateur: As always, a great championship, and this time around held on a wonderful public course at Erin Hills near Milwaukee. Kelly Kraft won the title, beating top-ranked Patrick Cantlay in the final, becoming the third player from Southern Methodist under the guidance of coach Jay Loar - who was let go after 13 seasons at the Mustangs' helm earlier this year - to take the prestigious crown (joining Hank Kuehne in 1998 and Colt Knost in 2007).

But what I remember most about that week was dinner one night with Golfweek colleagues Asher Wildman and Ryan Lavner. Asher said we had to go to the Comet Cafe in Milwaukee. The Wild-man heard some good reviews, and when he told me Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host Guy Fieri filmed one of his Food Network shows there, I was definitely in. Triple D is one of my favorite shows, and I knew if Fieri deemed it worthwhile to feature the place, it had to be good.

I wasn’t disappointed. The Comet Cafe, which as it promotes “specializes in made-from-scratch comfort food," is a diner in every sense of the word - a few booths but primarily counter sitting.

I ordered the meatloaf sandwich, a concoction that I’m told takes more than 3 days to prepare. There’s a thick - and I do mean thick - slice of bacon-wrapped meatloaf. This is topped with a generous portion of mashed potatoes, grilled tomato, onion and more bacon. It’s served open-faced style on salted rye bread and smothered in beer gravy. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had and way too much for me to finish. Best yet, was the price - $10.

Then to add to the memory, I got back home the Monday following the championship and that evening Diners, Drive-ins and Dives was showing on the Food Channel. There was Fieri and his first stop in the half-hour show? You guessed it: the Comet Cafe. And the first highlighted meal? The meatloaf sandwich. It was awesome!

• • •

photo

Randal Lewis

4. U.S. Mid-Amateur: A great championship for amateurs 25 years and older, it was made even better this year when Randal Lewis, a 54-year-old financial adviser from Alma, Mich., became the oldest champion in the 31-year history of the event. He defeated Kenny Cook of Noblesville, Ind., in the championship match at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond, Texas.

Lewis, just seven months shy of becoming eligible for the senior amateur circuit, easily topped the previous oldest winner, George Zahringer, who won in 2002 at age 49.

Lewis was 20 years older than the average age (34.8) of the previous 30 U.S. Mid-Am winners.

This was definitely one for the “old guys.”

• • •

photo

San Diego State's Alex Kang

3. NCAA Division I Southwest Regional: This turned out to be a two-for-one special event for me.

First, San Diego State and UC Davis freshman Matt Hansen captured titles. Very defining victories for both - in particular, the Aztecs. Coach Ryan Donovan put an exclamation point on the best season in school history. Not only was it their first regional title, it was the Aztecs’ seventh victory and proved this program had finally reached the high-rent district of college golf.

The second most memorable moment came on the 18th green at the Omni Tucson (Ariz.) National Resort, after the official competition. And, what a neat and heartwarming moment it was.

That’s when Matt Krembel, a senior on the Army team and some 2,100 miles away from the annual U.S. Military Academy’s graduation festivities, gained his second-lieutenant bars at a special ceremony attended by family, friends, onlookers, coach Brian Watts and teammates.

Following his final collegiate round, Krembel changed into his Army dress uniform and returned to the 18th green. His father, Dennis, a retired Air Force colonel, who also was attired in full-dress uniform, gave a short speech and did the official swearing in, while his mother, Connie, and older sister, Meghan, each pinned a lieutenant's bar on Krembel's shoulders. Cadet and golfing teammate Ethan Johnson delivered the first salute.

It just doesn’t get much better than that.

• • •

2. Walker Cup: This is by far my favorite event, and this year did nothing to change that feeling. Yes, I admit, when it comes to the Walker Cup - or any such international competition like this - deep down I root for the American side.

Well, the U.S. did not win its fourth consecutive Walker Cup match, but that didn’t deter the excitement that was produced over the two days of competition in the rain, cold and windy conditions at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.

Great Britain and Ireland scored a thrilling and emotional 14-12 victory, but not before the Americans made quite a challenging comeback in the final day of singles play.

Still, watching these young from both sides of the Atlantic battling the elements and playing for their countries once again showed me that amateur golf is alive and well.

• • •

1. NCAA Division I Championship: How can this not be No. 1? I mean, since Houston in 1984-85, no team had successfully defended its Division I national championship. Traditional powers such as Oklahoma State, Florida, Georgia, Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona all had their chances along the way.

But it was Augusta State, the “little” school that competes in NCAA Division II in every sport except golf, that did what no other school had done in a quarter of a century.

Led by Patrick Reed, Mitch Krywulycz and Carter Newman, the Jaguars defeated in-state rival Georgia, 3-2, in the title match at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

Standing on the 18th green along with Augusta State coach Josh Gregory, his team and a host of Jaguar followers as they scurried around in celebration was, in fact, a 2011 most-memorable moment.

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