Ex-Penguins player Sam Lafferty headlines 83rd Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions field

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Golf’s next generation of stars will play next week in the 83rd Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions.

History has been written time and time again of golfers once competing at Sunnehanna Country Club, then going on to further their careers on the biggest stage. Standouts Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods all competed in the prestigious event held at Sunnehanna over the years.

However, a current NHL player may be one of the most recognizable names in this year’s field. Hollidaysburg native Sam Lafferty, a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2019-22 and an impending free agent this summer, has roots at the course and will be competing among 102 golfers starting Wednesday.

“I believe he’s a national member,” Sunnehanna Amateur co-chairman John Yerger said of Lafferty. “He played here a great deal a couple of years back when he was still with the Penguins. Sam played in the Wheeling Scholastic Golf Tournament here when he was at Hollidaysburg. He tried to qualify for the Sunnehanna Amateur. He caddied at the Sunnehanna Amateur as well.”

Lafferty, 29, has also played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks as a center and right wing. He scored a career-high 13 goals this past season and totaled 24 points in 79 games.

Yerger was quick to point out Lafferty’s inclusion in the field is a nod to his golf prowess.

“This is something that Sam wanted to do,” Yerger said of the Penguins’ fourth-round pick in 2014. “Several years ago, he approached me about not just playing in the Sunnehanna Amateur, but just playing better competitive golf. He started playing in the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association events. He also led our club championship for two rounds. He didn’t end up winning, but he can definitely play golf. It’s not some kind of story where we’re throwing some guy out there that we don’t feel can be competitive. We don’t want to embarrass him and we want him to have a great experience like all of the other 102 players in the field.”

Yerger expects a competitive field when the four-round tournament begins Wednesday morning. A host of top American Junior Golf Association players are slated to tee off at Sunnehanna.

“I think we have seven of the top 13 juniors,” Yerger said. “That is easily the largest number of juniors we’ve ever had. We also have a significant number of college freshmen. In total, this is the direction amateur golf is going. You’re going to have to identify players sooner rather than later.”

The Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions, which has seen 46 former contestants win 98 professional majors, will once again serve as the start of the Elite Amateur Golf Series. The Elite Amateur Golf Series features a summer-long competition – the Elite Amateur Cup. Using the seven series event results from the World Amateur Golf Ranking as the Elite Amateur Cup point system, top finishers in the final standings will earn exemptions into the PGA Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour, United State Golf Association championships and other professional playing opportunities.

Yerger said women golfers will see their opportunities expand starting this year because of the Elite Amateur Golf Series broadening.

“We understood in the beginning while we wanted to focus initially on the men’s tournament, there was a bigger need and a greater opportunity to do something for women’s golf,” Yerger said. “Young women have not had the same experiences or opportunities that men have. We’re proud to say that there’s an Elite Amateur Golf Series for women, it starts this year. With five tournaments, they’ve got great venues. The girls are excited about it. The goal here is to benefit our tournament certainly, but especially benefit the players and the game of golf. We feel as if this is the best of both worlds.”

This year’s rain totals have made conditions at Sunnehanna pristine.

“Last year, the rough was down a little bit,” Yerger said. “It will be somewhat higher and thicker this year.”

There will be 105 golfers competing for six spots in Sunday’s qualifying tournament. Those golfers are from 17 different states and Canada. It will also serve as a co-qualifier for the Southern Amateur.

Jake Oswalt is a copy editor for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TheWizOfOz11.