June 2, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -
Virginia golfer Kevin O'Connell (Potomac, Md.) has done it again - survived a difficult qualifying test, gained entrance into an elite tournament, and earned the chance to compete against some of the world's best professional golfers.
O'Connell, who will enter his senior season next fall, fired a 1 over par 73 on Monday at Birdwood Golf Course to earn one of only four spots in next week's Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship, a $ 100,000 professional event on the Canadian Tour. The Chitengwa Memorial, named for the late Virginia All-American, Lewis Chitengwa, will be played at the Stoney Creek Golf Course at Wintergreen on June 10-13.
Last week O'Connell shot 68 at a local U.S. Open qualifier and advanced to the U.S. Open Sectionals to be played on June 7 in Rockville, Md..
O'Connell was the only amateur golfer to qualify for the Chitengwa Championship. With one year of NCAA eligibility remaining, O'Connell will not be allowed to accept any prize money from the Canadian Tour, or from the U.S. Open, should he advance through the Sectional and reach the Championship at Shinnecock Hills later this month.
"I'm pretty excited about the whole thing, really," said O'Connell. "It's great to qualify for a pro tournament as an amateur, as a college player. Goose (teammate Jeremy Luce) made it into the Chitengwa last year, and I don't mind following in his footsteps. Now that he's turned pro, Coach Moraghan gave him an exemption into the tournament, so I'm sure we'll play our practice rounds together."
UVa Men's golf coach Mike Moraghan acts as tournament chairman for the Chitengwa Memorial and gives out a number of exemptions to his former players who are now competing professionally. Former Cavs Fred Widicus, Jimmy Fippen, and Justin Goodhue will also be in the field at Stoney Creek.
"I wish I could exempt our current players, as well," said Moraghan, "but that wouldn't work with NCAA rules. Plus, at this stage in their career, it?s really better that they get the experience and earn their way in like Kevin did."
O'Connell is quick to credit Moraghan for much of his recent success.
"Coach has really helped me to mature as a player. We talk about a lot of things actually," O'Connell said. "There are so many facets to the game, and you have to get really good at every facet. We've worked a good bit recently on my bunker play, but more than anything Coach is very good at developing a plan or strategy for playing courses in competition."
From Moraghan's point of view, O'Connell is just beginning to tap into his potential.
"Kevin has a nice, compact, athletic swing. His short game is as good as any I've ever seen among college players, and he has a real calmness about him," Moraghan shared. "He shows very little emotion, and he never gets flustered, but I've also seen his passion for the game, and his hunger to excel really grow over the past year. I think that's what will carry him and turn him from a good player into a great player."
With the Canadian Tour's Chitengwa Memorial and the U.S. Open Sectional on the horizon, O'Connell may well get a glimpse into his own future, beyond the Cavalier golf team and graduation in 2005.