It won’t be business as usual when the 44th annual New Mexico-West Texas Amateur tees of this weekend near El Paso.
Not only is the Sun Country Amateur Golf Association holding its championship tournament a bit farther south than usual, it’s expecting a younger field than normal on a Horizon Golf Club course set up to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions.
Roughly 65 players are expected to compete in what amounts to Sun Country’s season opener. That number was enough to make Dana Lehner, the section’s executive director, smile.
“Typically we don’t get quite as many players in El Paso because people from the northern part of the section don’t make the drive,” Lehner said. “Between that and the COVID shutdown, we were thinking a month ago that 30 players would be good. To get 65, I feel good about it.”
The three-day tournament will tee off Friday without some of its usual contenders, including defending champion Greg Condon of Mesa Vista, Colorado. But there are several current and former collegiate players in the mix, including former University of New Mexico Lobos Ben Tolsma and Brad Cole, and UTEP rising junior Greg Yellin.
New Mexico State’s Aidan Thomas, who won two high school state championships at St. Pius, also is in the field, along with veteran Sun Country standouts Anton Salome and Scott Roser.
This year’s tournament will feature more newcomers than usual as more than 20 Sun Country junior members (under age 18) will try their skills.
“We usually only have around 10 juniors,” Lehner said, “but this year’s group is really good. I’m excited to see what they can do.”
Lehner said section officials have gone the extra mile to make things safe for this week’s event, taking cues from the PGA and other golf associations on steps to battle the spread of coronavirus.
Competitors will play in threesomes rather than the usual foursomes and will be required to bring their own pencils, tees and water bottles. Scorecards will be compared orally at the end of each round instead of being physically exchanged.
“We’ve really been harping on social distancing,” Lehner said. “We’re only allowing one person to a cart. … It’s a pretty extensive list of things but I don’t think it will impact players very much once we get started. People are just excited to get out and compete.”