Originally created 08/21/05

Local stars eye top amateur prize



Each coming off a prestigious tournament victory recently, USC Aiken's Dane Burkhart and Augusta State's Emmett Turner have shown the ability to go low.

Now they're champing at the bit to prove themselves on amateur golf's grandest stage.

Burkhart and Turner are two of 312 golfers vying for the U.S. Amateur championship, which begins Monday.

"I'm starting to play good golf at the right time," said Turner, a U.S. Amateur alternate the past three years. "All the near misses, the experience helps a little bit. You build off your past frustrations."

Burkhart, a first-time participant, said: "I seem to be definitely peaking more so right before the U.S. Amateur. My short game is good. I'm hitting it good. I'm just excited about getting up there and playing."

The U.S. Amateur begins with two rounds of medal play at Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, Pa. The low 64 golfers qualify for the match play portion, which runs Wednesday through Sunday at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

The champion and runner-up will receive an exemption into the 2006 Masters Tournament. No current or former Augusta State or USC Aiken golfer ever has played in the Masters.

"It's your childhood dream, growing up an hour from Augusta, playing college golf in Augusta," Turner said. "It keeps you grinding a little more."

Burkhart said: "It's a thought right now. It's a reality I know I can accomplish. I just have to go out there and play hard for seven days. It'll take a little luck to make it all the way to Sunday. It's a goal I feel like I can achieve."

Burkhart has spent 2005 accomplishing all sorts of goals. In May, he birdied the 71st hole to win the NCAA Division II title. Last month, he advanced to the quarterfinals of the prestigious North and South Amateur Championship.

The USC Aiken senior saved his best round of golf for last week's Palmetto Amateur championship. Burkhart drained a 4-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a final-round 59 to win the event with a tournament-record 20-undertotal.

Turner, who played the past four years at Augusta State, matched his low competitive round with a final-round 64 to win the South Carolina State Amateur this month.

Burkhart and Turner each will miss school this week. USC Aiken began classes last week. Augusta State starts Monday.

"I think my teachers won't mind about this," Burkhart said. "I think they'll understand about missing class. There's no way you can turn down an opportunity like this."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

Tee it up

What: U.S. Amateur Championship

When: Monday through Sunday

Where: Philadelphia Country Club and Merion Golf Club

Who: USC Aiken's Dane Burkhart and Augusta State's Emmett Turner are in the 312-player field.

2004 Champion: Ryan Moore

On the line: The winner and runner-up receive an invitation to the 2006 Masters Tournament.