By GREG GULAS
When Aliquippa’s Robert Sampson arrived at the Lake Club to compete in Monday’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley’s Coors Light Scramble Challenge, the Pennsylvanian had to blink several times to make sure that he was in the right place.
After receiving their trophies as this championship squad, teammates John Marek, Brandon Simmons and African Grant agreed with Sampson that The Lake Club venue is one of the Mahoning Valley’s hidden gems.
Sampson, Simmons, Grant and Marek won The Vindicator’s sixth annual event with a 16-under 54. They qualified by winning the Down Syndrome of the Valley scramble,
Their score was one stroke better than the 55 posted by the team of Dave Kilgore, Matt May, Eric Hanisko and Joey Cilone, who qualified by winning the Youngstown Air Reserve Scramble.
The team of Joey Shushok, Cade Kreps, Brandon Pluchinsky and Nolan Snyder finished in third place, also with 55. The winners of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes scramble fell to third because of a scorecard playoff.
Taking fourth with a 13-under 57 were Scott Hoff, Bob Huff, Rod Hineman and Larry Wyant, qualifiers from the Friends of Mandy scramble.
“First off, this is a beautiful golf course and one of the area’s hidden gems,” Sampson, said. “I had no idea that this was here and wouldn’t be playing today if it weren’t for Brandon Simmons recruiting me for his foursome.
“We started off on No. 10 and the course treated us well all day,” Sampson said. “I felt like the difference for us came on the No. 4 hole. John made a 30-footer for eagle and that really helped us as a team.”
Marek, a native of Baden, Pa., felt as though the greens were true to form the entire round.
“The greens rolled very nice today,” Marek said. “They were very true and once you saw the break, the ball just rolled smooth and true. We’ll definitely be back next year to defend our crown.”
Grant is a former University of Illinois football player who played the 1990 season with the Miami Dolphins. Simmons, a Salem native, won closest to the pin on No. 17.
“We had a 35-minute rain delay today and that might have been the best thing to happen to us,” Simmons said. “We started on No. 10 and were just two under through five holes, but after the rain delay we caught fire.
“Everyone on the team did their part, the establishment was immaculate and it was an all-around good day for everyone on the team,” Simmons said.
The 26 foursomes included eight past champions in the field.
“We’ve been the sponsor all six years and absolutely enjoy it because it gets all of the other courses involved as well,” said Joe McHenry, executive vice president with Superior Beverage Company. “It creates interest for them, they support our products and it’s a great way to give back to the community.”
“The scramble has become a signature event for us as much as the initial adults’ event,” said Todd Franko, editor of The Vindicator. “Today, we had teams from five counties with some of the very best talent across all age groups.
“It was a great kickoff to what we feel will be a great week of competition.”
The Greatest week runs through Sunday with five championship events.
Next up is the Greatest Ladies Two-Person Championship on Wednesday at the Trumbull Country Club.
The shotgun start begins at 9 a.m.