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AMATEUR LIFE SUITS SOME TO A TEE

In 1980, Tom McKnight suffered a broken arm playing a pickup basketball game. It turned out to be a lucky break.

The injury was a severe one that took more than a year to fully heal, and it helped seal McKnight's decision to give up his pro golf career and go into business.

Eighteen years later, it's obvious McKnight has a pretty great life. He makes a good living working for his family's gasoline and fuel distributorship in Virginia. He's one of the top 10 amateur golfers in the nation. He travels around the country 12 to 15 weeks a year playing in some of the best amateur tournaments at some of the nation's best courses.

And today he finds himself playing for the U.S. Amateur championship at Oak Hill Country Club.

Every weekend golfer likes to dream about how great it would be to play on the PGA Tour. I think being a very good amateur is a better life.

OK, that statement has to be qualified. The 50 best players on the PGA Tour have it made. They're super-rich and are pretty much assured of their tour lifestyle for a 20-year period.

But for the rest of the touring pros, golf is not an easy living. You have to be on the road a good 35 weeks a year. There's a ton of pressure. You have to finish in the top 125 to stay on tour, and if you don't, you bounce around on the minitours.

The good career amateurs have the best of both worlds.

Take Trip Kuehne, the older brother of today's other finalist, Hank Kuehne.

Trip, 25, was a three-time All-America golfer on one of the best teams in the nation, Oklahoma State. But he was an even better student. In four years at Stillwater, Okla., he received an A in every course he took but one (in which he got a B). When he graduated, he opted for a job as a stock market analyst with an investment firm in his hometown of Dallas.

Because he's such a good golfer, the firm lets him travel to seven or eight top amateur events a year. (He qualified for this week's event but failed to make match play.)

"I wouldn't trade places with the 100th best PGA pro, no way," Trip said. "Amateur golf is so competitive and the courses are so good it's like being on Tour, except it's just for the summer.

"I really don't like to travel," Kuehne said. "I like being around my family. I get to play as much golf as I want. There's no doubt I enjoy golf more now than I would if I was an average pro."

The same holds true for McKnight, who bounced around the minitours for four years after a good college career at Virginia.

He was on the fence about quitting pro golf in '80 when he hurt his arm.

"It was in a basketball league over the winter, and I got under-cut on a layup," McKnight said. "And the guy never said he was sorry."

If McKnight ever runs into that guy again, he might tell him, "thanks."

Great season

As every golfer knows, this has been a great season for weather in Western New York.

April was mild and saw 6 percent more sun than normal, according to National Weather Service figures. May was the third-warmest in Buffalo history. June saw two-thirds of an inch of rain below normal. July saw Buffalo's typical two-thirds of daylight hours with sunshine. Precipitation is 2 inches below normal for August.

"It's been dynamite, but we've had about four straight great seasons in a row for weather," said Mike Clawson, pro at Glen Oak in Amherst. "Our rounds might be up very slightly but not much because last year was a great season, too. . . . What really makes a season for a golf course is if we have good weather in April and October."

For the record, Buffalo is the sunniest, driest city in the Northeast from May through September, according to National Weather Service figures.

Around Oak Hill

As one would expect, the USGA is a stickler about rules enforcement. Jack Hall of Savannah, Ga., found that out this week. Hall was assessed a two-stroke penalty on Monday for being 22 seconds late for his tee time. The extenuating circumstance was his tee time was pushed back after a rain delay and there were numerous players rushing around to get to their positions when play resumed. Hall went on to miss a playoff for the match play competition by two strokes. . . . Hands-down winner of best name of the 312 players entered went to Oklahoma University senior Hunter Jefferson Huck Fin Haas. That's what it says on his birth certificate. . . . Three players in the top 64 had their best-ever competitive rounds at the Porter Cup. Matt Kuchar tied the Niagara Falls CC course record of 62 in '97. Landry Mahan shot 63 this year and Ryuji Imada shot 63 in '95. . . . Oak Hill will be the site of the PGA Championship in 2003. It seems likely the USGA will bring the U.S. Open back to Oak Hill some day. USGA President Buzz Taylor said "it's just a formality" that Oak Hill will request a future Open. Oak Hill officials said 2009 would probably be the soonest Open they might try to lure.

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