DALLAS — Almost immediately, Rob Michaels noticed something different about the annual Potentate Golf Tournament, and it wasn’t just the threatening clouds up above that finally burst and forced a rain delay.
The real storm was going on at ground level, where some of the biggest names in Pennsylvania amateur golf were struggling just to make the championship flight.
The snarling Irem Temple Country Club course bared its teeth and bit down hard Friday, leaving Michaels and his partner Mike Lazevnick playing it safe — if not running scared — through the final few holes of qualifying for the Potentate’s 16-team championship flight.
“That was work,” said Michaels, who teamed with Lazevnick to win the Potentate three years ago and was a tourney semifinalist last year. “You’re not getting any roll. It’s all carry. You’ve got to take it, it’s not going to give you anything.
“Tough golf course.”
And that was before the clouds that hovered over the course for most of the day finally opened up with a half-hour downpour that began around 4:45 p.m. and puddled a few holes, forcing nearly an hour delay.
“It wasn’t too bad,” said Michaels, a former Lake-Lehman quarterback who was on the 17th hole when the storm hit. “There were big puddles on 17, 13, I said, ‘This is unplayable.’ But the grounds crew did a great job. Mentally, you’ve just got to stay in the game.”
Michaels and Lazevnick wound up right in it, shooting a 2-under 70 to wind up in the No. 7 qualifying spot and finished as one of just 12 teams to shoot under par while joining renowned area players Tom Biscotti and John Mikiewicz in the championship flight’s top 10.
At 2-under before the rains came, Michaels got a quick look at the leaderboard during the delay and decided taking risks wasn’t going to be in the gameplan for Lazevnick and him.
“I knew we were going to get back out,” Michaels said. “I said, ‘At 2-under, we’re right where we need to be, let’s just play steady.’ “
Frank Pinnacoli and Gary Sagan took medalist qualifying honors with a 67 and were matched by former Coughlin star Shamus Gartley and his teammate Corey Palma.
Their scores were followed closely by ex-Pittston Area standout Tyler McGarry and Holy Redeemer’s former golf team leader Mariano Medico, who finished with a 68.
Jonathan Wilson and Ryan Georgetti qualified fourth a 69 and Gary Neupauer and Gary Orlando rounded out the top five with a 69.
Other notable area standouts who qualified included the teams of Wyoming Area grad and PIAA regional qualifier Zack Mulhern and Medico’s teammate Chase Makowski from Redeemer’s 2012 state championship squad, who went 1-under 71 and the duo of Mark Jones/Rich Serafin, who all finished at even-par 72.
“This is the best field I’ve seen yet,” Michaels said. “There are some great players in this tournament.”
But the day became just as memorable for who didn’t make it to Saturday’s first round as who did.
Missing will be familiar teams including Gary Krawetz and Marty Behm, along with and Jim Breck and John Mulhern — who matched four other teams with a 72 but were barely nosed out of the top 16 on a match of cards; Bob Shoemaker and Eric Ricci; Ryan Holthaus and Tom Motovidlak; and Walt Kuharchik and Ron Pieczynski.
But the biggest shock came when the tandem of Scott Francis and Lou Belgio, who made four consecutive Potentate semifinals, failed to make the cut. They finished 31st, with a 3-over 75.
All of which made Michaels and Lazevnick breathe a big sigh of relief at finishing among the 16 teams who will open first-round play of the championship flight at 7 a.m. Saturday.
“I’m not thrilled with 2-under today,” Michaels said, “but 5-under’s medalist. You’ve got to get in the top 16.
“That was the goal today.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski