This story was originally posted on hickorygolfers.com.
By Jim Davis
The U.S. Hickory Open last visited the western U.S. in 2017 when it was held at the Del Monte Golf Club in Monterey, Calif. The 2021 version, the 14th playing of the tournament, was held at Gearhart (Ore.) Golf Links. It was the first held in the Pacific Northwest and surely must not be the last as the Gearhart USHO treated players and guests to unparalleled hospitality even as the lovely course itself provided one of the sternest USHO tests yet.
The host Northwest Hickory Players worked tirelessly with the course staff and with owner, Tim Boyle, of Columbia Sportswear, to ready the event from every detail – greens to hospitality to handsome tee gifts.
The weather, far from the gray and rain that many expected, was invariably sunny, clear skis with temperatures in the low to mid-60s. Sunscreen was a hot item. Sweaters and rain jackets were left in the suitcases. The famous elk herd were rarely seen although evidence of their nocturnal rambles were noted in abundance.
Many players use original hickory clubs that date to the 1920s, some even earlier. Breakage? Sometimes. No worries at the 2021 USHO, however, as John Henry Williams, a hickory club expert from the Northwest area was on hand each day, a makeshift workshop at the ready outside the Gearhart Hotel Annex. Loose clubheads, whipping failures, broken shafts – all were cheerfully repaired with anecdotes and stories in the mix for those whose beloved clubs were restored to health by “Doctor” John Henry.
Following play on Day One, trick shot expert and former touring professional Wedgy Winchester, 77, provided some fascinating legerdemain with a variety of implements including a near 6-foot long driver. Wedgy finished second in the Super Senior Division, by the way.
Check the Gearhart Golf Links Facebook page for videos of the 2021 U.S. Hickory Open.
Check the Northwest Hickory Players website page for more photos and coverage of the 2021 U.S. Hickory Open.
Of the 120 contestants, however, there were a dozen or so who posted scores in the 70s. It was the overall champion from the Open Division, however, who somehow managed to steer a steady course, overcome a few stumbles, and finish strong – “tested tough,” as event sponsor Columbia Sportswear might put it.
Andrew von Lossow, 33, of Spokane, Wash., posted a two-day 146 (74-72), two over par which was five clear of new-to-hickory player Joe Johnson of Bend, Ore.; and eight ahead of third place finisher Jeff Olsen of Shoreline, Wash. Indeed, six of the top 10 came from the Pacific Northwest and one, Skip Perry (who finished 9th with 17 over) also from the far west, San Francisco, Calif.
The course, about an hour and half south of Portland, is perhaps a quarter mile from the coast which, in this area, stretches some two miles or so along a wide shoreline bordered by true linksland. While wide rollers washed the shore, golfers from around the country, from Vermont to Florida, Texas and the Midwest, worked their way around Gearhart’s lovely, but demanding track.
Jason Bangild, general manager, and Forrest Goodling, superintendent, and their staff had the course in pristine condition, with greens running about 11, although some would swear that was on the slow end of things. Small and puzzling, the greens were abetted by hazards of doom on holes 5 and 7 and tight fairways with devilish mounds and out-of-bounds trees along the long holes 13 and 14 on the back.
Did we mention hidden breaks on the greens? These broke not a few golfing spirits over the two days as golfer after golfer struggled to match speed with break. Von Lossow solved the riddle by simple smacking his approaches as close to center as possible, eliminating most of the breaks. “I’ve never played a course where I had so many misreads, so many hidden breaks,” he said.
As a member of the Northwest Hickory Players (his father Jim von Lossow is a co-founder) von Lossow felt a bit of pressure to do his best.
“This is a big victory for me,” he said, “because it’s a local event in a way, it’s in the same region as our playing group. I helped with some of the organizing along with my dad and the rest of the Northwest guys. It is a big deal to get the tournament (USHO) in the Northwest region and to be able to say I won the event in our native Northwest is very cool. Gearhart is our home of hickory golf in the Northwest.”
He had to overcome a shaky start to the second round to do so. Johnson was in his group, as well as Jeff Olsen, another top Northwest hickory player, and Colin Criss of Moscow, Idaho, who had posted 76 for his first round. It was not going to be easy.
The second round for Von Lossow and Johnson
A combination of birdies by Johnson and a couple of bogies by von Lossow had the latter four down after seven holes. “That fifth hole had given me trouble both days,” von Lossow said. “And I started the round thinking I needed to keep an eye on Joe (Johnson), but my dad told me before the round to ‘let it rip and play my own game, to swing with a purpose’. That’s what I started to do.”
The advice paid off. He birdied both 8 and 9 – “that sort of kick-started my round,” he said. He began to lean upon his favorite club, a Whippet driving club, in shorter punch-type shots; and upon a mashie niblick which he employed with a tight draw to get it through the wind a little better. “In fact,” he said,” I’d say that trajectory control was a big factor for me, especially on 11.”
Johnson parred and von Lossow bogied the par 4 10th. He got that back by landing a jigger to 20 feet on the par 3 11th and draining the putt. (Side note: von Lossow used that same jigger to card a rare albatross at the 2019 Spokane Hickory Open on the par 5 second hole. Click here to see that story.)
Both men parred 12, von Lossow by a sand save. On 13, a 544-yard par 5, Johson bogied and von Lossow carded a par. Johnson also stumbled to bogey on 14 with a par for von Lossow. Both men birdied 15. Johnson bogied 16 and von Lossow parred again.
The 347-yard par 17 is not an easy hole to find as there is a strong side slope bordering the entire lefthand side with a tree blocking approaches from too far right. “I was going to hit an iron, but stuck to my game plan and hit the Whippet driver,” von Lossow said. “It was one of the best drives of the day and I stuck a niblick to a foot. That was pretty sweet.”
With a two-putt par on 18 von Lossow had come from four over to even par. “It was one of the best hickory rounds I have ever played,” he said. Johnson, a player who is just learning the hickory game and who will be a man to watch at all future USHOs in which he competes, must surely agree.
As the crowd around the 18th green watched the final group putt out, none had the greater smile than Jim von Lossow who watched his son sink the final putt on a masterful round of golf.
It must be said, too, that as an amateur golfer, Andrew von Lossow also earned the Johnny Fischer Jr. Low Amateur trophy, donated by John Fischer III in honor of his father who was the last person to win a USGA competition (the 1936 USGA Amateur) with hickory clubs.
“Knowing what Johnny Fischer accomplished, this is really cool,” von Lossow said. “That is great historical context and it is cool to carry on that history. We know where the game came from and we can look back and see what was done and go about it in our own way today. I like that fact that all these hickory clubs have such stories behind them and to know that many of those early pros were working to keep afloat just like many of us today.”
In addition to his trophies, von Lossow will also receive a custom golf bag crafted by Will Jacoby of Steurer & Jacoby.
Von Lossow, who also excels with modern clubs, learned the game early from his professional golfer father. He played golf for Nathan Hills HS in Seattle and at the Southwest Oregon Community College in Coos Bay, which has its home course as Bandon Dunes. He won the Northwest Association of Community Colleges title in 2009. Von Lossow earned a degree in graphic design and communication from Eastern Washington University and spent some time caddying in the summers for the Discovery Land Co. at its Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont.
Von Lossow, who is single, now owns and operates Glen Cove Trading Co., a design and apparel manufacturer in Spokane.
In case you wondered, von Lossow uses a Whippet driving club and Whippet model putter (both by the Great Lakes Golf Co.) and Tad Moore OA irons, driving iron through niblick.