Scott McNeil was a good high school basketball player, good enough to score about 1,300 points in his career at Athens Area High in northern Pennsylvania and to be recruited to play for NCAA Division III Utica College.
Golf, however, always was his first love going back to when he was three years old hitting tennis balls with a plastic club, and later when his father would take him to the driving range or play a few holes with him after work. One day, when the basketball coach wanted his players to run laps, McNeil was convinced golf was the better option for him.
“We were running around a track and I was like, ‘How about I just play golf instead?’” McNeil said Friday, the day after he won the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Middle-Amateur Championship for the second time. “The coach didn’t make me run laps. We played golf and I thought, ‘This I’ll do. I’ll play golf all day long, no problem.’ Running laps just wasn’t for me.”
McNeil, 35, who completed his college education at Temple, has become good at golf, too. He has won nine Philadelphia Publinks Golf Association championships in addition to his 2015 and 2021 GAP Mid-Am titles. Though not a member of a private club, he is allowed to qualify for and participate in GAP events because the PPGA is an affiliate club.
The Philadelphia resident calls the GAP, whose membership is roughly 80% from private clubs, and PPGA “two very different worlds with very different types of people, and both of them are great.” He said Publinks players are mostly “working-class people that like to have a little bit more fun and don’t take it quite as seriously.”
“It’s pretty amazing, I exist in both worlds and I love both worlds,” he said. “Sometimes I even enjoy the Publinks a little more just because it can get goofy out there. Anybody can play in Publinks tournaments, and you might get the high handicapper that’s out there on a public course getting nutty. That’s fun and enjoyable.”
McNeil, who works as a project manager in the Delaware County facilities department, has to pick and choose when he can practice and play because of his job responsibilities. Some events don’t fit into his work schedule and the entry fees for multiple events aren’t always affordable.
“Sometimes I have to go and hit balls at 7 o’clock and then I head in to be at work by 8,” he said. “Sometimes I go at lunch. It all depends on what you have going project-wise. I work weekends so that I can get in here the next week and play. I work a packed schedule to be able to do these things.”
To prepare for the GAP Mid-Am, he hit balls three or four days a week at the M-Golf Range in Newtown Square, a short drive from his Media office. He competed in the PPGA Better-Ball Championship on May 20 at Turtle Creek Golf Course in Limerick “to get me in a little bit of a tournament mode,” he said.
After a poor outing at the BMW Philadelphia Amateur qualifying event May 22, he played a “very serious” round with friends Sunday and spent more than an hour chipping and putting the day before Wednesday’s first round of the 36-hole Mid-Am at Lookaway Golf Club in Bucks County.
He opened with a 70, two strokes off the lead, and came back with a 69 Thursday. He capped his tournament by sinking a 9-foot birdie putt at the 18th, punching the air in celebration, and waited as two players who could have tied him with birdies carded pars.
“Venues change, years change, families change, all sorts of situations go into whether a Mid-Am player can show up the next year and even compete,” he said. “I know I haven’t played the greatest the last couple of years but man, just to be able to get back into a final pairing and win means a lot. It’s special.”
McNeil, his wife, and their 3-year-old son are closing on a home next month and moving to Springfield. He is thrilled to have competed in, and won, one of GAP’s major championships before cutting back on the game for a while.
“Golf is all about getting your juices flowing,” he said. “There aren’t many sports that as you get older, you can still stay highly competitive, get your adrenaline up and have the camaraderie that you have in amateur golf. For me, with my schedule, this Mid-Am was about as big as it’s going to get for me.”