Sutton putts best foot forward at Md. Open Howard High grad making the cuts


At Howard High School Al Sutton's athletic world was two-pronged. He starred in golf and basketball.

These days, however, the University of Maryland junior is focusing his athletic talents on golf -- a focus that has resulted in a significant improvement in his game.

Sutton, playing as an amateur, made both cuts in the 73rd annual Maryland Open championship that ended Wednesday at Crofton Country Club. He finished with a respectable 79-74-78 -- 231.

The score wasn't nearly as low as he would have liked, but wasn't bad for a 20-year-old playing against pros.

"This has been my best summer of golf so far," said Sutton. "I'm playing consistent, solid golf. I went into the Maryland Open thinking I could win, but my main objective was to make the cuts."

By making both cuts he is exempt from having to qualify for next year's Maryland Open. This was the second straight year Sutton has made both cuts. And only 49 golfers made this year's cuts.

Earlier this summer, Sutton missed by three strokes at qualifying for the Anheuser Busch Classic, a Middle Atlantic Professional Golfers Association event played in Williamsburg, Va.

His hot summer also includes a second-place finish at the Maryland Stroke Play Amateur July 4th weekend. He shot 73-71-75 -- 219 and lost by one stroke.

Sutton hadn't finished among the top 10 in two previous Maryland Stroke Play Amateurs.

The former Howard High golfer, who finished third in the state his senior year in high school, plays for Maryland on a golf scholarship.

He started slowly for the Terps this season, but came on strong in the final three tournaments.

His best effort was a top-10 finish in the final tournament, the Palmetto Classic in South Carolina. That tourney included five schools ranked in the top 20 in the country.

Sutton grew up playing golf at Hobbit's Glen, where he works at the pro shop.

"I've been playing since I was 10 years old," he said. "People here [in Columbia] have been very supportive, but it is a little harder for young people to get started now because there's only one course in Columbia since they closed Allview a few years ago."

Sutton is disappointed that the county school board decided to eliminate golf as a high school sport starting this fall.

"It's pretty poor on the school board's part. Playing for the high school team definitely helped me get my scholarship. It was a major part," he said. "If you are looking for a scholarship now it's going to be tough with no high school experience to talk about and no high school coach to give you a reference."

Sutton, 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, who averaged 22 points per game in basketball his senior year at Howard, attributes his improvement this summer to better putting.

"Improved putting has enabled me to score more birdies," he said.

Sutton has the dream of most young golfers, to become a professional.

"I'd love to turn professional if I can continue to progress," he said. "I think that's a realistic goal for me. Right now, I just want to continue to play and enjoy it."

Tournaments on the horizon for Sutton include the Baltimore City Amateur and the U.S. Amateur Qualifier.

Sutton wasn't the only product of the county high school system to perform well at the Maryland Open this week. Phil Fairbanks (Oakland Mills), a Radford College graduate, shot a 76-75-77 -- 228, three strokes ahead of Sutton.

Fairbanks, 23, also is working at Hobbit's Glen this summer, while waiting to see if he lands a county public school teaching job. He often has golfed with Sutton.

"We're pretty even, but he's a couple of years younger than me so he's really a step ahead of me," Fairbanks said. "He's a very good player with the potential to get even better, but moving up to the next level is tough. To be a pro you've got to turn those 75s and 76s into 70s consistently."

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