Like several players in the limited field of 40 at the Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational, Dan McCarthy has no tangible connection to Western Pennsylvania.
He grew up in Syracuse. N.Y., played golf at LeMoyne College, had some conditional status on the Web.com Tour in 2013 and has played in three events on PGA Tour Canada this season.
But McCarthy also plays on the mini-tours in south Florida, which, in a roundabout way, is how he came to shoot a pair of 66s Monday and jump to a two-shot lead after the first two rounds at the Pittsburgh Field Club.
During several mini-tour events in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area, McCarthy was paired with former PGA Tour player Bob Friend, who is trying to work his way onto the Champions Tour.
Friend, an Oakmont native, told McCarthy about the 72-hole Fuhrer Invitational, which has a $200,000 purse and a $40,000 first prize.
So, McCarthy wrote Fuhrer a letter and “here I am,” McCarthy said.
And he is at the top of the leader board at 8-under 132 heading into today’s third round.
“I had never heard about the tournament until Bob told me,” said McCarthy, 28. “He suggested I write Mr. Fuhrer, so I sent him a cover letter and asked him for an invite.”
It was a good move by McCarthy, who made eight birdies in the afternoon round — three on the last four holes — to offset a slow start in which he bogeyed the first and double-bogeyed the par-4, 491-yard third.
That was good enough for a two-shot lead on Eric Cole, a mini-tour player from Orlando, Fla., who shot 67-67 — 134; and a four-shot lead over defending champ Mike Van Sickle, a Pine-Richland High School grad and mini-tour professional who shot a pair of 68s despite four-putting twice.
“Mr. Fuhrer asked me a couple years ago if I knew any good young players who need a break,” said Friend, director of golf operations at the nationally acclaimed Pikewood National in Morgantown, W.Va.
“Dan’s not only a good player, he’s a good kid who needs a break.”
McCarthy is part of the changing face of the Fuhrer Invitational. The field is comprised of the top 20 players from the Tri-State PGA section points list and 15 players — mostly from the mini-tours — who receive sponsors exemptions from the tournament host.
The other five spots go to top amateur players from Western Pennsylvania, including four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champ Nathan Smith and seven-time West Penn amateur champ Sean Knapp.
Fuhrer has gone outside Western Pennsylvania to find top players to improve the quality of his select field.
“I think it’s fun to see other mini-tour players, other great players, come in,” Van Sickle said. “I like to see what they do here at the Field Club. This place is a special test of golf.”
“It pushes us to grind and play better,” said Jason Martin, head professional at Wheeling (W.Va.) Country Club. “We play with each other all the time. When you get the tour guys come in, guys who play all the time, you want to grind to beat them.”
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.