Wilson Prevails in Playoff for Mid-Am Crown
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Fox Chapel Golf Club is not easy, even for some of the state's best players. And with great weather that caused the course to play even firmer and faster as the event went on, the 24th Pennsylvania Middle-Amateur Championship was going to be even more difficult. Throw in the fact that he'd never seen the course before Monday's opening round, and Orefield, Pa. resident Jason Wilson knew he was facing an uphill battle. But Wilson bounced back from an opening round of 74 to fire a second round 67, finishing at 1-over par and forcing his way into a four-way playoff. There, he made birdie on the first playoff hole to win the event, which was presented by LECOM.
"I've worked really hard for this," Wilson said. "It's hard to put into words what this means for me."
The playoff featured Wilson, a PAGA Individual Member, along with Brian DePaul (Hickory Heights Golf Club), Adam Hofmann (Oakmont Country Club) and Nathan Smith (Pinecrest Country Club). But it almost didn't happen, as Smith, one of three co-leaders at the beginning of the day after an opening round of 69, was at even par for the championship and clinging to a one-shot lead as he went to the 574-yard, par-5 18th hole. Smith's third shot landed at the front of the green, and he then chipped it past the hole about 12 feet. The four-time USGA Middle-Amateur champ couldn't convert the par opportunity, and thus the four players headed par-4 first hole.
Wilson and DePaul found the fairway on the 418-yard par-4, while Smith was in the left rough and Hofmann was in the right rough. Wilson's approach ended up about eight feet from the hole. Smith then hit his shot over the green. DePaul was able to reach the green 25 feet from the hole, and then Hofmann's approach ended up 15 feet away. Smith chipped up short of the hole. DePaul's birdie attempt ended up just short and left. Hoffman barely missed his birdie try. And then there was Wilson. With his first state championship within reach, he calmly drained the birdie from below the hole.
"There were obviously some very accomplished players out here today," Wilson said. "It's quite an honor to hoist this trophy."
Wilson began the day five shots off the lead, and after an opening bogey on the same hole that would later give him his victory, he was even further behind. In fact, prior to the playoff, Wilson's only two times playing the first hole at Fox Chapel had resulted in Monday's double bogey and the Tuesday bogey. But he bounced back with birdies on No. 2 and No. 3. Wilson ended the front nine at 1-under par for the round, but knew he still had work to do. Another set of back to back birdies on holes 10 and 11 pushed him to 1-over par for the championship, just behind Smith. But more adversity came in the form of bogeys on No. 12 and No. 14. With just four holes remaining in the round, Wilson knew he had to make a move.
"I was thinking that if I made up a couple more shots, it could be a playoff," Wilson said. "But knowing the kind of players I had in front of me like Nathan and Adam, I also kind of figured they would hold on there."
Wilson immediately got one of the strokes back with a birdie on No. 15. Then, on the 231-yard par-3 17th, he drained yet another birdie, his seventh of the round, to move back to 1-over. A par on the 18th meant that it was time to sit back and prepare for the possibility of the playoff.
For Smith, it was an up and down round that ultimately came up just short. A birdie to start the round on No. 1 put him into the lead, and he would stay there for long periods of the day, despite a trio of bogeys on his opening nine holes. Birdies on No. 11, No. 12 and No. 15 sandwiched around a bogey on No. 14 put him at 1-under par for the championship. But another bogey on No. 16 pushed him back to even par. After a par on No. 17, Smith then went to the 18th, where his bogey put him at 72 for the round and 141 for the 36 holes of the championship.
DePaul's route to the playoff saw him shoot 70 (even par) on Monday, and on Tuesday, he fired four birdies against five bogeys to finish at 1-over par and earn his place for the playoff. Hofmann, who was tied with DePaul after an opening round of 70, got off to a hot start with an eagle on the par-5 second hole on Tuesday. But double bogeys on No. 4 and No.6 moved him down the leaderboard. He rallied with birdies on three of his last six holes, including the 18th, to battle his way into the sudden death playoff.
Wilson wasn't able to get a practice round in, as he had to qualify for the Lehigh Valley Amateur's match play event, which starts on Thursday. Despite not having a look at the course beforehand, the two days of competition gave him plenty of time to praise the Seth Raynor design.
"This golf course was phenomenal," Wilson said. "It is a great layout and the conditions were absolutely perfect. I really enjoyed playing it and couldn't have asked for a better place to win."
The Pennsylvania Golf Association would like to thank the staff and membership of Fox Chapel Golf Club for their support and hospitality during the event.