By now, I’m sure many of you have seen the final results from this weekend’s Erie County Amateur, but the numbers really don’t come close to the experience of watching the final groups up close. I had the privilege of covering the contenders last Sunday and thoroughly enjoyed the swings in momentum, the brushes with history and, quite simply, the high caliber of golf meeting up with a course that surprised many with its resistance.
Unless you were following @BuffaloGolfer.Com’s Twitter feed Sunday, you probably weren’t aware of the hole-by-hole lead changes, and the stretch from 4-10 on Sunday was one of the most exciting I’ve watched live. After a few days reflection, I’ve only become more impressed with Matt Stasiak’s closing 67. So without further ado, let’s recap the various stages of the final round:
Stage One (Holes 1-3): Leaders Start Strong
At the opening of Round Two Action, the leaderboard showed:
-2 – Dan Yustin
-1 – Billy Hanes
E – Matt Stasiak
+2 – Johnathan Snyder
On the opening hole, both Yustin & Hanes played the hole beautifully, with huge drives leaving both well inside 75 yards. Yustin’s approach rattled the flag but ricocheted just into the fringe, while Hanes pitched up within a few paces of the hole. Yustin dropped his birdie, but Hanes couldn’t convert to temporarily fall 2 shots back.
On the 3rd, Hanes struck a beautiful iron that never left the flag, coming down directly behind the hole, leaving only 8 feet on the 439 yarder. Halfway to the hole, there was some concern his putt would stop a revolution short, but it just tumbled over the edge for a remarkable birdie.
At this point, it looked like Hanes and Yustin may pull away. Both were one under, and leaving good looks at birdie through the tough 2nd & 3rd. Snyder and Stasiak were making pars, but still losing ground.
Stage Two (Hole 4&5): Opening Doors
Over the next two holes, the complexion of the Erie County Amateur started changing. Coming off the phenomenal birdie at the 3rd, Billy Hanes overhooked his FW metal on the 4th, and left himself a rough lie ~ 100 yards out. After the grass closed his faced a hair, Hanes faced an uphill pitch from left of the green and dropped a stroke as his 6 footer slid right.
But Hanes’ hiccup was not as surprising as what happened to the leader. On the 4th tee, Yustin took a safer line, and was positioned perfectly at the 150 mark. However, the approach only reached the front of the green, while the pin was 19 paces deep. Dan’s lag attempt never had the right weight, and scooted 10 feet past the target, leading to a 3 putt bogey.
After finding the putting surface on 5, Yustin again was off in his lag attempt, this time facing ~ 4 feet for par. Watching through my binoculars, I could sense Yustin’s tension on the attempt. He stepped away from address and took another look from both sides of the hole. A vicious lip-out left the leader staring at the hole for several seconds, contemplating a 2nd straight 3-putt.
The leaders’ bogeys stopped their momentum, giving some hope both Snyder & Stasiak. The two entered the 4th hole 3-5 strokes off the pace, but made up some ground simply by matching par over the two hole stretch.
One of the more overlooked shots of the tournament may have been Stasiak’s 2nd on the 4th. Like most players, the Miami (Ohio) Alum cut the 90 degree dogleg, but faced some tree limbs after a heavy tee shot.. Matt punched a low iron into the back left portion of the green. The recovery shot not only allowed him to save par, but may have been a personal turning point that set him up for the remainder of the round.
Entering the 6th, the standings showed:
-1 – Dan Yustin
-1 – Billy Hanes
E – Matt Stasiak
+2 – Johnathan Snyder
Stage Three (Hole 6): Seismic Shift
While the 4th & 5th holes may have started changing the tone of the tournament, the 169 yard 6th hole was by far the most pivotal of the 2013 Erie County Am.
Hamburg’s Johnathan Snyder started the excitement with a pure 6 iron through the wind, settling 8 feet past the flag. Snyder was fortunate to be just inside David Hanes’ well-struck approach. The younger Hanes brother ran his birdie attempt past the hole for a deflating 3 putt, but it gave Snyder just enough insight to roll his first birdie in the heart of the cup. With the deuce, Snyder moved to +1, just two strokes back of Hanes / Yustin.
Stasiak stepped up to the 6th and left a putt nearly identical to Snyder’s, his best look at birdie so far. Hanes hit the heart of the green, while Yustin overcooked his approach long & left. Unfortunately for Dan, that area was the “don’t miss here” spot for the day’s pin position. Even with a well-executed flop shot, Yustin could only watch as the ball sped downhill and 10 feet past the hole. His 3rd straight bogey temporarily left Hanes as the solo leader, even after Billy’s birdie attempt missed on the low side.
Like Snyder in the group before, Stasiak dropped his attempt for a well-deserved birdie, which would have provided more than enough excitement for the 6th. Unfortunately, the 6th still had one more surprise in store, as Hanes missed his 18-inch par clean-up.
With the two shot swings, Matt Stasiak suddenly was alone in the lead at -1, after being 3 back just 45 minutes earlier. Hanes & Yustin were just a stroke back, but heading in the wrong direction, and Johnathan Snyder was suddenly in contention and under par for the day.
Stage Four (Holes 7&8): Shootout!
While the previous three holes had been marked by several disheartening stumbles, the par five 7th & short par four 8th featured nothing but excitement.
Halfway through the 7th hole, overnight leader Dan Yustin was fully on-tilt. The Canisius HS Grad had just endured 3 straight bogeys to surrender his lead, and rattled his drive off a tree on the very reachable par five. He was forced to lay up to ~ 90 yards while Stasiak & Hanes had eagle opportunities awaiting them on the green.
But there’s a reason Dan Yustin was the BDGA points leader entering the weekend. The man is able to find a reserve of mental strength even when things are going bad. Yustin struck one of the most clutch shots I’ve seen, knocking his wedge to kick-in distance for a momentum-turning birdie. While Hanes & Stasiak made their simpler two-putt birdies, Yustin had to be heartened by the bounceback.
For Sunday’s finale, the WNY PGA set-up team decided to mix things up on the 348 yard 8th. On Saturday, the tees were placed as far back as possible, and most competitors opted for the safer irons and hybrids. But with the tees up some 20 yards and with a helping wind, the 460 CC weapons were wielded with greater frequency.
All members of the final trio caught the attention of the group ahead, as Stasiak & Yustin bounded their drives within 10 yards of the green, while Billy Hanes had enough power in reserve to reach the putting surface for his second straight eagle putt attempt.
Yustin’s eagle chip rattled the base of the flag but spun out, and Stasiak chipped up close for his third straight birdie. When Hanes two putted for his birdie, the final group had played the 7th & 8th in a combined -6 under par.
During the same stretch, Snyder could not keep pace. Johnathan was a few yards short of the 7th in two, but his short birdie putt spun around 90 degrees for a disappointing par. By not taking advantage of the short 8th, Snyder fell 4 off the torrid pace.
Entering the final 10 holes, Stasiak sat at -3, a stroke ahead of the rebounding Hanes & Yustin.
Stage Five: Course Record Watch
With a routine par on the 228 yard 9th, Matt Stasiak made the turn with an outward 32. Hanes & Yustin both failed to get up & down and fell 2 strokes back heading into the final 9 holes.
After another huge drive on 10, Stasiak pured his approach to 15 feet below the hole. When he rolled in his 4th birdie in 5 holes, the former Clarence Red Devil had a realistic chance at Elma’s course record. The low round of -7 under 63 was posted by Clyde Webber decades ago in the persimmon / balata era, and had not been seriously threatened in recent memory.
But Stasiak sat at -4 under through 10 holes and was leaving himself birdie opportunities on every hole. Not only that, but chasing course records was not uncomfortable or unfamiliar territory for Matt, having once carded a course record 63 at Sheridan. Matt’s phenomenal play was leaving no opportunities for his pursuers.
After back-to-back birdies on 7/8, Billy Hanes started missing greens down the stretch, carding bogeys on 4 of the next 5 holes to fall out of contention.
Johnathan Snyder briefly improved his chances with a birdie on the long 10th to reach even par (-2 on the day), but gave it back with a bogey on the 12th to eliminate any chance of a comeback. Still, the former St. Francis star acquitted himself well on the weekend and posted a closing round of 70 en route to a second place tie.
Dan Yustin was able to get within 3 strokes at different points on the back nine, but untimely bogeys on the 13th and 16th ended any serious threat, barring a large collapse from Stasiak.
Of course, Matt did not falter coming down the stretch. His pure ball striking was making it look easy, as he missed birdie putts of 15 feet on 12, 7 feet on 13, and 10 feet on 15. He likely would have birdied the reachable par five14th, but caught a horrendous downhill/sidehill lie in the greenside bunker when his second shot from 240 was held up by an improperly placed rake.
By the time Matt reached the 18th tee, the lead was 4 strokes, so a closing bogey on the 499 yard monster par four had no effect on the outcome. With his victory, Stasiak assumed the lead in the BDGA Points race, displacing runner-up Dan Yustin.
Unfortunately, by the time I completed coverage from the Men’s Event, there were only 3 holes remaining in the Women’s Competition. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t enough time to witness some spectacular golf from the ladies.
Going into Sunday, 3-time Section VI Champion Chelsea Dantonio held a one-stroke lead over Hamburg’s Molly Balbierz, and led by two over the duo of Sarah Singleton and Sarah Riso.
With three holes remaining, the event was a two-woman duel, as both Riso & Dantonio were even par on the day. Riso was playing some exciting golf, with 5 birdies on the card.
On 17, Riso saved par with an exquisite explosion from the front left bunker to 3 feet. The save kept Sarah’s deficit to just 2 strokes. However, in the group behind, Dantonio delivered a decisive blow by chipping in for birdie on the 372 yard 16th to reach -1 on the day (even for the tournament). Even though Chelsea gave a stroke back on the 17th, she finished off the tournament like a deserving champion. Two pure strikes left her a 15 foot birdie putt on the long par four closing hole. The easy two-putt par secured a 3 stroke victory for the dominant Lancaster High golfer.