Ben Reichert did something on Saturday that no western New York golfer had done since 1965: he won the Porter Cup amateur invitational at Niagara Falls country club. Reichert did so in skilled and dramatic fashion (we’ll get to both later.) The East Amherst native and Williamsville North alumnus finished the four rounds at 11-under par, besting Ontario’s Garrett Rank by two shots. Reichert posted 68 on the par-70 course in his final round. He opened with birdie at two and six, made bogey at nine, but followed it immediately with birdie at ten. Pars the rest of the way were enough to get the job done … on paper.
Winning a golf tournament in round four is a difficult challenge. It’s the only round in which you can win the thing, and what you did over the previous three tours matters little. Each spring, we hear about how the Masters begins Sunday on the back nine. The Porter Cup is no different. The closing stretch of holes offers disparate tasks, with no two similar ones in a row. At 14, a position tee shot is followed by a blind approach to a sunken green. At 15, a decision is made to carry the creek once or twice from the deck, and where to land the approach. The twin par three holes, 16 and 18, each play to the north, but no one would say that they play the same. The first requires a longish iron to a sloped green, with difficult recovery shots from all sides. The second is a gutsy short iron (these days!) to a green protected by bunkers on all sides. Finally, there is 17, the daunting par four where the right perimeter beckons all drives. The roll call is long of golfers whose Porter Cup dreams have ended with a drive wide right. Reichert’s dream ended there as well … but we’ll get to that, too.
Over the years, many local golfers had come close. The most gut-wrenching took place in 1983. That year, eventual winner Scott Verplank did battle with Mike Slipko and Fred Silver of the home club. All three were joined in the final threesome, and Verplank ultimately held the local duo at bay, for his first of two green jackets. In 1985, when Verplank won for a second time, Marilla’s E.J. Pfister came third. Pfister also finished third the following year. Those would be his best two finishes before turning pro. In 1988, Orchard Park’s Tim Straub was one of three Wake Forest golfers to finish in the top ten, but he could only climb to 9th as teammate Tony Mollica emerged victorious. The 90s and 00s were dry years for local talent, although East Amherst’s Justin Regier earned a top-five finish in 2007, when his father, Darcy, was in charge of the local professional hockey team. In 2010, Williamsville’s Jake Katz was in Saturday’s final threesome, but faltered. That same year, a precocious 15-year old from Rochester tied for second, and we were ready to adopt Gavin Hall as one of our own. He never finished higher over the next seven years. And that was it, until 2021.
Back to Reichert and company. They say that there are horses for courses, and the Niagara Falls country club is one of those courses. Its holes simply fit your eye, if your eye sees the proper things. This write has the fortune to play the course each year on media day, and invariably turns in at least one nine of 36 strokes. This is not much of a brag, mind you. It’s a fun round and the tees are never as distant as found come tournament time. The course suits Reichert’s game, and this year, it suited his mind as well. The pride of East Amherst found something that worked on Thursday, and it paid off with 64 and the lead. He held that lead through the final putt on Saturday, through 36 holes on Friday, and that may be a record of sorts. In 2003, Bill Haas opened 66-60, but could not hold on. Winning from start to finish is nigh impossible, and Reichert did it.
On Saturday, Norway’s Herman Sekne was charging after the leader, until he reached a place where bad things usually don’t happen. Paired with Reichert and Chris Francouer, Sekne’s iron off the tee at 14, intended for placement only, somehow went hard left, clattered off the trees, and went out of bounds. He finished the hole in eight strokes, and his challenge was done. He wasn’t the only golfer to interact with the timber. Remember that allusion to Reichert’s ended dream? It happened for an instant on the penultimate hole.
Prior to Reichert’s arrival at the 17th tee, challenger Ethan Ng made double bogey on that hole, to fall to eight-under par, and end his run at the trophy. In the same group, Ontario’s Garrett Rank would three-putt the final hole for a total of minus-nine, giving Reichert a two-shot cushion. For a moment, it looked like the leader would need those shots and more. Reichert’s drive on seventeen was hopelessly blocked right, and he had joined the company of dreamers who came so close.
And then, the trees decided that no, this would not be his fate.
Reichert’s ball rebounded off a limb, into the center of the fairway. From there, he found a way to make par, and he reached the final tee with his two-shot advantage intact. Our man on the fairway, Brandon Mumaw, was able to snap these iPhone shots just prior to the near-fatal tee ball at 17.
At the 18th hole, the 190-yard par three that probably require no more than 8-iron, Reichert somehow selected two clubs too many. His ball sailed over the green, destined for lower Lewiston and out of bounds again … and then it hit a spectator’s leg … and stay on the golf course. Reichert’s short game wizardry allowed him to get up and down for another miraculous par and bring the Porter Cup home to western New York.
Make no mistake: Ben Reichert was the best player in the field, all week long. In the end, he fell victim to the tension and indecision that mark all event conclusions. He received two good breaks and took advantage of them. His win is one for the record books, one for the memory banks, and one for all area golfers, past, present, and future. Most importantly, with his father as his caddie all week long, it is one for his family.