BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – The best way to approach the golf course once know as ‘Blue Mountain View’ is from the sea-level side of the summit. And because of their abilities to play from below the flag, the rest of the 54th Lebanon County Amateur field is looking up at Tony Deraco and Chris Gebhard.
With their putters doing the talking, Deraco and Gebhard shot to the top of the leader board during Saturday’s opening round of the amateur championship of local golf, at par-71, 6,059-yard Blue Mountain Golf Course. Deraco, a two-time senior amateur champion, fired a scorching four-under par 67, while Gebhard, a two-time amateur champion, overcame a double bogey on the par-five 15th – or ‘pole hole.
When Sunday’ morning’s second and final round tees off, there will be a talented, but somewhat unproven group of 12 contenders giving chase. Former champ John DiGiacomo, Justin Boltz, Eric Boltz and Josh Kreiser all carded even-par 71s to create a logjam in third place.
Another shot back is the foursome of former champ Andy Gibbons, Steve Allwein, Mike Potts and Scott Wentling, who counted 72 strokes. At six shots off the pace, tournament chairman Jim Gardner, Cody Kersey, Scott Adams and Darren Lutz, reside on the cusp of contention.
Defending champion Dan Brown chose not to defend his title.
As the last group of the day, the Deraco-Gebhard-led foursome will tee it up at 10:10 a.m. on Sunday.
“I putted well, other than 18,” said Deraco. “I didn’t get overly aggressive. I didn’t run any by more than four feet. Being below the hole is key. The greens were running around a ten, so you had to stroke them pretty hard. But you don’t want to be below the hole here.”
“Putting is about how many greens you hit,” said Gebhard. “But I putted reasonably well. I only three-putted once. It’s a golf course where you’ve got to keep it in the right place. That’s the golf course’s defense. But the greens aren’t as fast as they can be.”
Gebhard counted 28 putts. Deraco took 31.
“Historically I’ve finished well here,” said the 37-year-old Gebhard, who hasn’t missed many County Amateurs in the last 23 years. “It’s the biggest tournament in Lebanon County. I’ve always felt loyal to playing in County events. I always thought it was important to play in county events.”
“It means a lot to me,” said the 57-year-old Deraco who burst on to the local golf scene ten years ago. “It’s like one of our majors, and it’s the one major I want to get. There’s a couple of guys who aren’t here who would make it stronger. But it’s a strong field. I thought coming in that there were 12 guys who could win it.”
If it hadn’t been for his three-putt hiccup on the closing test, Deraco’s lead might be greater than two. Before that, he torched relatively short, but hilly Blue Mountain for six birdies, many of which came from within ten feet.
“It could be more I guess,” said Deraco, who finished second three summers ago. “But I’m OK with that. I’m happy. ”
Deraco backed up birdies at thepar-four first and at the par-five fourth with one at the par-three tenth. Birds at numbers 13, 15 and 17 got Deraco to six-under par, momentarily.
“No, I won’t be nervous. I’ve been there,” said Deraco. “I’ll feel OK tomorow. We all get nervous on the first tee. But when you tee it up, you’re OK.”
Gebhard’s longest birdies were 12-footers at the par-four seventh and the par-four 18th. He also bagged back-to-back birdies at numbers 13 and 14 to get to two-under par, before recovering from 15 with what Gebhard called his ‘best birdie’, a four-footer on the par-three 16th.
“You can lose a golf tournament on the first day, but you can’t win it on the first day,” said Gebhard, a Lebanon Country Club member. “You want to put yourself in position to have a shot on Sunday. So yeah, absolutely, it was mission accomplished. I was pleasantly surprised. I actually look a lesson this week.
“My expectations weren’t this,” Gebhard added. “Yeah, I played well. I can’t complain. I hit a lot of good shots. I played better than I have in a while.”
Gebhard’s two previous Lebanon County Amateur titles came at Monroe Valley in 2003 and Fairview in 1996.
“I would like to win,” said Gebhard, the father of two small children. “But the days of my life ebbing and flowing on winning this are long gone.
“I think the field is the same that it’s always been,” Gebhard added. “I’m surprised (Dan) Brownie didn’t play. This was always an event I made an effort to play in.”
(at 6,059-yard, par-71 Blue Mountain Golf Course)
67 – Tony Deraco
69- Chris Gebhard
71 – John DiGiacomo, Josh Kreiser, Eric Boltz, Justin Artz
72 – Mike Potts, Steve Allwein, Andy Gibbons, Scott Wentling
73 – Jim Gardner, Cody Kersey, Scott Adams, Darren Lutz
74 – Brady Demey
75 – Tom Sherk, Dave Snader, Tom Kintzer, Scott Behney
76 – Greg Behney, Charles White, Jeff Hoke, Bill Massar, Jr.
77 – Tyler Massar, Derrick Brennan, Carl Johnson, III
78 – Tom Mettley
79 – Jared Cook, Tim Leeper, Jesse Brown
80 – Mike Griffe, Steve Anspach, Dave Winters, Bryan Bates
81 – Jon Hurst, Chuck Schwab, Nate Rader
82 – Herm Faiola, Jeff Beare
83 – Sreenivas Kangula
84 – Steve Sherk, Ron Heisey
87 – Raymond Buckman
90 – Dave Berkheimer