BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – In match play golf, where mental approach and emotional discipline are the differences between winning and losing, is it better to team similar personalities or ones from different ends of the spectrum?
Do opposites attract? Or do birds of a feather fly together?
During Saturday’s 70th contesting of the prestigious W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners golf tournament, at the Lebanon Country Club’s 6,562-yard, par-72 layout, Brady Goodling’s and Noah Firestone’s dependent personalities proved to be the perfect complement. The local duo scored a dramatic one-up victory over Alex Church and Jeff Castle, in the quarterfinals of the championship flight’s match-play competition.
With the match all-square, and Goodling staring down a six-foot birdie, Firestone drained a clutch 35-foot winning putt from above the flag, at the 436-yard, par-four 18th hole. Firestone and Goodling had reached Saturday’s afternoon quarterfinals with an opening-round 5&4 victory over Corey Carrick and Jesse Hazam.
The triumph propelled Goodling and Firestone into Sunday morning’s semifinal round opposite John Lay and Jared Brechman, who registered a 3&2 win over Brian Golembiewski and Rod James. The tournament’s championship match is slated to start around Sunday’s two o’clock hour.
Goodling, a member of the Lebanon Country Club and a fifth-year senior at Monmouth College, won this event last summer with Kyle Deisher, after the two had finished as the runner-up the year prior. Firestone, who works at LCC, will be a freshman at Monmouth College in the fall.
“I wouldn’t say that our personalities are different,” said Goodling. “We’re more similar. We get along really well out there. You’ve got to stay positive.
“I try to be a good mentor to Noah,” Goodling continued. “But he knows enough that he really doesn’t need my help.”
“When you spend a whole day together on a golf course, you better get along,” said Firestone. “We compete against each other in every other tournament. And we’ve been playing well all summer, so us teaming up has been great.
“We play a similar game,” continued Firestone. “On number 11, he told me something about my swing, and it really helped.”
After surrendering the two-hole advantage they had built through 13 holes, Goodling and Firestone regrouped on the 18th tee. Firestone hit his approach to the back of the green, before Goodling stuck his to within six feet.
With par conceded to Church and Castle, Firestone ran his long putt into the cup.
“I loved that we hit first on 18,” said Firestone. “It takes a little pressure off knowing that Brady is so close. I got a good read from my opponent (Castle). I felt like I did nothing on the back-nine, and I wanted to help out.
“I played great in the morning, but I played awful in the afternoon,” continued Firestone. “But we’re not going to give up. That’s not going to happen.”
“That put a lot of pressure on them,” said Goodling of his approach shot at 18. “I knew I had to land in in the front. I had a hundred yards in, and I tried to hit it 90. When I hit it it was like ‘perfect’. It was a good match. They’re a very good team.
“I played well at the beginning of the afternoon,” Goodling continued. “I was hitting the ball solid all day. But the one thing we really did, neither of us was out of any hole.”
Goodling and Firestone enjoyed two-hole advantages on two different occasions Saturday afternoon, both on Goodling birdies.
Goodling stuck his tee shot at the 196-yard, par-three 12th hole, then buried a four-footer. At the 493-yard, par-five seventh hole Goodling’s birdie gave the locals their first two-hole advantage of the afternoon.
It was Goodling’s 15-foot birdie at the par-four fifth hole which had evened the match. Firestone won the par-four sixth hole with a bird.
“Kyle (Deisher) wasn’t sure he was going to be able to make it,” said Goodling. “I wasn’t going to risk not having a partner. I knew Noah plays here a lot, and he’s being recruited at Monmouth.
“It’s your attitude when you get out there,” continued Goodling. “You’ve got to stay focused and in control. Having a solid partner is key. It’s not like I’m out there playing by myself. I know this course. It’s a big advantage. And you can’t get down on yourself out there. You’ve got to stay positive.”
“It’s a little exciting,” said Firestone of playing in front of the home folk. “It’s just more people who know who you are. You feed off the energy. But I’m not going to play in a tournament that I don’t think I’m going to win. It’s not really extra pressure. If anything, you feel more comfortable because the people are supporting you. If it wasn’t for Brady, I wouldn’t be going to Monmouth.”
In Saturday morning’s opening round, Church and Castle, the top seeds thanks to a blistering 12-under-par, medalist score of 60, had taken care of another local tandem, veteran Bill Massar, Jr. and up-and-coming Tyler Shank. It was Massar, Jr and Shank’s first venture into the championship flight, after winning the third flight of the Sullivan last year.
“We both wanted to get into the championship flight,” said Shank, a Palmyra resident and junior at Penn State-Harrisburg. “He (Massar) wanted it more than me. I don’t think we had much of a goal, just to play well. We were happy with our qualifying round (70), all in all. But the 4&3 loss wasn’t nice.
“It’s a different game playing in match play,” continued Shank. “Each hole is a competition. The momentum can switch on a dime.”
Massar and Shank started well, but experienced difficulties with their blades. Eventually, Church and Castle put them away at the par-five 15th hole.
“We came out hot, and were two-up through six holes,” said Shank. “It was good news for us. But we gave them some holes back. I missed putts by inches on three holes in-a-row. We went from one-down to four-down. I hit putt after putt well, and they didn’t go in.
“Bill’s very consistent, which is nice to be,” Shank continued. “We can find him in the fairway and we can find him near the green. I let him play his game, and it frees me up a little.”
A third local squad, John DiGiacomo and Mike Schmidt, Jr. endured a 20-hole defeat to Drew Patterson and Chad Stine in Saturday morning’s opening round. Last year, DiGiacomo and Schmidt had reached the championship match of the Sullivan, before falling to Goodling and Deisher.
“We were up two at one point,” said DiGiacomo. “Nothing goes in the hole. We played well, we just didn’t putt. We hit the ball well. It’s around the greens.”
It was a bogey on the 507-yard, par-five second hole which ultimately cost Schmidt and DiGiacomo, after Patterson and Stine had forced ‘bonus golf’ with a short birdie at number 18. Patterson-Stine had squared the match at number 15, before DiGiacomo-Schmidt regained their one-hole advantage at the par-four 17th.
“Our goal was to win,” said DiGiacomo. “We definitely have the ability. We’ve just got to pull it together at the right time.
“We didn’t play well in qualifying (a 69),” continued DiGiacomo. “It was a tough day. We had to scrape to get in, and then it all fell apart today.”
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