FREDERICKSBURG – Jimmy Gardner has won the County Amateur by coming from behind. But he’d much rather be in the position he’s in now.
The 58th annual Lebanon County Amateur Championship is pretty much the defending champion’s to lose, after Gardner posted a five-under 67 during Saturday’s opening round at the 6,037-yard, par-72 Pine Meadows Golf Course. Gardner, who overcame a six-shot deficit to capture the 2015 event, will carry a four-shot lead into Sunday’s second and final round.
And whether or not Gardner’s lead is comfortable, there is a solid group of contenders poised to strike. Danny Brown, the 2014 County Amateur champion, and another former champion, Tony Deraco, both carded one-under opening round scores of 71.
Another stroke back were John DiGiacomo, Cody Kersey and tournament director Justin Arnt. Billy Massar, Jr. fired a one-over-par score of 73, while Chris Gebhard, Steve Anspach and Dave Winters all recorded 74s.
“When I finished the round, I thought about that,” said Gardner, of the differences between last year and this year. “It might be shaping up to be a little role reversal. It’s a different ball game when you’re leading.
“There’s no question I’d rather be where I am now,” continued Gardner. “You might be a little more nervous on Sunday, feel a little more pressure. But I’d rather have the lead, then have to go chase someone. Let them come get you. It (the four-shot lead) gives you the ability to mess up a little bit, not that you want to. It helps that you’ve got shots to play with.”
Gardner’s hot start featured an eight-foot birdie at the 409-yard, par-four opening hole and a six-foot birdie at the 388-yard, par-four third hole. Gardner’s only bogey of the day was the result of a three-putt at the par-four fourth hole, but he quickly got that shot back after just missing an eagle putt at the 480-yard, par-five fifth hole.
“I actually had a couple of pretty good birdie chances on the back,” said Gardner. “But after that (being five-under), I didn’t stick anything. I got them early. But I thought I could’ve shot even lower early. With the putting, I had good looks at them. I was below the hole and the greens rolled really true. Once you get one, you can get two. When you’re getting birdie on top of birdie, it’s fun.
“I guess maybe I’m surprised someone else didn’t shoot in the 60s,” Gardner continued. “I played pretty solid. You’re not going to hit it down the middle all the time and knock it on every green. If you keep it in play, you’re OK. And that’s what I did.”
Gardner made the turn at four-under par, thanks to a 12-foot birdie at the par-three seventh and a 20-footer at the par-four eighth hole. Then at the 538-yard, par-five tenth hole, Gardner rolled in a 15-foot birdie.
“I don’t know,” said Gardner, when asked if he had any inkling a 67 was coming. “When I play golf, I strive to be as consistent as Dan Brown. I can play some really good golf rounds. I’ve always been a decent putter. When I’m not playing well, I think I can score pretty well. I’ve been playing all right. I don’t know if I expected a 67. Sixty-seven is a good score.”
Competing in a power foursome that also included Gardner, Gebhard and Greg Adams, Brown was forced to weather a double bogey at the par-four 14th. Without that hiccup, Brown’s breath on Gardner’s neck might be a bit heavier.
“It was pretty solid,” said Brown of his round. “I made a double on 14 and it kind of cost me. I just hit hybrid and I should’ve hit five-iron. It’s (the course) firm and fast. Giving up two shots on a fairly easy hole hurt the old scorecard. Most people are going to make par there.
“I would say not (that Gardner’s playing had any effect on his game),” added Brown. “I enjoy when anyone plays well. I really like it when one of my buddies plays well. He was hitting it really good. I expect him to win tomorrow, the way he’s hitting it. I really do.
Brown collected a total of five birdies, but was never really able to sustain any serious momentum. He got to three-under par with birdies at the par-four eighth and the par-five tenth.
“Jimmy got off to a great start,” said Brown. “I just tried to stay close. I was kind of playing catch-up all day. But he (Gardner) was good. He was around the hole all day. It was a solid five-under.
“I think at Pine Meadows, you can evaporate those four strokes in two holes,” continued Brown. “It’s easily done. But I saw Jim play today and I was impressed. It’s hard to back it up. It’ll be a fun day. The competition is good.”
Deraco also birdied the par-five tenth hole, which at the time, got him to one-under par. But he could not make hay on any of Pine Meadows’ other par-fives, where he was a combined one-over.
“It was steady,” said Deraco. “I didn’t get in trouble. Honestly, my goal was to shoot even par. I’m not as long as some of these guys. I just kept it in the fairway.
“I’m 61, so I’m just trying to stay competitive,” added Deraco. “As long as I can stay competitive, I’ll stay in it. Fortunately, I played OK today.”
Deraco’s round included 13 pars. He also converted birdie attempts at the difficult par-four second hole and the 355-yard, four-four 15th hole.
“I think this was only Jimmy’s tenth, 11th or 12th round of the year,” said Deraco, who finished as the runner-up at last year’s tournament. “He doesn’t play recreational rounds. He’s solid. He doesn’t make mistakes. Five-under on this course, it’s good.
“You play your game,” Deraco added. “It (rallying) can happen. On this course, you can get off line. I’m going to come out tomorrow and try to play my best.”
DiGiacomo made the turn at two-under par, before posting a 37 on the back nine. Arnt was sitting at four-over par, then finished with a birdie flurry – at the par-four 16th, the par-three 17th and the par-five 18th.
58th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(at 6,037-yard, par-72 Pine Meadows)
67 – Jimmy Gardner
71 – Dan Brown, Tony Deraco
72 – John DiGiacomo, Cody Kersey, Tony Deraco
73 – Billy Massar, Jr.
74 – Chris Gebhard, Dave Winters, Steve Anspach
76 – Tom Kintzer
77 – Greg Adams, Zach Layser, Skeet Wentling, Doug Swanson
79 – Matt Rowe, Mike Potts
80 – Kerry Wentling, Jeff Hoke
81 – Mark Novis
82 – Perry Umlauf, Eric Boltz
83 – Jon Day, Dave Albright, Chuck Schwab
84 – Chad Leeper, Jordan Rhen
85 – Grant Harris
86 – Jon Hurst
87 – Darren Lutz
90 – Carl Johnson
96 – Chris Jonovich
99 – Sean Behney