LEBANON – The tournament wasn’t won or lost there. But it was definitely a key moment, or perhaps the turning point.
Dan Brown walked onto the 16th tee at Royal Oaks Golf Course and asked everyone in his group where they were – both in relation to par and to one another. He had just lost a stroke to both first-round co-leaders Andy Gibbons and Cody Kersey with a double bogey on the prior hole, and Brown wanted to assess his true position.
On Sunday afternoon over Royal Oaks’ 6,747-yard, par-71 layout, Brown fired a three-under par 68 to earn the title at the 57th annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship. Brown’s two-day total of 72-68=140 was two shots lower than Gibbons’ 70-72=142, and it proved to be a nice encore to his initial County Amatuer title, won at Pine Meadows in 2011.
Kersey finished a solid third with a total of 70-73=143 that was one over par. Another four strokes back was defending champion Mike Schmidt, Jr., who cared a 74-73=147.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry,” said Brown, when asked about his friendship with sometimes playing partner Gibbons. “There’s five or seven guys who play at a higher level. I think golf is something that the more you do, the easier it becomes. What happens in this tournament is momentum. I knew Andy was going to be a force.
“I just went on the momentum from yesterday (afternoon during a Harrisburg District Golf Association tournament at the Lebanon County Club),” added Brown. “I birdied the last three holes (on Saturday). But today might’ve been the second or third best striking of the ball that I’ve ever had. I had just one bad hole, number 15, where I knocked it in the drink.”
“Nobody remembers the guy who finishes second,” Gibbons added. “I wanted to win. But I think this event has lost a little bit of its luster, with all the tournaments out there.”
Down two strokes to Gibbons and one to Kersey, Brown got to within one shot of the lead with a par on the par-four 16th hole. Then Brown stuck his approach shot on the par-four 17th hole to within seven feet of the flag, and calmly sank the putt which put him ahead of Gibbons, who bogeyed the hole.
“On number 15, I made a double (bogey) and Andy and Cody made a bogey, so I lost a shot to them,” said Brown of the final foursome. “I didn’t do that (ask everyone where they stood) for any particular reason. It was like, ‘there’s three holes to go, where do we stand?’ I kind of wanted to match what Andy was doing. I wanted to go shot-for-shot with him.
“Obviously the momentum changer was at 17,” continued Brown. “That was big. But the turning point was Andy’s shot on 16. If he hits it on the green on 16, he wins. But my nerves were going. It was probably one of the better feelings I’ve had in golf, coming down the stretch.”
“I wasn’t trying to pay a whole lot of attention,” said Gibbons. “I thought I was one or two up on Danny and Cody. We heard Mike Schmidt was one-over par (earlier in the day), but at that point I was three-under. We didn’t hear anything from the other groups.
“It was a high-stress environment,” Gibbons continued. “It was enjoyable. We’re good friends. We practice and play together all the time. He was definitely on his game. I played pretty solid, really. He works hard on his game. He deserves it.”
Gibbons and Brown literally traded birdies over the first four holes of the day – Gibbons rolling in long birdies on the par-five first and the par-four third, and Brown sticking his approach shots close on the par-four second and fourth holes. They did the same thing at the par-four sixth and the par-five seventh, before Brown birdied the par-five ninth to tie Gibbons for the lead.
“It was probably one of the best days I’ve had in golf,” said Brown. “The back and forth was unbelievable. It was like trading punches. It was a pretty good display.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Brown continued. “We get to practice with each other a lot. It was a good battle.”
“I tried to play smart,” said Gibbons. “I played a little safer today than I did yesterday. I thought if I came out and shot another 70, I’d be there. Right from the get-go, the heat was on. There was no time to relax.
“I could feel these guys breathing down my neck all day,” continued Gibbons. “I was trying to protect a one-shot lead. It was pretty good golf. We were pretty much trading birdies on the front nine.”
Gibbons regained his lead with a 12-foot birdie at number 12. Brown answered back with a 25-foot birdie at the par-five 13th hole. But Gibbons sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the 450-yard, par-four 14th.
“We were back and forth on the front-nine,” said Brown. “I think we shot seven-under better ball. On the 16th tee, I didn’t have a lot of faith I was going to do it. Andy opened the door a little bit.
“The shot on 17,” Brown added, “I don’t want to say it was the end of the tournament. But it was a two-shot swing.”
“I try to stay even keel,” said Gibbons. “I get upset with some shots, but I don’t do it for a living. Whatever I get out of my game, I get out of it.”
Kersey sort of fell out of the fray with three bogeys on his first eight holes with Brown and Gibbons, but got back into it with an eagle at the par-five ninth. Then three straight birdies at numbers 12, 13 and 14 got him to within one shot of Gibbons’ lead.
Tournament director Jimmy Gardner captured the first flight with an even-par 71 on Sunday, and a 80-71=151 total. Chris Koopman fired a second-round 74 to garner top honors in the second flight.