BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – He was one of the field’s last entries, then he got off to a slow start. But for John DiGiacomo, it was better late than never.
During Saturday’s opening round of the 58th annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship, it took some time for DiGiacomo to get his bearings and his feet beneath him, but once he did, he found Lebanon Valley’s 6,136-yard, par-71 very much to his liking. On the heels of a two-over part start, DiGiacomo got hot and went seven-under par over his last 15 holes, en route to a blistering 66 and the tournament’s first-round lead.
On the strength of seven birdies and an eagle, DiGiacomo will carry a three-shot advantage over Tim Leeper and the rest of the field into Sunday’s second and final round. Leeper, a Lebanon Valley regular, carded a two-under 69, one shot lower than another Lebanon Valley member, Tony Deraco, who counted 70 strokes.
Those three were the only players to break par, and along with Bill Massar, Jr., who fired an even-par round of 71, will comprise Sunday’s final foursome. Another shot back at one-over par 72 was tournament director Jim Gardner, while defending champion Dan Brown, Tyler Massar and Jon Hurst all shot 74s.
Carding 75s were Andy Gibbons, Dave Brown, Jeff Hoke, Chad Leeper and Tom Kintzer.
DiGiacomo, who competes in the County Amateur on a semi-regular basis, is recognized as one of the top players locally.
“I was supposed to be out of town,” said DiGiacomo, who got into the tournament as late as Wednesday. “I called Jim (Gardner) and he got me in. It was awesome. Any time I play golf, I want to play well. I’m very competitive. But I’m competitive mostly with myself. I want to push myself to get better.
“They’re all guys I like,” continued DiGiacomo. “I’m sure tomorrow will be a fun round. I’m just looking forward to being in the hunt and competing. Work some nerves out. I was nervous when I got out here today. I was two-over after three holes. It’s about being competitive and having fun. It’s all it is.”
DiGiacomo made the turn at three-under par and got to four with a tap-in birdie at the 308-yard, par-four tenth hole. But he gave two shots back to par at the tricky par-four 12th hole, where he flew the green by 30 yards and was forced to take a double bogey.
DiGiacomo finished with a bang, with birdies on Lebanon Valley’s trio of par-four closing holes. He chipped in at number 16, he tapped in at number 17 and rolled in a three-footer at number 18.
“I was pleasantly surprised, after the way I started,” said DiGiacomo, who captured the 2001 Lebanon County Amateur with a 145 total at Royal Oaks. “It’s a fun track. It can eat you alive, for sure. I had some bad breaks, and I had some good breaks. But that’s golf.
“Billy (Massar) was four-under at one point, and I was two-under,” added DiGiacomo. “I thought there’d be a lot more scores in the mid-60s. There’s some very, very good golfers here.”
DiGiacomo’s uneven start included bogeys at the par-four second and the par-three third. But he got things turned around with birdies on the next two holes – a 20-foot uphill putt and a tap-in – then drained a six-foot eagle putt on the 470-yard, par-five seventh hole.
He put the finishing touches on his inital 33 with a 15-foot ‘chicken’ at the par-four ninth hole.
“My goal was to shoot in the 60s, so that was good,” said DiGiacomo. “I shot 68 last week, so I knew I was playing well. I’ve just been hitting the ball pretty well and trying to stay consistent.
“My driver didn’t get me into much trouble,” DiGiacomo added. “And my irons were pretty good. It’s important to keep it in play. You can’t do anything when you’re sitting in a cornfield.”
With 12 pars, Leeper’s round may not have been as spectacular as DiGiacomo’s, but just as steady.
Leeper was sitting right at even-par before drilling a ten-foot birdie putt on the par-four 11th. His only other birdie on the back-nine came at the par-four 16th, a 20-foot strike.
“Yeah, I’m happy. I really don’t try to shoot a number any more,” said Leeper, who won the County Amateur the last time it was contested at Lebanon Valley, in 2009.. “I like coming here and playing here with my buddies. I want to come here, have a good time and enjoy the day. Let them (the rest of the field) grind.
“I thought somebody would shoot something because the greens are soft,” Leeper continued. “I probably know the greens better than most. Tony (Deraco) knows them too. Most of the guys who play here regularly know them. I didn’t get in trouble. I was getting on greens. That’s all it was.”
Leeper started fast, with an eight-foot birdie on the 292-yard, par-four opening hole, but gave it back just as quickly, with a bogey at number two. He managed LVGC’s par-five seventh hole well, and the result was a tap-in biride that got him to one-under par.
“If I shot the same tomorrow, I’d be happy,” said Leeper, who holds the Lebanon Valley course record with a 60, also set in 2009. “I want to stay out of trouble and get around. I thought the scores were high. Some of the guys who I thought would do well got into trouble.
“The down-hillers were quick,” Leeper added. “Everything seemed alright. The greens were definitely holding shots.”
Despite birdies at numbers five and eight, Deraco carded an even-par 36 over his front-nine. But his back was much better, a one-under 34 that featured a birdie at the par-four 11th.
Massar reached four-under par with three consecutive birdie 3s to start his second nine. But over his next five holes, the two-time champ went a combined four-over par.
Gardner was two-over par through nine holes, but rebounded with a one-under par total of 34 on the back. Brown also carded a 38 on the front, then went one-over during his second nine holes.
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58th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Tournament
(at 6,136-yard, par-71 Lebanon Valley Golf Course)
Saturday’s Opening Round Scores
66 – John DiGiacomo
69 – Tim Leeper
70 – Tony Deraco
71 – Bill Massar, Jr.
72 – Jim Gardner
74 – Dan Brown, Jon Hurst, Tyler Massar
75 – Andy Gibbons, Dave Brown, Tom Kintzer, Chad Leeper, Jeff Hoke
75 – Justin Arnt
77 – Perry Umlauf
78 – Kelly Arnold, Matt Rowe, Darren Lutz
79 – Tom Plunkett
81 – Caleb Ginder, Scott Behney, Chris Padovani
82 – Carl Johnson III
83 – Skeet Wentling
84 – Jim Pesta, Jordan Rhen, Scot Adams, Lande Ndebele
86 – Eric Boltz
96 – Raymond Buckman
100 – Sean Behney
109 – Matt Bradley
WD – Steve Allwein