FREDERICKSBURG – Jimmy Gardner is an historian, a student of the game, and he displays a lot of respect for the tradition of the County Amateur. So when he was able to take a step back – and a deep breath – he began to realize the magnitude of what he had just accomplished.
But because of his humility and modesty, Gardner struggled to put into words the importance of his achievements.
On Sunday at the 6,363-yard, par-72 Pine Meadows Golf Course, Gardner scored an historically significant triumph at the 58th annual Lebanon County Amateur Championship. Not only was his margin of victory – seven strokes – one of the largest in recent memory, Gardner’s title made him the first competitor in 18 years to record back-to-back victories.
Gardner posted an even-par score of 72 on Sunday, which coupled with an opening round 67, gave him a 36-hole total of 139, or five under par. Chris Gebhard was the runner-up – for a record sixth time – but distantly, with a total of 74-72=146.
With his 72-75=146, tournament director Justin Arnt finished third, while Tony Deraco and John DiGiacomo came in tied for fourth with 148s.. Three players posted totals of 149 or five-over par, Cody Kersey, Billy Massar, Jr. and Steve Anspach.
“Yeah, it is very good,” said Gardner. “At Blue Mountain, when I won my first one, it was 27 holes, so it wasn’t a full thing. Last year validated it. This one here, tops it off. Yeah, three, that’s pretty good.
“I played a lot of baseball growing up,” continued Gardner. “But when baseball’s gone, golf drives your competitive spirit. I put a lot of time in. I practice a lot. There’s a good group of guys I play with, and we all push each other to be better. We all share tips. We all help each other. When your peers congratulate you, that’s the thing I love.”
“The biggest thing I think about is keeping it in play,” said Gardner. “I may have done that as well for 36 holes as I’ve ever have. I had a lot of up-hill putts, and I was pretty accurate with my irons.
“I never know what’s going on with the guys in front of me,” added Gardner. “But I know they’re good players. When I made a par on (number) 15, I felt comfortable. I knew where the rest of my group (Arnt, Deraco and Danny Brown) stood, and I was one-under. I didn’t know if anyone in front of me made a move, but my gut was maybe they didn’t.”
Gardner birdied Pine Meadows’ 422-yard, par-four first test from three feet, then made the turn at even-par 36. Along the way he bogeyed the par-four third and the par-four fourth, and birdied the par-five fifth after chipping close.
“I did nothing different,” Gardner continued. “I’m still going to play my game. It helped that I birdied number one. Justin (Arnt) was playing well, but then I put some distance between us.”
Gardner birdied the par-five tenth hole from eight feet, and when he turned a similar trick at the par-four 12th, he stood at two-under for the day and seven-under for the tournament. The fact that he endured bogeys at the par-three 13th hole and the par-four 16th was one more for the record book than the score book.
“I’m excited,” said Gardner. “I had a lead and I was able to hold it. There’s a little more pressure involved with the lead. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, you’ve got a four-stroke lead. You should win’.
“He played great,” said Gebhard, who was paired with Gardner during Saturday’s opening round. “He absolutely hit it great. He was a great putter. He’s a great guy and a great guy to play with. Yesterday (Saturday) he played awesome, and it could’ve been better. He made one bogey, but nothing close after that.”
If anyone applied any pressure at all on Gardner, it was Gebhard, and it came early in Sunday morning’s round.
Gebhard rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt at the 388-yard, par-four third hole and two-putted from 12 feet for birdie at the par-five fifth hole. That got him to within five shots of Gardner.
But Gebhard quickly gave those strokes back when he endured a bogey at the par-five sixth hole and a double at the par-three seventh.
“I did not play very well,” said Gebhard. “I just did everything I could do to get around. I never know where I’m going to hit it off the tee. It was a very stressful two days. It took everything to keep it in front of me and find it.
“It’s a golf course I’ve never been comfortable playing on, and that’s when I’m playing well,” added Gebhard. “I got everything I could possibly get out of it. My expectations were pretty low. I have been playing so bad I haven’t enjoyed it. But it’s your responsibility to play in county stuff. That’s the approach I’ve always taken.”
Finishing second in the county amateur six times is almost as an amazing feat as winning it three times. Gebhard also has two Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championships to his credit – the 2003 event at Monroe Valley and the 1996 event at Fairview.
“I’ve historically been very consistent in this tournament,” said Gebhard. “I think it was like ten years in-a-row that I finished in the top five or six. I don’t run very hot-and-cold. I’m not the guy who’s going to go out there and make six or seven birdies. When you’re that guy, you finish around the lead enough that you’re going to come in second a few times.”
Meanwhile, Greg Adams captured the first flight title with a 77-74+151 total that was seven-over par. The second flight went to Mark Novis and his 81-77=158, while Darren Lutz took home top honors in the third flight with an 87-76+163.
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(at 6,363-yard, par-72 Pine Meadows Golf Course)
Jim Gardner 67-72= 139
Chris Gebhard 74-72= 146
Justin Arnt 72-75= 147
Tony Deraco 71-77= 148
John DiGiacomo 72-76- 148
Steve Ansapch 74-75= 149
Cody Kersey 72-77= 149
Bill Massar, Jr. 73-76=149
Dave Winters 74-82= 156
Greg Adams 77-74= 151
Steve Allwein 78-74= 152
Skeet Wentling 77-76= 153
Nate Wentling 78-78= 156
Mike Potts 79-78= 157
Mark Novis 81-77= 158
Doug Swanson 77-83= 160
Scot Adams 78-83= 161
Tom Plunket 79-82 = 161
Mat Rowe 79-82= 161
Dave Albright 83-79= 162
Chris Padovani 78-84= 162
Tom Kintzer 76-87= 163
Zach Layser 77-86 = 163
Chuck Schwab 83-81= 164
Kerry Wentling 80-84= 164
Jon Day 83-83= 166
Jeff Hoke 80-86= 166
Jordan Rhen 84-82=166
Chad Leeper 84-85= 169
Darren Lutz 87-76= 163
Grant Harris 85-80= 165
Carl Johnson 90-75 = 165
Jon Hurst 86-81= 167
Ben Caporaletti 87-82= 169
Blaine Weaver 85-85= 170
Jim Pesta 89-91= 180
Chris Jonovich 96-97= 193
Sean Behney 99-98 = 197