BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – If not one, then the other. Firestone had Gebhard’s back.
The same way they had had each other’s backs all weekend long.
It’s just what teammates do. It’s that type of teamwork that is absolutely essential to winning better-ball golf tournaments like The Sullivan.
On a picturesque Sunday at the par-72, 6,562-yard Lebanon Country Club, Noah Firestone rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to give he and partner Chris Gebhard a one-up, 19-hole victory over Chad Stine-Drew Patterson in the final match of the championship flight, during the 72nd staging of the W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners golf tournament. With Gebhard’s ball inside of his on the same line – a mere 14 inches from the cup – Firestone calmly stroked the decisive shot, giving the local duo their first Sullivan crown in dramatic fashion.
Gebhard and Firestone had led most of the afternoon, until Stine-Patterson, the top seeds and the 2015 champions, made a late charge to send the championship match to ‘bonus golf’. But the Lebanon County club tandem regained the elusive momentum when each stuck their approach shots at the 382-yard, par-four first hole.
In many ways, winning a Sullivan championship on his home course was not only a dream come true for Gebhard, but it also rounded out what has been an outstanding local amateur golf career. A multiple Lebanon County amateur champion, Gebhard had finished second at the Sullivan three previous times with different partners – not to mention six runner-up finishes at the County Amateur.
For the younger Firestone, what made the title sweet was a second-place showing at the Sullivan with Brady Goodling two years back.
It marked the first time in five years that a Lebanon County team captured the prestigious event.
“Noah wanted to make the putt,” said Gebhard. “So, I was fine with it. I don’t have to be the guy who makes his. But I feel I could’ve made 14 inches. I’m pretty sure Noah was relaxed knowing I was 14 inches away.”
“I was like, ‘Let’s just do it,'” said Firestone. ” “Let’s get it over with’. It makes it a lot easier knowing Gebby is that close.”
Up two holes, Gebhard-Firestone appeared to be on the verge of putting the outcome out of reach on a number of occasions on the back nine. But Stine-Patterson, a couple of 20-somethings from Hummelstown, evened the match with clutch birdies at the par-four 16th and the par-four 17th.
The match went to overtime when each side conceded pars at the 436-yard, par-four 18th.
“We talked about how we were going to have to take this,” said Gebhard. “They weren’t going to give it away. If anything, it ramps up the pressure. It was a momentum swing, and it had swung to them. When that happens, it’s hard to right the ship.”
“We had the comeback juices flowing,” said Stine. “On 16, 17 and 18, we felt like they were our holes to come back. On 16, we felt like we could do it.”
With the match all even, Firestone hit his approach shot at the 433-yard, par-four eighth hole tight for a ‘gimmee’. Five holes later at the par-four 13th, Gebhard did the exact same thing, with a sand wedge, to put his side two-up.
“We wanted to be hitting first off the tee,” said Firestone. “That’s huge in match play.”
“It’s better to be playing with a two-up lead, then playing two down,” said Gebhard. “The pressure is so high when your’e two down. If they (Patterson-Stine) lose another hole, it’s over. We caught some breaks in that they caught some bad breaks.”
“There’s always room to play better,” said Stine. “If we make putts at 14 and 15, the tournament might be different. They were make-able putts. All that matters is that we had to fight to win. That’s what it’s all about.”
Gebhard sank a short birdie putt at the 507-yard, par-five second hole to give the locals an early advantage. Firestone contributed a short bird at the par-four fifth hole.
But each time Stine and Patterson answered, with birdies at Number Four and Number Six.
“We played great,” said Firestone. “To win any tournament, you’ve got to have some breaks. All in all, we played really solid. We knew it was going to take a birdie to win it.”
“They’re not only great players, but they’re great guys as well,” said Gebhard of Patterson and Stine. “I expected them to play well down the stretch. I didn’t expect them to go away.”
“It was back and forth,” said Patterson. “We were laying around on the front-nine. But we came back with two needed birdies. I reminded him (Stine) on Number 16 that we were in the same situation two years ago.”
Firestone-Gebhard had reached the championship bout with a 2&1 victory over fellow Lebanon Countians Tyler Massar-Brady Demey on Sunday morning. In their semifinal match, Patterson-Stine knocked off the local tandem of Jim Gardner-Cody Kersey, 1 up.
“I’ve been blessed to win a lot of golf tournaments,” said Gebhard, who was competing in his 28th Sullivan. “But today, I had tears in my eyes. It’s better than I thought it would be. I don’t have another goal left.
“My dad (Pete) won it in (19)86, when I was 12-years-old,” continued Gebhard. “And I caddied for him. He and I started playing together when I was 15. I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of great partners. This tournament is just as much about playing well as it is being in the right spot. A lot of it is the right place at the right time. It’s been an incredibly long journey.”
“I lost in the finals two years ago,” said Firestone. “That was hard, Ever since I’ve been around here, I’ve realized this tournament means a lot. It means a lot to win it with Gebbie. If anyone should’ve won this tournament, it was him.”
Meanwhile, in the medal-play portion of the tournament, Dan Eggerton-Ben Adelberg captured the first flight with a final round 64 and a 202 total, and Ryan Weaber teamed with Stu Hanford for a 71-69-67=207 and the championship of the second flight. The third flight went to Gil Moniz-Ryan Cass and their 73-69-71=213, while Paul Bickford-Greg Girone took home top honors in the fourth flight with a 75-73-68=216.
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