BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – It may be a stretch to say that the relief of no longer having to worry about all the behind-the-scenes, organizational stuff allowed him to focus more on his game. Perhaps a better way to look at it would be from a sentimental point-of-view, that a championship was a great way to celebrate more than a decade’s worth of service to the Lebanon County Golf Association.
On Sunday at the 6,136-yard, par-71 Lebanon County Golf Course, Jim Gardner won the championship of a Lebanon County Amateur tournament he was directing for the final time. Gardner fired a two-under-par 69 over his final round for a 141 total that was one-under par, and three shots lower than co-runners-up Tony Deraco, who carded a 74-70=144, and Andy Gibbons, who carded a 75-69=144.
But Gardner’s second County Amateur championship wouldn’t have been possible without first-round leader John DiGiacomo coming back to the pack. DiGiacomo, who fired a five-under 66 on Saturday, carried a three-shot advantage over Tim Leeper and a six-shot bulge over Gardner, heading into Sunday, but struggled to an eight-over par 79, a 145 total and a fourth-place finish.
Also finishing fourth was Bill Massar, Jr., who counted 71-74=145. Leeper finished sixth with a 69-78=147, Tyler Massar was seventh with a 74-74=148 and defending champion Dan Brown came in ninth with a 74-75=149.
“I have thought about that over the years,” said Gardner of directorial duties. “Would that cost me a shot or two? It’s more on Saturday that Sunday. Maybe it would affect more of the preparation and warming up. But over the past ten-plus years, everybody has been fantastic. I’m very proud that they were able to enjoy themselves. Especially hearing them say ‘Thank you!’, it sure made it nice.
“If you look back over the years, I’ve been lucky to be in the championship flight most of the years,” Gardner continued. “I think I’ve played pretty solid golf. Tony Deraco called it today. He told me, ‘I know you. You’re right there. You’re not out of it.'”
DiGiacomo got to six-under par for the event when he birdied the par-five seventh hole. But over his next 11 holes he was a total of nine-over par.
That opened the door for Gardner, and to a lesser extent Gibbons and Deraco. Gardner got his round to three-under par and with a three-foot birdie at the 530-yard, par-five 15th hole, then made a solid par at the par-four 16th.
Then knowing that DiGiacomo’s final group was struggling, but not sure where Gibbons stood, Gardner made what turned out to be a meaningless bogey at the par-four closing hole.
“Andy’s score is where I got conflicting reports,” said Gardner, who is giving way to Justin Arnt as the County Amateur’s tournament director. “I know I’m up two on him starting the day, so I’m thinking I had a one-shot lead on Andy. When I came to 18, I thought I had a one-shot lead. I thought I tied Andy. I did think 18 mattered.
“When I first realized I had a chance to win might have been sooner than 15,” continued Gardner. “You can kind of always look back and see what’s going on behind you. You know they (the final group) might not be playing their best. Only after 15, when I got to three (under for the day), did I think I might be in the hunt. After making a birdie on 15, we got some information.
“I do enjoy that (getting updates of what other people are doing). There are people who would rather not know. Danny (Brown) and I always want to know. Sure, I’d like to know where I’m at.”
With DiGiacomo and Leeper scuffling behind him, Gardner began his comeback with a three-foot birdie at the par-five fifth, but promptly gave it back with a bogey on the next hole. But Gardner tapped in a birdie at the par-five seventh, then rolled in a 15-foot, left-to-right downhiller at the 426-yard, par-four ninth.
On the back nine, Gardner drained a three-foot birdie at par-four 11th, before enduring a bogey at the tough number 12. Gardner’s round included five birdies, three bogeys and ten pars.
“Danny Brown and I were talking on the first tee,” said Gardner, who won the 2006 County Amateur at Blue Mountain “He asked me, ‘What’s going to happen with John (DiGiacomo)? I told him he’s going to be tough to catch. He’s a good player. I thought being three shots back maybe I had a chance, but six, no I didn’t think so. After 15, the adrenaline, maybe nerves, was picking up. It’s kind of hard to handle. What it is is: ‘How do you control them?’
“There’s no question things went my way,” Gardner added. “I played solid, but I got some breaks. Was it meant to be today? I’m not sure. But I play a lot of golf, and whoever wins, they might get a good bounce here or there. I’ve got two (County Amateurs) and I’m pretty excited about that. It sort of does validate it a little more.”
“Jimmy’s a good player,” said Gibbons, who was also the runner-up last year as well. “He’s always at the top of the leader board at these tournaments. He’s a grinder. That’s probably the key to his success, staying even keel.
“Jimmy got me this year and Danny (Brown) got me last year,” Gibbons continued. “But I’m pleased. After shooting 75 on Saturday, I didn’t have a lot of expectations. That’s probably about three or four runners-up for me.”
Gibbons’ 69 consisted of four birdies, an eagle, four bogeys, nine pars and tied him for the low score of the day.
With a birdie at the par-four opening hole, the eagle at the par-five fifth and a birdie at the par-five seventh, Gibbons made the turn at three-under par. He was at three-under par twice on the back-nine – after birdies at the par-four 11th and the par-five 15th – but both times encountered the bogey monster.
“Being nine strokes back, I didn’t think I had a shot at the title,” said Gibbons. “I was four-under after seven holes. On the 16th tee, I heard the last group was not playing well. But I didn’t hear anything about the second-to-last group. I knew I had a chance.
“This tournament is recognized pretty well around the county,” Gibbons continued. “Around here, locally, it’s pretty prestigious. I remember in 2007 when I won it at Fairview, we had 70 or 80 players, so there’s been a little decline. It’s still a good tournament. It still gets good players. The quantity of players might not be here, but the quality are.”
“It is an advantage because you know the greens,” said Deraco, a Lebanon Valley regular. “I play an average of 50 to 55 rounds a year here. That helps. You know where to hit it not to get into trouble. In two days, I only had one double bogey. Double bogeys are hard to fix.
“I’ve won it (the County Amateur) once and had two seconds, and both seconds were on this course,” Deraco added. “We’re all competitive. I still have the competitive juices flowing. I’m happy to be able to compete with these guys who hit it a ton.”
Deraco’s chances of another title may have been doomed by bogeys at the par-four first hole and the par-four fourth hole. But he rebounded nicely, with birdies at the par-five fifth, the par-four eighth, and the par-four 11th.
“On the front-nine, I played like Tiger Woods. On the second nine, I played like Jordan Spieth,” said Deraco. “I just couldn’t get it going. Over the first seven holes, John (DiGiacomo) was one-under and I’m four-over, and I’m like eight behind. I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way I’ve got a chance’. But I got more relaxed on the back.
“Guys kept telling me Andy and Jimmy were under par,” continued Deraco. “My thought was to play for the top five. Things just happened.”
Massar, Jr. pretty much played himself out of contention with a four-over par 40 on the front. The highlights of his second nine were an eagle at the 288-yard, par-four 17th hole and seven pars.
In other action, Kelly Arnold won the first flight by four strokes, with a second-round 70 and a total of 148. Scot Adams fired the same second-day 70 and captured the second flight by eight shots.
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57th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(at 6,136-yard, par-71 Lebanon Valley Golf Course)
Jim Gardner 72-69 – 141
Tony Deraco 70-74 — 144
Andy Gibbons 75-69 — 144
John DiGiacomo 66-79 — 145
Bill Massar, Jr. 71-74 — 145
Tim Leeper 69-78 — 147
Tyler Massar 74-74 — 148
Dan Brown 74-75 — 149
Jon Hurst 74-77 — 151
Tom Kintzer 75-77 — 152
Dave Brown 75-79 — 154
Jeff Hoke 75-81 — 156
Kelly Arnold 78-70 — 148
Justin Arnt 76-76 — 152
Chad Leeper 75-80 — 155
Perry Umlauf 77-79 — 156
Darren Lutz 78-78 — 156
Tom Plunkett 79-78 — 157
Matt Rowe 78-82 — 160
Skeet Wentling 83-77 — 160
Chris Padovani 81-80 — 161
Carl Johnson III 82-81 — 163
Caleb Ginder 80-86 — 166
Scott Behney 81-W/D — W/D
Scot Adams 84-70 — 154
Kerry Wentling 87-75 — 162
Jordan Rhen 84-80 — 164
Jim Pesta 84-85 — 169
Eric Boltz 86-91 — 177
Raymond Buckman 96-92 — 188
Sean Behney 100-96 — 196
Matt Bradley 109-101 — 210
Lande Noebele 84-W/D — W/D