BY JEFF FALK
QUENTIN – The official record says that Mike Schmidt, Jr. won the 55th Lebanon County Amateur golf championship on Sunday. Schmidt might tell you he won it on Saturday.
But there are others who may tell you he won it on Friday.
A grieving Schmidt captured the championship of local amateur golf yesterday at par-71, 6,305-yard Fairview Golf Course. Schmidt, who lost his maternal grandmother suddenly on Friday morning, debated over playing in the Lebanon County Amateur.
Entering the final day of the 36-hole tournament with a four-shot lead, Schmidt fired a one-under par 70 on Sunday to match the lowest score – 136 – in the 55-year history of the event, set last year by Tony Deraco at Blue Mountain. Partly on the strength of his five-under-par 66 on Saturday, Schmidt easily out-distanced perennial bridesmaid Chris Gebhard by five shots.
Gebhard fired a two-under-par 69 on Sunday, which combined with his first-round 72, gave him a total of one-under 141 and his record fifth runner-up finish. Tyler Massar was third with his 72-71=143.
“I just had a lot of help,” smiled Schmidt through tearing eyes. “My grandmother passed away on Friday, and I wasn’t going to play. My mom said, ‘Grandma’ would’ve wanted you to play’. I went out and played, and just played. I didn’t think about anything. I think I had a little help from grandma. But I had a lot of fun, and I’m so glad I played.”
Tournament director Jimmy Gardner carded a 69 on Sunday and came in with a two-over total of 144. Mike Griffe, Todd Warden and Scot Adams finished in a three-way tie for fifth with with 146s.
“My game plan today was to makes as few mistakes as possible and get all the par-fives,” said Schmidt, who matched a previous Amateur title in 2008. “I thought if I did that it would make it difficult for someone to catch me. I did a good job of making pars and making putts that kept it together.
“Ten years ago, I would’ve shot 85 today,” added Schmidt, 33. “I just think the more you play the more your mindset changes. It’s easier to take your lumps.”
Schmidt padded his comfortable cushion with birdies at the par-five fourth and the 398-yard, par-four eighth. Then after absorbing bogeys at numbers nine and 13, he placed the finishing touches on it with a birdie at the par-five 14th.
“I had two thoughts,” said Schmidt. “‘If someone was playing really well, I would’ve heard about it.’ Or ‘Someone was playing well and no one was telling me.’ The guys I was playing with didn’t score well. There was no real threat in my (final) group.
“When I got to one-under on 14, I thought, ‘If someone shoots seven-under and beats me, they deserve to win.’ Most of my day was about not making mistakes and making someone beat you.”
Schmidt’s 36 holes of tournament play consisted of 22 pars, 10 birdies and four bogeys.
“I certainly didn’t lose it yesterday (Saturday),” said Schmidt. “Eighteen holes is a long time. There’s a lot of work to do.
“Chris (Gebhard) is a very, very solid player,” Schmidt continued. “He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s got a great short game. He keeps all of it in-check, emotionally. He’s a great (better-ball) partner and he helps me out. He’s a good golfer, but an awesome guy.”
The man who gave Schmidt any sort of run for his money was Gebhard.
Gebhard gained three shots on par with short birdies at Numbers One, Four and Seven, but realistically may have done himself in with a double-bogey into the water on the par-three ninth. Gebhard threatened a strong closing with birdies at Numbers 13 and 17, before bogeying the par-three closing test.
“The shot on Nine was a real killer,” said Gebhard, 39. “I figured I had to shoot in the 65 range, and when I was three-under through eight holes, I figured it was doable. But it was the wrong swing at the wrong time.
“Obviously he (Schmidt) controls the golf tournament, if he plays good, he wins it,” continued Gebhard. “I was just trying to do the best I can. In the end, I would’ve had to shoot 64 to win.”
Rick Troutman and Tim Leeper carded 73-74=147 totals, while another shot back were Bill Massar, Jr. and Steve Anspach. Shane Gingrich went 149, and Justin Arnt finished at 152.
“It’s my fifth time as a runner-up, that’s a lot,” said Gebhard, himself a two-time Lebanon County Amateur champ. “I play well, and other people play really well. That’s what happened this year.
“Schmidty is incredibly talented,” Gebhard continued. “He’s one of the most talented people you will find in this area. He can hit a lot of golf shots I can not. He can literally hit it as far as he wants. If he wants to hit farther, he hits it farther. When he plays well, he’s an incredibly gifted golfer.”
Andy Gibbons bested Dan Brown by two strokes to win the first flight, Chris Baez and Mark Novis shared top honors in the second flight, while the third flight went to Carl Johnson III.
55th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(at par-71, 6,305-yard Fairview Golf Course)
Mike Schmidt Jr. 66-70-136
Chris Gebhard 72-69-141
Tyler Massar 72-71-145
Jim Gardner 75-69-144
Mike Griffe 72-73-145
Scot Adams 71-75-146
Todd Warden 73-73-146
Mike Griffe 71-75-146
Tim Leeper 73-74-147
Rick Troutman 73-74-147
Steve Anspach 70-78-148
Bill Massar Jr. 73-75-148
Shane Gingrich 71-78-149
Tom Kintzer 73-78-151
Justin Arnt 71-81-152
Ryan Weaber 74-78-152
Ed Caudwill 74-83-157
Caleb Ginder 73-85-158
Cody Kersey 74-84-158
Jordan Rhen 74-84-158
First Flight (top five)
Andy Gibbons 75-72-147
Dan Brown 76-73-149
Sasha Neufeld-Kreider 77-72-149
Jesse Brown 78-72-150
Tony Deraco 76-76-152
Darren Lutz 75-78-153
Second Flight (top five)
Chris Baez 78-75-153
Mark Novis 78-75-153
Eric Boltz 78-76-154
Kerry Wentling 79-76-155
Jon Hurst 79-77-156
Steve Sherk 80-76-156
Third Flight (top five)
Carl Johnson III 81-76-157
James Pesta 84-76-160
Chris Padovani 84-77-161
Bryan Bates 82-80-162
Dan Bost 81-82-163