BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – This summer hasn’t been a good one for Lebanon County golf, on a number of fronts. And over the past few years, the County hasn’t fared well at The Sullivan.
But yesterday, the locale bounced back in a big way.
On Saturday at the par-72, 6,562-yard Lebanon Country Club, three different Lebanon County duos reached the semifinals of the match-play championship flight, during the 72nd edition of the prestigious W. B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament. Surprising Brady Demey-Tyler Massar, ham-and-eggers Chris Gebhard-Noah Firestone and seasoned Jim Gardner-Cody Kersey all won a pair of matches yesterday to qualify for the final four.
Demey-Massar, the number-14 seeds, edged Mike Farling-Jeff Frazier 2&1, and nudged Andy Brightbill-Mike Turner, also 2&1. Gebhard-Firestone topped Brady Goodling-Andy Beittel 3&2 in the morning, and bested Joe Russo-Joey Russo, 2&1 in the afternoon. Gardner-Kersey took care of Jeff Daniels-Derek Price 2&1 , before disposing of Brian Golembiewski-Bill Schultz 4&3 in the quarterfiinals.
A fourth local duo, Rick Troutman-Greg Ulp, was beaten by 2015 champs, medalists and number-one seed Drew Patterson-Chad Stine, 3&2 in the quarters.
Lebanon County advancing three teams to the semifinals of the championship flight is a rare occurrence at The Sullivan, and it assures the county of at least one tandem in Sunday afternoon’s final match. The last local duo to capture a Sullivan crown was Gardner with Andy Gibbons, in 2012.
“Seventy-five percent of the teams in the semifinals, that’s a compliment to us as a county,” said Demey. “It would be sweet if someone from here would close the deal.”
“You should make a big deal out of that,” said Gebhard. “It’s more cool when local teams win. It would be way cooler if country club players won, because it’s our golf course. It’s been a long time.”
“It’s nice to see the local guys doing well,” said Kersey. “Partly because this tournament draws from such a wide area.”
Demey and Massar certainly opened some eyes with their play, everyone’s perhaps, except for their own.
With their match with Brightbill and Turner hanging in the balance, Demey rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the 372-yard, par-four 16th and then an eight-foot bird at the par-four 17th. The duo had won consecutive holes earlier on the back-nine, at the par-five tenth with Massar’s five-foot birdie and at the tough par-four 11th with a bogey.
“This is the event we look forward to. It’s the only event we look forward to,” said Massar, who along with Demey, are making their first appearance in the Sullivan championship flight, after four previous tries. “This is a whole new level of golf. It makes us feel good to know we can compete at this level, that we can take our game to this level. We always believed we were good enough to be here. Now we’re happy to be here.
“We’re going to be underdogs tomorrow,” added Massar. “We’ve been the underdogs in the tournament. We’re going to come out tomorrow and take it.’
“This is what it’s all about. I love match play,” said Demey. “We like it like that (being underdogs). We knew it was just a matter of time until we made a move. We like flying under the radar.”
Masssar-Demey jumped out to an early one-up advantage with a short birdie at the 398-yard, par-four fourth hole. But by the time they made the turn, the match was even.
“We played poorly on the front-nine, but we were one up,” said Massar. “They (Brightbill-Turner) weren’t playing well either. We made the turn all square and I said to Brady, “Let’s take it to them’.
“I hit the ball farther,” Massar added. “I hit the ball more consistent. But Brady knows how to score. We talk through every shot.”
“From a golf standpoint, we’re polar opposites,” said Demey. “We have two totally different games. I’m more of a coach. But there’s not two tougher personalities in this golf tournament.”
Firestone and Gebhard, the seventh seed, led their quarterfinal match with Russo-Russo most of the way. But a 30-foot birdie by Gebhard at the par-three 14th and a 15-foot birdie from Gebhard at the par-five 15th put them up three with three holes to play.
They clinched their second semifinal berth in two years with a par at the par-four 17th.
“It’s absolutely the only goal I have left in the game,” said Gebhard, who has finished as the runner-up at the Sullivan with different partners three times. “My golf career has come full circle. I used to be the young guy playing with the older guys. Now I’m the older guy playing with the younger guy. I think I’m pretty decent with the mentor role.”
“We played well when we needed to,” said Firestone. “We made a decent amount of birdies. We played solid.”
With the match all square, Gebhard drained a six-foot birdie at the par-four fifth hole and Firestone sank a 12-foot birdie at the par-five seventh hole. Up two holes, Firestone and Gebhard refused to relinquish their advantage.
“There’s no comparison,” said Gebhard. “Playing match play is such a different dynamic. You don’t get that many opportunities to do it. It’s a golf tournament I grew up in. I’ve played in every one since I was 14- or 15-years-old. It makes it fun. It’s very different than the County Amateur or the County Better-Ball.”
“We know each other’s game and we know the course,” said Firestone. “Neither of us gets too fired up. But he (Gebhard) did have to reign me back a little today.”
Versus Goliembewski-Schultz, fourth-seeded Kersey-Gardner won five of seven early holes to take a commanding four-up advantage, then cruised from there. Kersey-Gardner won Number Two with Gardner’s five-foot birdie, Number Three with Kersey’s 25-foot biride, Number Five with a collaborative birdie and Numbers Six and Eight with pars.
“Once we got up, we didn’t really attack anything,” said Kersey. “We made them beat us. That’s his philosophy. I always like to go full bore. But we played solid.
“Par’s a pretty good score in match play. You have to play the percentages,” said Gardner. “It’s not easy to get into match play. Usually four-under (in qualifying) is the magic number. There’s great competition here.”
Gardner-Kersey’s cushion helped them absorb Goliembewski-Schultz’s 1 at the 196-yard, par-three 12th hole. Another short birdie from Gardner, at the par-five 15th, all but decided the match, and it was formally completed with a par a hole later.
“We get along very well,” said Kersey of Gardner. “By all means, Jim is a steady guy. I don’t have to worry about him too much.”
“We both have laid back personalities,” said Gardner. “We’re both competitive, but we don’t get too excited or emotional. Our match with Patterson and Stine tomorrow should be fun. I’m pretty sure we’ve got to make birdies.”
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W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners