BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Tony Deraco is neither chronologically challenged, seasoned or old. He’s just a late-bloomer.
On Sunday afternoon at par-71, 6,059-yard Blue Mountain Golf Course, in the 54th edition of the event, Deraco became the oldest competitor to ever win the Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship. The 57-year-old Deraco protected the two-shot lead with which he entered the second round, got off to a fast start and simply refused to come back to the pack.
Deraco backed up his first-round 67 with a two-under par 69. His six-under par total of 136 was three shots better than runner-up Andy Gibbons, who fired a four-under 67 on Sunday. But Gibbons’ mild charge was really the only one mounted against Deraco, a two-time Lebanon County Senior Amateur champ.
Chris Gebhard, who carded a final-round 72, and Scott Wentling, who counted a 69 on Sunday, finished in a tie for third with one-under totals of 141, five shots behind Deraco. Steve Allwein was fifth with a 72-70=142 total.
Josh Kreiser and Mike Potts both carded two-over par totals of 144, while Jim Gardner and Charles White had 146s.
Deraco’s total was three strokes lower than any other County-Amateur-winning total at Blue Mountain.
“This is probably the most satisfying victory I’ve ever had,” said Deraco. “This is two days. The senior’s one. This is the championship of Lebanon County golf. This is up there.”
Instead of coming back to the 53-competitor field, Deraco ran away from it early on. Continuing his hot play from a day earlier, Deraco recorded birdies on four of his first seven holes to pretty much secure the crown.
“Yeah, I had a number in mind, 70,” said Deraco when asked what he thought it would take on Sunday to win the title. “Seventy was my number. I figured someone’s going to have to shoot in the mid 60s to beat me.”
Playing in the final foursome with Gebhard, a two-time former champ, another past champ in Jon DiGiacomo and upstart Justin Arnt, Deraco matched Gebhard’s opening-hole birdie with one of his own, from three feet out. After rolling in a five-foot birdie at the par-five fourth, Deraco drained a 20-footer on the par-three fifth.
He capped his run with a bird on the par-four seventh that left him four-under for the day and eight-under for the tournament.
“That one on number one was a big one,” said Deraco, who was the runner-up in 2009. “Chris made one, so I’m thinking I don’t want him getting to within a shot.
“Most of the time the winner comes from the final group,” Deraco added. “It’s easily 80 percent, if not more. Every County Amateur I’ve played in, the winner came from the last group. I wasn’t sure what Chris was shooting, but he was my main concern.”
After the seventh hole, Deraco put it in ‘conservation’ mode, a relatively easy task for a player as steady as he. Deraco did not record a birdie over his final eleven holes, but only two bogeys – at the par-five eighth and the par-three 16th. And nine pars over that stretch.
“It was big being four-under after seven holes,” Deraco added. “I was playing with Chris and nobody in my group was close. I was pretty relaxed. At that point I’m thinking, ‘I’ll be more conservative.’ At 14 and 15, I did not hit driver. I hit three-wood and kept it in play.”
Deraco is the product of good blood lines. His father Gus was perhaps the most influential organizer and manager of local amateur sports of his era. But the one thing Gus Deraco didn’t have his hands in was golf.
“I actually wanted to dedicate my round to my parents,” said Deraco. “That kept me focused. When I was a kid he’d (Gus) go out when we played. But he’s be talking as we were swinging. Golf wasn’t his game.”
“He’s solid,” said Gibbons of Deraco. “On a course like this, his game will shine. He hits his driver straight and he’s a good putter. I think it’s pretty impressive a 57-year-old winning the County Amateur.”
Playing a few groups behind him, Gibbons tried to keep tabs on Deraco while mouting his own charge. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with any of the reports he received.
“I thought it might be good enough to get into a playoff,” said Gibbons of his 67. “About five holes in I heard Tony was at three-under. But I didn’t get aggressive. I stuck with the game plan. Everytime I looked back he was in the middle of the fairway or on the green.
“No. I don’t usually play better on the second day,” Gibbons continued. “Everyone usually goes low in the first round. I think they play above themselves to a certain point. Sunday’s scores are usually higher.”
Gibbons overcame a bogey on the second hole with a string of three birdies in four holes – at the par-five fourth, the par-three fifth and the par-four seventh. Gibbons gave a shot back to par at number 11, before rolling home birdie putts at the par-five 13th, the par-four 14th and the par-four 18th.
“I’m happy with the round,” said Gibbons. “It’s hard to do what he (Deraco) did, follow up a 67 with a 69. That was the difference in me being able to catch him.
“I texted Jimmy Gardner (Saturday) last night and asked him ‘Do you think you can catch him?'” added Gibbons. “And he said, ‘You better shoot 67.’ And I did. When you’re out there you’re feeling pressure to do well more than a normal round of golf.”
An annual contender at the County Amateur, Gibbons may have lost this one on Saturday.
“What I remember about yesterday was just not scoring,” said Gibbons, “not taking advantage of the par-fives, bogeying the par-threes and not striking the ball well. I told Steve Allwein that we did lose the tournament yesterday. When I found out how good Tony was playing, it was tough catching him.
“I guess I like playing in this tournament just because of growing up in the County and admiring the better players,” Gibbons concluded. It’s like a major for us. It’s the one we want to gear up for.”
54th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(at 6,059-yard, par-71 Blue Mountain Golf Course)
136 – Tony Deraco (67-69)
141 – Scott Wentling (72-69), Chris Gebhard (69-72)
142 – Steve Allwein (72-70)
144 – Josh Kreiser (71-73), Mike Potts (72-72)
146 – Jim Gardner (73-73), Charles White (76-70)
147 – Darren Lutz (73-74), Scot Adams (73-74), Justin Arnt (71-76)
148 – Brady Demey (74-74)
149 – Tom Kintzer (75-74)
150 – Cody Kersey (73-77), Tom Sherk (75-75), Jesse Brown (79-71)
151 – Eric Boltz (71-80), Dave Snader (75-76), Jeff Hoke (76-75), Bill Massar, Jr. (76-75), Steve Anspach (80-71)
152 – Scott Behney (75-77), Greg Behney (76-76)
153 – Tom Mettley (78-75)
154 – Derrik Brennan (77-77), Tim Leeper (79-75)
155 – Jared Cook (79-76), Bryan Bates (80-75)
158 – Noah Firestone (82-76)
160 – Dave Winters (80-80)
161 – Kerry Wentling (80-81), Chuck Schwab (81-80), Steve Sherk (84-77)
163 – Caleb Ginder (79-84), Nate Rader (81-82)
164 – Mike Griffe (80-84), Sreeniuas Kangula (83-81), Ron Heisey (84-80)
168 – Jeff Beare (82-86)
169 – Herm Faiola (82-87)
170 – Dave Berkheimer (90-80)
177 – Raymond Buckman (87-90)