BY JEFF FALK
During a summer in which Lebanon County crowned its oldest amateur golf champion ever, it was somehow fitting, appropriate and perhaps a bit ironic that the locale would also crown its youngest senior amateur champion.
On Friday at the 5,734-yard, par-72 Pine Meadows Golf Course, 50-year-old Tim Leeper won the Lebanon County Senior Amateur championship in his first year of competing in the event. With a par on the third extra hole, Leeper edged Logan Sheetz by a shot in a playoff for the title.
Both Leeper and Sheetz finished their rounds with even-par 72s, necessitating a three-hole, aggregate-score playoff. Before the tie was broken at the 365-yard, par-four third hole, Leeper and Sheetz had each carded pars at the 394-yard, par-four first hole and bogeys at the 247-yard, par-four second hole.
With a two-over par-74, Jerry Succi finished third in the 31-player field. Dave Keller, Jeff Hoke, John Hacunda and Ron Heisey tied for fourth with identical 76s.
Reigning Lebanon County amateur champion Tony Deraco, Scott Behney and Ray Plummer all carded 77s. Last month, at the age of 57, Leeper’s better-ball partner, Deraco, became the oldest County Amateur champion in the 54-year history of the tournament.
“It wasn’t like I was waiting to turn 50 so I could play,” said Leeper, a regular at Lebanon Valley Golf Course. “But I know most of these guys. It’s like playing with your buddies.
“I wanted to come here and play well,” continued Leeper, “and where the chips fell, they fell. I would’ve been disappointed if I shot 80.”
The championship pretty much came down to two decisive shots on the third playoff hole. After Sheetz rolled his drive 125 yards, Leeper knocked a pitching wedge from 135 yards out to within ten feet of the pin.
Although Leeper missed his birdie attempt, Sheetz could not get up-and-down from the front of the green, misfiring on an eight-footer for par.
“I was trying to play for a par,” Leeper said. “I knew he was going to have a tough time getting up and down from where he was at. But I didn’t think it was over. I’ve played too much with Logan. I was just happy to two-putt.”
“I think that was the tournament right there,” said Sheetz. “It was a bad tee shot. It was my worst shot of the day.
“I would like to congratulate Tim,” Sheetz added. “He’s a good golfer. He’s a good guy. Tim is solid. He doesn’t make mistakes.”
Leeper could’ve won the title in regulation, but bogeyed the 506-yard, par-five closing hole. It was his only blemish on a back-nine that featured a birdie on the par-five tenth hole and a bird at the par-three 13th.
“I just kind of hit it down the middle,” said Leeper, who won the 2001 Lebanon County Amateur championship. “I chipped and putted. That’s what held me together. I just try not to get in trouble any more. I’ve been having back issues, so it’s nice to play a good round.”
On the front nine, Leeper was plagued by a double-bogey at the 301-yard, par-four fourth hole. But birds at number two and the par-five fifth helped offset it.
“I don’t know how to do it any other way,” said Leeper. “When you tee it up you want to beat the other guys. There’s no laying down.
“The key here is to keep it out of trouble,” Leeper added. “It’s loaded with obstacles. I think that’s why the field was so small. I don’t think there’s a hole here where you can’t get into trouble.”
Four consecutive Sheetz birdies – on Numbers Three, Four, Five and Six – got him to three-under par. But he gave one of those back to par at the 172-yard seventh and made the turn at 34, or two-under.
“You have to focus on what you’re doing,” said Sheetz, a 53-year-old resident of Richland. “I knew there were a lot of good golfers out there. So you’ve just got to go out and grind the best you can.”
“We’re good friends, Logan and I,” said Leeper. “We both play at Lebanon Valley. We play against each other all the time. I’m rooting for him and he’s rooting for me. If he would’ve won I would’ve been happy for him.”
Sheetz got back to three-under par with a birdie at the 336-yard, par-four 11th hole. But bogeys at 13, 16 and 17 produced his even-par score.
“Actually, I wasn’t playing real well coming in (to the event),” said Sheetz. “I got a lot of ups-and-downs. I’ll take it.
“The key out here is to keep it straight,” Sheetz continued. “There’s so many penalty strokes waiting for you.”
Succi also made the turn at two-under par, but struggled to a 40 on the back. Hoke posted a three-under par 33 on the back to partially overcome his 43 on the front.