Tiger Woods recently had a walk-away victory at the Bridgestone Invitational. After flirting with a 59 in the second round and finishing with a 61, Woods went into the third round with a seven-stroke lead and also entered the final round still in front by seven, which ended up being his winning margin.
There was no pressure on Woods in the cakewalk and it reminded me of a similar thing here 18 years ago.
The New York State Amateur men's golf tournament was held at Moon Brook Country Club in July of 1995, but preparations began the previous fall when it was announced that the local club would play host to the event. The committee met monthly and it seemed like each session always ended with the comment that it would be neat if Dirk Ayers could win it.
At the time the Falconer Central School graduate was the top golfer in the area and was also the No. 1 man on the Penn State team. It was very possible that Ayers could win, but with a field of 150 of the best golfers in the entire state, it was also a challenge.
It was a challenge until Ayers got to the 36-hole final. That's because in the final he walked away with a 11 and 10 win over Jason Piuroski of Webster.
Ayers got on a roll and was 5-up after nine holes and finished 10-up after 18 holes of the morning session.
In the afternoon, Piuroski managed to win two holes before Ayers came back to win three and closed out the match on the 26th hole.
What was expected to be a long day was cut short and that was fine with tournament director Al Short of Jamestown. He had to catch a flight to Milwaukee at 3:40 p.m., so he had planned on missing the end of the match. However, the quick match ended at 2 p.m. and Short made his flight with time to spare.
It was deserving that Ayers had such an easy championship match because his two of his previous ones were the opposite. In the first round of match play, he had to go 20 holes to win and it happened again in the semifinals.
However, Ayers almost didn't play in the event at all.
He was a no-show for the practice round. The week before the State Amateur, Ayers suffered a bee sting and by the weekend his eyes were almost swollen shut. Then to make matters worse, he suffered a rash from a medication he was taking.
In his first round, Ayers shot an even-par 72. However, he wasn't sure he would be able to finish the round because his eyes were still bothering him and he could barely see on the final holes.
Ayers shot another 72 in the second round to qualify for match play.
That was a change from the last time the State Amateur was held at Moon Brook in 1978. The event was entirely stroke play and the winner was 20-year-old Jeff Sluman from Rochester, who sunk a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole and won by a stroke.
Sluman went on to play on the PGA Tour and is now on the Champions Tour.
Two other golfers in that 1978 field who followed the same path were Joey Sindelar and Mike Hulbert. Sindelar finished third and Hulbert tied for fourth.
The only other area golfer to qualify for match play in 1995 was Sam Amatuzzo, who had opened with an 82, but he shot a 1-under-71 in the second round for a 153 total. The cutoff to reach match play was 153 and five golfers had that total, but only three spots were available. Amatuzzo took part in a five-man playoff and captured one of the three sports on the first playoff hole when he sunk a 30-foot for a birdie.
Amatuzzo was eliminated in the first round of match play, but Ayers advanced with a 1-up win in 20 holes over Kevin Bruni. In the afternoon, Ayers won his second-round match, 3 and 2, over Randy Teegarden.
In the quarterfinals, Ayers had an easy time with a 5 and 4 win over Tom Christian. But things were quite different when he faced Mike Woodson in the semifinals.
Ayers found himself two down after four holes. Things were even after Ayers won the 10th hole, but Christian went ahead by one after 14.
Then came a huge turning point for Ayers at the par-4 15th. He sliced his drive and his ball was headed toward a pond, but it somehow stopped 2 feet short of the water. If the ball had rolled into the pond, the match would probably have been over.
It was surprising his ball had stopped short and it brought back memories of the 1992 Masters when eventual winner Fred Couple barely cleared Rae's Creek on the par-3 12th hole. His ball started rolling back toward the water, but somehow remained on the bank. He saved par and went on to win.
Ayers did the same thing. He went on to par the 15th while Woodson bogeyed and they were all square. Ayers eventually won on the 20th hole.
The semifinal match was nail-biter, but the final was just the opposite as Ayers coasted to the victory.
It was quite an accomplishment for Ayers, but he didn't have long to savior it. Two days later he was at Niagara Falls competing in the Porter Cup.