By Jim Riggs, Sports Editor
Results of the New York State Amateur Golf Tournament began arriving in our email this week and it reminded me of the last time the event was held at Moon Brook Country Club in 1995.
It was an exciting event with some memorable happenings during a week that ended with a unforgettable, but anti-climatic finish.
Dirk Ayers celebrates sinking a put en route to the winning the 1995 New York State Amateur at Moon Brook Country Club.
P-J photo by Jim Riggs
The planning for the State Amateur began the previous year and I recall being at a meeting at Moon Brook in the fall as part of the publicity committee. It was assumed that one of the best amateurs in the area, Falconer Central School graduate Dirk Ayers, would be in the field. And near the end of the meeting one of the chairmen mentioned it would be great if Ayers, who was the No. 1 golfer on the Penn Sate team, could finish as the winner.
I knew that would make my job easier to cover the tournament with the ''local boy makes good'' angle. But there would be a starting field of 150 golfers that would be whittled down to the 32 best in the entire state to begin match play to win the championship. So the odds of Ayers winning would be difficult.
However, at every meeting after that until the tournament began in July, it always came up again that it would be great if Ayers could win it. And the more they said it, the more I was concerned they were jinxing him.
However, first Ayers had to qualify for the State Amateur. The 18-hole qualifier was held at Crag Burn Golf Club with 35 berths for the tournament on the line. And Ayers did qualify by shooting a 5-over-par 77. The best score for a local qualifier was Dan Bjork with a 76. Other local qualifiers were Joe Johnson, John David Mauer, Sam Amatuzzo, Tom Johnson, Greg Bender and Bob Gunnell.
After a practice round at Moon Brook on Monday, July 16, the State Amateur began the next day. And that was the first of two rather busy days for me.
The Post-Journal was an afternoon newspaper back then, so I used to arrive at work around 3 a.m. to begin laying out the sports section. In addition to covering the State Amateur that week, I would also have two Jamestown Jammers baseball games to cover at night. Because of that I planned to have one of my co-workers lay out the pages for a couple of mornings, but the plan went down the drain when I was told we could have absolutely no overtime in our department.
So for the first two days of the tournament I went to The Post-Journal at 3 a.m. and laid out the pages, then around 10 a.m. I headed to Moon Brook to cover the State Amateur for the rest of the morning and the afternoon. At 6 p.m., I headed to the Jammers game and got home around 10:30 or 11 p.m.
The first day went fine, but I cut it a little close on the second day when there was a six-player playoff at the State Amateur for the last spots to qualify for match play. The playoff began at 6:40 p.m. and I was wondering if I would make it to the Jammers game at 7:05 p.m. The only local golfer in the playoff was Sam Amatuzzo and he helped me out immensely when he sunk a 30-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to qualify. After a quick interview, I headed to College Stadium and was walking through the gate as the National Anthem was playing.
The only other local golfer to qualify was Ayers, which kept the committee's dream of him winning alive.
However, the major story of the second round was the play of Gregg Bender, who failed to qualify with an 80. But it wasn't just any 80.
Bender had suffered an ankle injury and he walked the last 15 holes between shots with the aid of crutches.
When play moved into match play, Ayers was the only local golfer to advance. He won this first-round match, 1-up in 20 holes, and won again in the second round, 3 and 2.
The next morning in the quarterfinals, Ayers breezed to a 5 and 4 win. But things were a bit more difficult in the afternoon semifinals as Ayers had to go 20 holes again for another 1-up win.
A key to that victory was on the 15th hole where Ayers sliced his ball near a pond, but it somehow stopped 2 feet from going in the water. It reminded many of Fred Couples' ball not rolling back into the water on the 12th hole at the 1992 Masters.
At that point, Ayers was one down and if the ball had rolled into the water, the match probably would have been over. Instead, Ayers made a par while his opponent made a bogey for a major momentum change. Then Ayers went on to win in 20 holes.
But after two nail-biters to reach the finals on Saturday, that is where Ayers had his easiest time. It was supposed to be 36 holes, but it went only 26 as Ayers ran away with the title. He shot a 3-under-par 69 in the opening 18 holes and was 10-up. Then he closed out an 11-and-12 win on the eighth hole of the second 18.
What was expected to be a 36-hole or more match that would end in the late afternoon was over before 2 p.m. So for everyone involved in the tournament, it was a much-needed early end to a long week of work. It was also nice to have an early finish for Ayers because he didn't have long to celebrate his State Amateur title. He had to begin playing in the Porter Cup on Monday.
It seemed to be a non-stop week that finished abruptly with the perfect ending, particularly for the committee members who had speculated, and hoped, Ayers could win.