EAST NANTMEAL – As Michael McDermott watched the 25-foot birdie putt of Joseph Ida, his opponent in the opening round of match play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall on a spectacular late-summer Monday, fall into the cup at the par-5 first hole, he couldn’t help but remember another match in extra holes at Stonewall.
“I had a 1-up lead on the last hole (the 36th of the match) on Michael Hyland in the 2000 Philadelphia Amateur final,” McDermott said. “I lost the hole and it went to sudden death. And he made a 25-foot putt to extend the match. I didn’t win the next hole that time, though. But it was definitely a déjà vu moment when his putt went in.”
That’s sort of the point. The 41-year-old McDermott, who plays out of Merion Golf Club, has built up plenty of scar tissue playing big matches in big spots over the years. And in his eighth U.S. Mid-Amateur with a long and varied history at Stonewall, McDermott made a three-foot birdie try into a cup that looked a little smaller after Ida’s putt dropped, put his head down and headed for the second tee and the 20th hole of the match.
This time it was different than that heartbreaking loss in 38 holes to Hyland 16 years ago. This time, Ida caught a bad break when his drive found the fescue to the left of the fairway while McDermott was just a few feet away, but in the more forgiving first cut of rough.
Ida, a former Kansas State standout who is a reinstated amateur, could do no better than dump his approach into the bunker 50 yards short of the green. McDermott muscled a wedge to the front of the green and, after Ida missed a long par putt, the Haverford High and Saint Joseph’s University product lagged his 25-footer within a foot.
“I guess after all these years and all these matches, I know what to expect,” said McDermott, who has won three BMW Philadelphia Amateur titles since that loss to Hyland in 2000. “I know I’m going to get a 2-up lead, I know he’s going to get it back to even and then I’m going to get behind. I’m going to get 2-up again and he’s going to come back again.”
Or maybe it’s just that when it comes to match play, McDermott has learned to expect the unexpected. His victory over Ida earned him a date Tuesday at 8:05 a.m. against Joe Alfieri of Lutz, Fla. The 47-year-old Alfieri, another reinstated amateur, defeated Sean Barrett of San Francisco, 5 and 3, in another opening-round match.
Two other Golf Association of Philadelphia players advanced to the second round with just one of the four GAP players who qualified for match play, Philadelphia Cricket Club’s John Brennan, a social studies teacher at Spring-Ford High School, getting knocked out. Brennan fell to Dan Sullivan, a veteran player from Pasadena, Calif., 3 and 2.
The Cricket Club’s Gregor Orlando claimed a 7 and 5 victory over Bradley Lane of Lawrence, Kan., 1-up. Orlando draws Michael Muehl of Potomoc Falls, Va., one of the three qualifying co-medalists, at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. Muehl knocked off Kyle Hoffman of Lincoln, R.I., who survived the 13-for-1 playoff for the final berth in match play earlier Monday, 3 and 2.
Yardley Country Club’s Christopher Ault claimed a 1-up victory over Kevin O’Connell of Raleigh, N.C. Ault’s second-round opponent is Brad Valois of Warwick, R.I., who sneaked past Draegen Majors of Tulsa, Okla. in 20 holes. That match tees off at 9:25 a.m. Tuesday.
But the McDermott-Ida match was certainly one of the highlights on a day when the field of 64 stroke-play qualifying survivors was whittled to just 32. Two rounds of matches are scheduled for Tuesday, which will cut the field to eight quarterfinalists.
McDermott, a five-time William Hyndman III GAP Player of the Year, got off to a fast start by winning the second and third holes with pars. But Ida got it back to even by winning the fifth and sixth holes with pars.
Ida briefly got the lead with a birdie at the eighth, normally a 417-yard, par-4 eighth hole that was moved up 100 yards to the ladies’ tee to make it an almost drivable par-4. But McDermott answered by dropping a nine-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
McDermott got the lead back with a wedge to three feet out of the right rough on 12, but Ida got back to even on 13 with a conceded birdie after a wayward drive by McDermott.
It looked like McDermott had taken control of the match when he hit a gap wedge out of the fescue on the left at 14 to six feet for a birdie and then drilled a 7-iron on the green at the par-3 15th hole and won the hole with a par to go 2-up.
“That was my best shot of the day,” McDermott said of the tee shot at the tough 177-yard 15th. “I shaped it in there from left to right. And I knew he had no chance in that rough just to the left of the hole.”
But it wasn’t over yet. Ida got one back at 16 when McDermott drove it to a tough spot in the left rough with a rock perched in front of his ball. And when McDermott couldn’t get his six-foot putt for par at the 18th, it was back to the first tee for sudden death.
“I’ve played two Philly Ams here and a couple of U.S. Amateur qualifiers,” said McDermott, whose 3-under 67 at one of those U.S. Amateur qualifiers stands as the competitive course record at Tom Doak’s 6,870-yard, par-70 Old Course. “There’s places here you know you just can’t go. I think that gives the local guys a hole or two every round and that’s big in match play.”
Orlando grabbed a 3-up lead with a birdie at the 13th only to see it disappear as Lane won 14 with birdie, 15 with par and 17 with birdie to send the match to the 18th all square. But Orlando was able to win the 18th with a bogey to take the match.
Ault, who starred scholastically at Pennsbury and collegiately at East Carolina, was 2-down with four holes to play against O’Connell, but won 16, 17 and 18 with pars to escape with the 1-up win.
Brennan made a birdie on 13 to cut his deficit against Sullivan to 2-down, but Sullivan won 15 with birdie and 16 with par to close out Brennan.