WHITEMARSH – Thursday marked the seventh time that Michael McDermott had teed it up in a BMW Philadelphia Amateur semifinal.
Four times he had advanced to the final, three times getting to hoist the J. Wood Platt Trophy that goes to the winner, including last year at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course, his home course. Twice he had lost in the semifinals. Make it three times.
Just when it looked like the 42-year-old Bryn Mawr resident was about to complete a remarkable comeback from 4-down after nine holes, McDermott’s putter betrayed him, opening the door for Gregor Orlando, playing on his home course, Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course, to claim a 2 and 1 victory and advance to Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final.
The 26-year-old Orlando, the 2007 PIAA champion as a junior at Erie Cathedral Prep, will take on LedgeRock Golf Club’s Grant Skylass in the final after Skylass held on to beat Lu Lu Country Club’s P.J. Acierno, 2 and 1. Skylass is the first Berks County player to reach the final since fellow LedgeRock member Chip Lutz did it in 1977.
“Semifinal losses are harder than final losses,” said McDermott, who was bidding to become the first repeat winner of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur since Overbrook Golf Club’s Chris Lange did it in 1994 and 1995. “There’s something about making it to that Saturday final. It’s the biggest day of the year in GAP (the Golf Association of Philadelphia).
“But Gregor played beautifully. I missed some putts and he made some big putts. It will be great for him Saturday. He’ll get to play for the championship in front of the Cricket Club members who will come out for him the same way they did at Merion for me last year.”
McDermott’s putter betrayed him a couple of times, which was frustrating because he was hitting the ball as well as he could remember. He reached the semifinals earlier Thursday with a solid 4 and 3 victory in a quarterfinal match with Jay Whitby of Quail Hollow Golf & Country Club.
“The last couple of years I’ve been getting by with some below-average ball-striking because of my new-found short game,” said McDermott, who starred at Haverford High and at Saint Joseph’s. “Today I was driving it like I was 25 again, but I putted way too poorly to win the match. I didn’t feel confident over the ball. I didn’t have the speed the whole match.”
A three-putt on the par-3 third hole by McDermott gave Orlando his first lead. Orlando won the fourth with a par and then dropped a 12-footer for par on the fifth while McDermott missed a four-and-a-half footer and suddenly McDermott was 3-down.
McDermott got it to 2-down by making a tricky six-footer of his own for par. But Orlando then made a downhill slider from 12 feet for birdie on the eighth and McDermott yanked his tee shot on the ninth out of bounds and found himself 4-down after nine holes.
“It was a closer match than that,” McDermott said.
He is a veteran of so many big matches, in GAP competition and on a national stage. As recently as last summer, he made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Stonewall. He knew it wasn’t over.
Orlando’s tee shot on the par-3 10th found the front bunker and McDermott won the hole with a par. McDermott won the par-5 12th with a conceded birdie after nearly reaching the green in two and Orlando’s 4-up advantage was cut in half.
But McDermott missed a couple of golden opportunities to cut into Orlando’s lead even further when he three-putted for a bogey at the par-4 14th and again when he missed a five-footer for par on the tough, par-3 15th.
He was a little unlucky at 15 as his tee shot on the 217-yard hole rolled through the green and came to rest in the closely-mown fringe. Only problem was, there was a sprinkler head in front of his ball and he was forced to chip the ball when he would have preferred to putt it.
“That was really a horrible break,” McDermott said. “It wasn’t an impossible chip, but it was running away from me, so it had to check a little. It was only 20 feet, I’m sure I could have two-putted from there.”
McDermott blasted his drive on the short, par-4 16th and his chip from 47 yards hit the pin and left him with a tap-in birdie. He had finally cut Orlando’s lead to one.
But Orlando had one last answer. He bombed his drive on the par-4 17th hole – “my play there has always been driver” – wedged it 15 feet and holed the birdie putt to finish off McDermott.
“He holed a putt when he needed to,” McDermott said. “I was charging, though. I’ve been in matches like that. You’re holding on for dear life and the other guy is charging. I was charging, but my charge was interrupted by my putter.”
Although they had never played together, Orlando was aware of the stature of the player he eliminated. McDermott is one of GAP’s all-time greats with 10 major championships. He has competed in numerous USGA events. Last year was his eighth appearance in the U.S. Mid-Am and his run to the quarterfinals exempted him into the 2017 Mid-Am, which will be held Oct. 7 to 12 at the Capital City Club in Atlanta.
“It’s really special to be in this position,” said Orlando, who reached the second round of match play in last summer's U.S. Mid-Am at Stonewall.. “GAP golfers are some of the best in the country. I knew (McDermott) was the guy to beat in this. It’s a good feeling knowing I took down one of GAP’s best.”
It's not easy to make it to a Philly Am final. McDermott played 105 holes in three days, Tuesday’s 36 holes of qualifying contested in searing mid-90s temperatures. Still, he saw enough good things this week that he’s looking forward to GAP’s next two majors, the Philadelphia Open July 17 and 18 at Philadelphia Country Club and the Patterson Cup Aug. 9 and 10 at Wilmington Country Club and the Crump Cup at another of his home courses, Pine Valley Golf Club.
“I saw some shades of the good ball-striker of my past,” McDermott said.
The other semifinal turned on a couple of tough holes for Acierno, who completed one of the best careers in program history at La Salle this spring.
The match was even when Skylass won the 14th with a double bogey and the 15th with a bogey as Acierno three-putted for a double bogey.
Orlando reached the semifinal with a 3 and 1 victory over White Manor Country Club’s Sam Soeth, a former Marple Newtown standout who is a junior at Temple.
Skylass ousted the third former Central League standout to reach the quarterfinals as he claimed a 3 and 2 win over the Cricket Club’s Conrad Von Borsig, the 2004 District One champion at Strath Haven.
Acierno knocked off fellow Lu Lu representative Michael Brown Jr., 5 and 4, to earn his semifinal date with Skylass.