LIMERICK – Out of the corner of his eye while walking toward his tee shot on the 17th hole, Spring-Ford senior Ben Pochet thought he saw Central Bucks East junior Patrick Sheehan walking toward the water on the left side of the 16th hole.
Pochet had just stiffed a wedge to a foot at 16 – “the purest wedge shot I’ve hit in quite a while,” he would say later – for his fourth birdie on the back nine in the second round of the District One Class AAA Championship Wednesday at Turtle Creek Golf Club that got him to 7-under par.
“It didn’t really matter if he was in the water or not, I had to focus on what I was doing,” Pochet said.
A few moments later, Pochet walked in a 30-foot birdie putt that looked good all the way. Sheehan’s tee shot did indeed find the water and led to a double bogey. A missed four-footer for par by Sheehan at 17 dropped him back to 5-under.
Pochet, at 8-under after the birdie at 17, still had to whistle a 4-iron 205 yards to reach the par-5 18th in regulation.
A two-putt par capped a brilliant 7-under 65 over the 6,375-yard, par-72 Turtle Creek layout that gave Pochet a 36-hole total of 8-under 136 and his second straight District One title.
“It’s a great way to finish off my career here, winning the title again with my best round ever here,” said Pochet, who will take his considerable talent to Drexel next year.
And he knew he had beaten a worthy foe in Sheehan, who saved his best for last. Figuring correctly that he needed double eagle at the last to tie Pochet, Sheehan launched a 4-iron from 243 yards and nearly did hole it, the ball finishing five feet past the cup.
“It’s probably the best shot I’ve hit in my life,” Sheehan said.
He missed the eagle try, but the closing birdie gave him a second straight 69 and a 6-under 138 total that left him alone in second place.
Neshaminy’s Greg DeLuca added a 1-under 71 to his opening-round 69 to finish two shots behind Sheehan in third. Norristown junior Caleb Ryan made a bit of run at the leaders before finishing with a solid 3-under 69, which, combined with an opening-round 72, left him alone in fourth place at 3-under 141.
But it quickly became apparent that was going to be a two-horse race and for much of the day it seemed Sheehan was marching toward the district title.
“He hits it so long,” Pochet said admiringly of Sheehan. “But he’s really become a good all-around player. I knew it would be tough for me to catch him starting out two shots behind him.”
Pochet, winner of the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Christman Cup at Stonewall’s North Course and a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier this summer, had said after an opening round of 1-under 71 Tuesday that he if he reached the par-5 eighth with a chance to win a second district title, he might start taking some chances.
He birdied the second and fifth holes to get it to 3-under, but, playing in the group behind him, Sheehan was going strong, making birdies at one, five and eight to get to 6-under before making a bogey at the tough par-3 ninth hole to fall back to 5-under.
“I didn’t really change my game plan that much,” Pochet said. “I laid up at eight, I hit hybrid off the tee at 12.”
What he did start to do was make birdies, a bunch of them. He dropped in a 15-footer for birdie at the par-3 11th. After laying up off the tee at the short par-4 12th, he knocked his approach to a foot. He reached the par-5 13th in two and two-putted. Suddenly, he was 6-under.
Not that Sheehan was backing off. He nearly holed his tee shot at the par-3 11th and had a kick-in birdie. He bombed it nearly 20 yards over the green at the par-4 12th, flopped it beautifully to four feet, but missed the birdie try.
Sheehan made a nice eight-foot birdie putt on the 13th after failing to reach the par-5 in two. At the par-3 15th, he gave himself a good look with his tee shot to 15 feet and buried the putt. He was 8-under and playing with confidence.
Then came the tee shot into the water at 16, which stopped his momentum cold.
“All that room to the right,” Sheehan said of the tee shot 16. “I hit 2-iron, I just pulled it a little. That and a couple of missed putts were the difference.”
Up ahead, Pochet’s birdies at 16 and 17 were his fourth and fifth on the back nine.
“It was fantastic playing by both of us,” Pochet said. “If I had shot 65 and lost, I would have tipped my cap, shaken his hand and congratulated him for a job well done.”
The top 16 finishers Wednesday advanced to Monday’s NCAA East Regional at Golden Oaks Golf Club and there was plenty of drama on that front.
Radnor junior David Colleran, who earned a share of the Central League title last week at the Turtle, had opened with a 2-under 70 Tuesday, but found himself 2-over standing on the 17th tee and looking at possibly not earning a ticket to Golden Oaks.
“There was a leaderboard on the 17th tee and I figured I needed at least one birdie, maybe two,” said Colleran, an Overbrook Golf Club member and the 2016 GAP Junior Boys’ champion.
He got two, sticking his approach at 17 to 10 feet and making the putt and then draining a 25-foot birdie putt at 18. That gave him a 2-over 74 that left him tied for 10th at even-par 144.
Five players battled it out for the final four tickets to regionals after finishing tied for 13th at 1-over 145. Norristown freshman Joshua Ryan, Caleb’s younger brother, and Strath Haven’s Ben Newlon birdied the first hole of the playoff, the par-4 first at the Turtle.
I’m not sure if the three remaining playoff participants played another hole in between, but the final hole of the playoff was the testy 191-yard, par-3 ninth. Bishop Shanahan’s Ryan Conners found the green with his tee shot while Council Rock South’s Matt Fleming and Unionville’s Richie Kline missed the green. Fleming and Kline both chipped in for birdie and a stunned Conners couldn’t get his birdie putt to fall and was the odd man out.
It took 1-over to make it to regionals and in Conners’ case, even that wasn’t good enough. The talent level at the district tournament has never been higher.
Pope John Paul II’s J.T. Spina, who made cut on the number with a 3-over 75 Tuesday, fired a 5-under 67 and shared fifth place with William Tennent’s Colin Walsh, who added an even-par 72 to his opening-round 70, at 2-under 142. Spina was the top District One finisher in the PIAA Class AAA Championship a year ago, finishing tied for third.
Owen J. Roberts’ Ward McHenry, who added a 1-under 71 to his opening-round 72, Central Bucks South’s Kevin Anthony, who added a 1-over 73 to his opening-round 70, and Holy Ghost Prep’s Liam Hart, who added a 2-over 74 to his opening-round 69, finished tied for seventh at 1-under 143.
Joining Radnor’s Colleran in a tie for 10th at even-par 144 was Conestoga freshman Morgan Lofland, who fired a 2-under 70 Wednesday.
Kline’s strong showing – he carded a 2-under 70 to get into the playoff for regionals – led Unionville to the Class AAA district team title with a 289 total. Central League champion Conestoga was the runnerup at 294 and Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Spring-Ford was third at 297.
Unionville will represent District One in the PIAA Class AAA Championship in two weeks at the Heritage Hills Resort in York County.
The District One Class AA title went to Devon Prep’s Ryan McCabe, a Media resident. McCabe carded a 3-over 75 to edge New Hope’s Ben Wiseman by a shot. McCabe, who opened with a 74 Tuesday, finished at 5-over 149 while Wiseman’s second straight 75 left him at 150.
Wiseman’s runnerup finish did earn him the district’s second berth at regionals in Class AA.
McCabe led Devon Prep to the Class AA district team title with a 311 total.
There wasn’t nearly as much drama on the girls side as Conestoga junior Samantha Yao rolled to her second straight District One Class AAA title, firing a 1-under 71 over a Turtle Creek layout that measures 5,131 yards for the girls. That gave her a 145 total that was nine shots clear of Central Bucks East’s Sophie Mancuso and Downingtown East’s Liddie McCook.
The girls started on Gilbertville Golf Club’s comparatively easier par-71 Red and White nines Tuesday, but Yao emerged with only a one-shot lead after a 3-over 74. But the White Manor Country Club member has always been comfortable at Turtle Creek and it showed Wednesday.
“It’s Turtle, it’s districts and I just always have a positive attitude here,” said Yao, who works on her game with John Dunigan, the head of instruction at White Manor. “I was just very excited to play here today. I know I can hit greens and two-putt and maybe get a birdie here or there.”
Starting on the 10th hole, she was her typical steady self Wednesday, making 15 pars while getting birdies at two of the par-5s, 13 and two, and finishing up with her only bogey of the day at the par-3 ninth.
Yao was the runnerup to Peters Township’s Mia Kness, who’s playing at Seton Hall this fall, in the PIAA Class AAA Championship at Heritage Hills a year ago. She’s off to a good start as she tries to take another run at a state title.
Mancuso, who was just a shot behind Yao after a 75 at Gilbertsville, posted a 79 while McCook followed up an opening-round 76 with a 78 as they shared runnerup honors at 154.
Wissahickon’s Cirstea Park (79-76) finished fourth at 155, Central Bucks South’s Lizzie Palmieri (76-80) was fifth at 156, Unionville’s Charlotte Scully (82-77) was sixth at 159 and Great Valley’s Liv Juliana (80-80) was seventh at 160.
There was one berth left for regionals and Mount St. Joseph’s Clare Gimpel (80-81) beat Pennsbury’s Jade Gu (81-80) in a playoff for that final ticket to Golden Oaks after they finished tied for eighth at 161.
Villa Maria Academy’s Brooke Sander captured the Class AA district title as she followed up a 98 at Gilbertsville with a 97 for a 195 total.
Villa Joseph Marie’s Carolyn Mueller was the runnerup with rounds of 97 and 104 for a 201 total, but only Sander advanced to regionals in Class AA