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Drama-laced finishes reigned in the annual Wilson Country Club Championship golf tournament on a summer-like weekend.
A playoff decided a six-player scramble for the Men’s Open title and only misfortune on the final green deemed a playoff unnecessary in the Men’s Seniors division.
John Hearn Walston rolled in a 25-foot putt from the back fringe of the No. 1 green to claim his first Men’s Open championship and deny Michael Sargent his first crown.
The playoff became necessary when the 35-year-old Walston three-putted from some 20 feet on the No. 18 green. In the group ahead of Walston’s foursome, Sargent holed a 25-foot putt for bogey on No. 18.
Also in position to seize the championship were Matt Figg, Kent Williams, Coalter Paxton IV, the youngest Champioship Flight entrant at 26, and former champion Stephen Harrison.
Chris Church erased an eight-shot deficit after Saturday’s opening round to capture his first Men’s Seniors top finish. Church emerged victorious outright when first-round leader John Congelli failed to sink a three-foot par putt on No. 18.
Jack Wagamon, with rounds of 87-85—172, grabbed the Legends title in uncontested fashion. Sunday’s final round was highlighted by birdies at Nos. 12 and 13. Wagamon explained he entered the club championship with the expectation three or four other golfers were going to compete in the Legends division.
Walston, the owner of a one-shot lead after Saturday’s round, carded rounds of 71-73 for an even-par 144 in regulation.
Sargent fired a 72-72—144. Figg wound up third at 72-73—145, while Harrison and Paxton deadlocked for fourth at 72-74—146 each. Kent Williams, the elder statesman in the championship flight, fashioned a 73-74—147.
David Lee triumphed in Championship B at 79-73—152.
Sargent’s bogey on the par-3, No. 17 layout left Sargent, Walston and Paxton deadlocked for the lead at 1-under. Figg and Harrison trailed by a shot. But only Walston salvaged par at No.17, while Paxton, Harrison and Figg each bogeyed. Figg managed a par at No. 18, but Harrison bogeyed and Paxton double-bogeyed.
Walston trailed Paxton by four shots when he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 13. He also notched three birdies Saturday. In matching par both rounds, Sargent racked up four birdies Saturday and five Sunday. But he bogeyed the last two layouts.
In the playoff, Walston and Sargent each laced his approach shot onto the green’s back fringe. Sargent’s ball lay about three feet farther away from the cup than did Walston’s ball.
Sargent’s bold attempt rolled some four feet past the flag, but Walston’s putt struck the flag and plopped into the cup. Sargent could only murmur: “I knew I had to make it.”
“I was having a good time all day playing and I was pretty happy with the way I was playing,” Walston commented. “Whatever happened was supposed to happen. I didn’t think I had made (the playoff shot)but, when it got about four feet from the hole, it looked really good.”
Of his three-putt at No. 18, Walston explained: “I actually had the same putt in a practice round earlier in the week — and I did the same thing. I was trying to two-putt .... I knew two putts would do it. I just hit it too hard.”
Sargent stayed alive with the unlikely bogey at No. 18.
“I didn’t know if it would mean anything, but I knew I had to make it to have the slightest chance,” he reviewed. “I played great all weekend and putted as good as I can. At my age (46), the way I played was really good.
“I was competing against a bunch of really good players. Something (in his game) turned up this weekend, and it was good. I was happy to be there (in contention).”
Sargent will soon assume duties as WCC’s president, and admitted: “It would have been nice to be club champion — and president. But John Hearn is one of the finest young men you will ever meet. He deserved it; it was his time.”
Walston has emerged a perennial contender at the local level the past few years.
“I guess I have gotten a little more consistent,” he reasoned, “and my putting has gotten a lot better. I have been able to putt decent and kind of hang in there.”
Walston commended Sargent, adding: “He was over there pumping me up, although he was the one competing against me.”
A club-championship participant since age 17, Walston revealed Sunday’s goal was to shoot under par a second straight round.
And of the significance of his accomplishment, Walston, battling his emotions, responded: “It means a lot; this golf course has been a huge part of my life.”
Congelli constructed a four-shot lead Saturday with a 1-under round that included four birdies.
“I had it going on,” he said.
But Sunday belonged to Church with a 36-36—72 that featured five birdies. The 61-year-old Church ruled at 79-72—151, followed by Congelli at 71-81—152. Bill Weise placed third at 75-80—155, followed by Coalter Paxton III at 77-79—156.
The 59-year-old Congelli was aware of Church’s charge and struggled to preserve the lead. Congelli scrambled to salvage par on No. 16, but was not as fortunate on Nos. 17 and 18.
On No. 18, Congelli blasted his third shot — a dandy —- from the bunker to within some three feet of the flag. But the par putt, that would have forced a playoff, didn’t drop.
“I had my chance,” Congelli lamented. “From the bunker, I just wanted to get it within grip range so I could knock in the putt. But I wanted to make sure I got (the putt) and I pulled it.
“It’s hard to keep the lead.”
Church declared he never considered the eight-shot deficit insurmountable.
“I knew, if I played really good, I would have a shot,” Church remarked. “If I threw something out there even or below par, I would be doing good. I played good when I stayed in the fairway. The rough did its job.”
Church was among the onlookers as Congelli navigated Nos. 17 and 18.
“I wanted to him to make that putt (on No. 18),” Church insisted. “I wanted a playoff. I hated that for him. But I am very happy; there are a lot of good guys in our group.”
In Legends, Wagamon was reasonably happy although his good-natured request to be awarded the first-place gross and net trophies in his division was not honored. Just one trophy, Jack!