From the Rhode Island Golf Association
By Paul Kenyon
PORTSMOUTH _ It is rare when Bobby Leopold enters a golf match as the big guy. But it will happen in the title match of the 109th R.I. Golf Association Amateur championship on Friday at Montaup.
The 5-foot-8, 155-pound Leopold, the tournament’s 2009 champion, will take on the tourney surprise, Andrew Fiorenzano, who is an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter, in the 36-hole final. Those two emerged after an impressive day on all fronts on Thursday as every one of the quarter and semifinals matches went at least to the 17th hole.
Scoring was low as players took advantage of the excellent conditions provided by superintendent Roger Turcotte all week, conditions made softer after three-quarters of an inch of rain fell overnight. The fact that the wind was nearly calm at the seaside course allowed players to attack and it led to a series of close matches decided more often by birdies than bogeys.
Perhaps the biggest was the showdown between two of the RIGA heavyweights, Brad Valois and Leopold, in the semis. Valois, the defending champion and four-time winner, threw the first punches, with birds at 1 and 3 to go 2-up. Leopold was a bit perplexed. He had birdie putts inside eight feet on each of the first three holes. But he missed them all.
``Here I’m thinking I should be 1-up or even,’’ Leopold said. ``After the third one (a miss from six feet) I’m thinking, `Really, is this how the day is going to go?’ ‘’
It got worse before it got better.
``Then on the par5 (fifth) I hit it out of bounds from the middle of the fairway and I’m 3-down,’’ he said with a shake of his head.
His caddie, Scott Cooke, who also is his father-in-law, spoke to him after the fifth.
``He said we’re going to need six birdies from here,’’ Leopold related. ``I was 4-under from there so it worked out pretty well.’’
``The bird on the par-5 (seventh) got me going. Then I made a really good bird on 11 (hitting his approach with two feet),’’ he went on. ``The 15th was really it.’’
The match was even to that point. There, with a back right pin placement over a bunker, Valois missed the green with his approach and Leopold stuck his within five feet. Valois mad a nice chip for a certain par, but Leopold drained the bird for his first lead of the match. When he won both 16 and 17 with pars, Leopold had a satisfying victory.
``It feels good,’’ he said. ``I won the first year I played, then I lost to Charlie (Blanchard), to Garrett (Medeiros) and to Jamison (Randall) all the in the semifinals.’’
At age 29, with a family and with work in the insurance business, the native of England has firmly settled into life as a Rhode Islander.
``It means a lot more to me now,’’ he said. ``I’m a better player now and I’m finally back (in the final) so it’s nice. I feel like I’m playing well. All parts of the game are coming together.’’
Leopold has never played with Fiorenzano. The 22-year-old Fiorenzano, who is attending classes at URI this summer because he is one semester short of a degree in environmental science, had a solid but unspectacular career at URI.
``You learn a lot about yourself, how to manage your emotions, how to take the ebbs and flows out there and kind of ride it out,’’ he said. ``You have to take things in stride. I think that’s helped me, I used to take things way too emotional.’’
Fiorenzano never has had a chance to play other sports. He was born with a heart condition and had heart surgery when he was eight months old. He has a condition that deals with valves and the walls of his heart, an ailment that required two more surgeries as he was growing. He lives with stents in his heart.
``I’m all doctored up basically,’’ he said.
He feels stronger than ever because URI coach Gregg Burke, who was aware of his condition, had him take part in the team’s strength and conditioning program as much as possible.
``It has helped me,’’ Fiorenzano said.
Fiorenzano looked strong, especially in the afternoon semis when he fought past Rob Grossguth, 2-up. Fiorenzano went out in 2-under on the front nine but trailed, 1-up, because Grossguth had four birdies.
The two were even through 15. Fiorenzano hit two great shots to get pin high on the 519-yard 16th, chipped to three feet and birdied to take his first lead of the match. He won 17 when Grossguth three-putted the difficult green. Fiorenzano then nearly drove the 300-yard close hole. When Grossguth was still a few feet away in three he conceded the eagle chip, and the match, to Fiorenzano.
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