BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Despite unfamiliarity with the day’s track and virtually no past success in Brewer Cup qualifying rounds, Drew Panebianco played like a champion on Monday at Saucon Valley Country Club (Weyhill Course, par 72, 6,533 yards). Panebianco, who has failed to qualify for Brewer Cup match play since turning eligible in 2009, fired a 2-under 70 to earn Senior Division (Ages 55-64) medalist honors.
“I have never had success [in this tournament]. I’ve tried every year since I’ve turned 55 and I’m 61 now, so I’m glad I finally put it all together,” said Panebianco, a Gwynedd Valley, Pa. resident. “The key today was when I made a double today, I came back and made a birdie. That’s what you need to do when you’re pissed off and need to get back on track. It all came together.”
Panebianco, the No. 1 seed, will face No. 16 seed Robin McCool. Seeds were decided based on order of finish, followed by a random drawing for ties within the Top 16.
Panebianco’s round highlights came at the end of each nine. On No. 18 (par 5, 500 yards ), which concluded his front nine on the day, Panebianco put his drive into the bunker, forcing him to hit a pitching wedge out to safety. He then placed a 5-iron to six feet. No. 9 (par 5, 498 yards) his closing hole, saw another birdie after the Five Ponds Golf Club member put a 3-wood toward the front of the green, chipped it up and made a five footer to secure medalist honors. Despite having never viewed Saucon Valley’s beautiful landscape, his only hiccup, a three-putt, came on No. 17 (par 4, 363 yards).
“I’ve never played this course before. I’ve never even seen it,” Panebianco said. “That almost got me in trouble a couple of times, not knowing where to hit it. On No. 10 (par 4, 393 yards), it falls off, and I was right on the edge. I got very lucky. It would have helped today, but knowing the course now will hopefully help me tomorrow.”
Most of Panebianco’s match play experience has come in club championship competition. He won four club championships while he was a member at Talamore Country Club, and has won three Senior club championships as a member of Five Ponds.
“I’ve always felt comfortable in match play. I’ve always liked it,” he said. “You can screw up and forget about it, I guess that’s why. I’ve played this well before and shot a million the next day, so you never know. We’ll see what happens, but hopefully it’s still there tomorrow.”
The Senior Division’s cut line stopped at 76. A 7-for-1 playoff decided the last seed, which went to Saucon Valley’s own McCool after he jarred a 20-foot birdie on No. 1 (par 4, 356 yards), the first playoff hole. McCool is a two-time winner of the Brewer Cup (2010 and 2013).
Two-time reigning champion Don Donatoni shared medalist honors with Saucon Valley’s Joe Marucci in the Super-Senior Division after the pair each carded rounds of 1-under 71. The Top 8 Super Seniors advanced into match play.
White Manor Country Club’s Donatoni, who took home the Super-Senior hardware in 2013 at Lookaway Golf Club and again in 2014 at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, will make a run at the three-peat as the No. 1 seed in match play. He will face No. 8 seed James Ward of Cedarbrook Country Club tomorrow morning.
“Anything can happen in match play and we all know that. You know the 64th seed in a pro field can beat a No. 1 seed,” said Donatoni, 66, of Malvern, Pa. “I think about that and know that you still have to grind and play every shot as if you were playing in medal-round play. I’ve been able to do that so far.”
With each passing victory, Donatoni says he feels more and more pressure coming his way. That pressure only builds as the three-peat looms heading into match play.
“It gets harder each and every time because you are expected to repeat and to perform. It puts a little more pressure on you to win,” said Donatoni, who is also the reigning two-time Super Senior Player of the Player. “It’s always in the back of my mind, but I try to block out what I’ve done in the past. I’ve been focusing on what’s next for me.
Marucci, the No. 2 seed and home club hopeful, will face No. 7 seed Alan Van Horn of Commonwealth National Golf Club in Round 1 of match play.
Thanks to sinking seven birdie putts on the day, including a 40-foot bomb on No. 4 (par 4, 334 yards) and a 30-foot thriller on No. 13 (par 4, 352 yards), Marucci, 65, got his first taste of GAP success since undergoing a half-knee replacement last November.
“This injury has been taking a while to come back. I got down in the dumps because I wasn’t swinging like I used to, but today it was feeling great,” said Marucci, of Titusville, N.J. “I’ve kind of struggled in GAP events recently. I wanted to give this a try as a Super Senior, so this is pretty special. This is just a great tournament overall, and there are a few guys playing from our club this week, so we will all get on each other about our rounds here.”
The Super-Senior’s cut line stopped at 77.
The Brewer Cup is named in honor of O. Gordon Brewer, Jr., the former president of Pine Valley Golf Club. Brewer carded a 76 in today’s stroke play qualifying round, and will enter match play as the No. 5 seed. He is a two-time U.S. Senior Amateur Champion and veteran of 42 USGA Championships. He’s captured two Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur Championship titles (1967, 1976), a GAP Senior Amateur Championship crown (1997) and a Senior Player of the Year (1997) as well as countless invitational titles. Five years ago he was recognized for his contributions to the game with the USGA’s Bob Jones Award.
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