WILLIAMSBURG –– Stoked by a front nine surge, Jim Nirich, 45, of Catlett scored a 5 and 3 victory over Chris Tuttle, 35, of Virginia Beach to win the scheduled 18-hole final at the 3rd Virginia State Golf Association Public Links Championship, which concluded today at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s Green Course (6,723 yards, par 36-36—72). The championship is open to bona fide public course players.
Nirich, who was a finalist at last year’s championship, claimed his first VSGA title.
“It’s very sweet,” Nirich said. He is the first player from his area, located between Fredericksburg and Warrenton, to win the championship. “I’m glad to be on that pedestal right now.”
Trailing 1 down in the rainy early stages, Nirich (pictured left) started to take control of the match during an outward half stretch that saw him win five of six holes between Nos. 4 and 9 to grab a 4-up advantage after nine holes.
He got the decisive run started by knocking in a 9-foot birdie putt from left of the cup at the par-4 fourth hole to square the match. On the next hole, with the rain coming down as hard as it would during the match, Tuttle hit his tee shot way right and his second shot recovery attempt from the trees lodged in a rotted log into an unplayable lie. He eventually conceded his opponent’s short birdie putt at the hole.
Owner of a 1-up lead, Nirich got up and down from the rough short and left of the green at the par-4 sixth hole, making a 3-footer for par; Tuttle hit a great long bunker third shot at the hole, but narrowly missed on his 5 foot par-saver. Nirich bumped his margin to 3 up at the next hole, the par-3 seventh, draining a downhill 16-footer from the back fringe. The margin moved to a match-high 4 up at the par-3 ninth after Tuttle missed in a tough spot long left with the putting surface running away; his chip shot was impossible to stop and scooted 12 feet past the hole. Nirich two-putted from 25 feet left of the hole for a 4 up lead at the turn. By that time, the raindrops had stopped and Nirich seemed on his way to victory.
Steadiness was the key for Nirich during the decisive series of holes. He hit all the fairways in regulation and missed just one green to play the stretch in three under and help decide the final outcome.
“That was big. I took advantage of some of his mistakes and made some putts when I needed them,” said Nirich, who works for HITT Contracting, Inc., in Fairfax.
Tuttle had an opportunity to close the gap at No. 10, but his 26-foot birdie putt somehow slid just by the right edge. At one of the few times in the match Nirich would find trouble to that point, he recovered from the tall grass fronting the green at the par-3 11th hole, lofting an uphill pitch to within 3 feet for a halve. Tuttle got within three by making par at No. 12, but amid the clouds, it was Nirich’s day to shine. He immediately had the answer at the par-4 13th hole, hitting his iron approach shot to within 2 feet for a conceded birdie; Tuttle’s birdie putt from the back fringe just missed.
The competitors halved the next hole and with Nirich, dormie-4 at the time, he finished the match at the par-5 15th hole, knocking in a 10-footer that tumbled right in the center.
Tuttle, who encountered early ball striking problems, ultimately settled into the match, but by then Nirich had built his lead.
“I don’t know if it was starting in the rain, but I struggled hitting it left and kind of got out of synch,” said Tuttle, who says has been battling the left shot recently. “He didn’t make mistakes and I couldn’t catch up. But I feel pleased – I had some tough matches earlier in the week that I won to get to this point.”
Patience, consistency and a fairways-and-greens mindset was the key the whole week for Nirich, who played the championship match in two under counting the usual match play concessions.
“The goal was to get into match play and once I did that, I hit the shots and made putts when I could,” Nirich said. “My whole game was solid. It’s the best stretch of golf I’ve played this year.”
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WILLIAMSBURG –– Results from the final round of match play at the 3rd VSGA Public Links Championship at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s Green Course (6,723 yards, par 36-36—72) on Tuesday, Sept. 5 (stroke play qualifying score indicated).
(21) Jim Nirich (Catlett), 77 def. (7) Chris Tuttle (Virginia Beach), 74, 5 and 3
To view complete results from the Virginia State G.A. website, please click the name of the tournament under "see also" at the top of this page and follow the results link.
-- story courtesy Virginia State Golf Association