Maryland Am: Mulieri Wins Marathon Final

CHEVY CHASE, MD (June 10, 2009)--It took 37 minutes for the longest-running individual event in Maryland State Golf Association history to grind to a conclusion at the Chevy Chase Club, June 10. This was the 88th annual Amateur championship, which ended a week-long stay when Jay Mulieri, TPC-Potomac, defeated Zach Lese, Argyle CC, 2 up.

The final picked up in the middle of the 16th fairway, following Tuesday’s (June 9) suspension of play at 5 p.m., halted by a lightning/thunder display which eventually forced a postponement. Lese, 3 down with three to play, had hit the fairway, while Mulieri had driven into a lateral water hazard on the right and hit to the fairway 50 yards short of the green. Each began the morning hitting the green and two-putting, Lese for a winning par 4. Both drove in the right rough at No. 17, and both missed the green – Lese in the right collar and Mulieri in the fairway at the front to the left. Mulieri chipped on and missed a six-foot putt for his par, while Lese’s chip hit the flagstick and stopped a foot away. Now the margin was one with one to go.

Again, Mulieri missed the fairway to the left, wide of a fairway bunker, with his ball nestled down in the grass. From there, he chopped it out and into a greenside bunker. From the fairway, Lese’s approach shot stopped 40 feet left of the hole. Mulieri followed with a superb 50-yard bunker shop, the ball stopping three feet from the cup. Lese’s bid to extend the match slid by the hole and just outside of his opponent’s. His next putt also stayed out . . . and it was finally over.

“Coming out this morning, my mindset was to hit the ball solid and force him to make birdie,” Mulieri said. “He figured to win 16; at 17, I had a good shot at par and missed, and at 18, I knew he had some momentum. That was a long bunker shot and I was just trying to get it close . . . force him to do something.”

Lese, 26, and a former quarterfinalist in this event, said he felt good about 16, and at 17, “the chip just lipped out, and at 18, I just wanted to give myself a chance. And, if you had asked me last Thursday if I had a chance to win this thing, I would have said, ‘No way.’”

A decisive stretch of six birdies in seven holes midway of the second round (Tuesday afternoon, for those trying to keep track), enabled Mulieri to go from 1 down to 3 up. Laser shots (two with wedges and the others with longer irons) to point-blank range on the greens set up concessions on the first three (No. 4-5-6); there was a 12-foot putt at the seventh; they halved 8 in birdies, Lese 9 with a par, and Mulieri got that right back when he pitched to two feet from the right collar on 10. Lese had a difficult ball-below-his-feet shot from the right rough near the green, got it to 12 feet and missed the putt.

“The most impressive one [in that stretch] was at No. 8 [585 yards, par-5], where I hit a bad tee shot, hacked it out, and hit a 7-iron to the green [stiff]. I knew he was going to make birdie." Lese hit the fairway and green and two-putted.

At 19, Mulieri is one of the tournaments youngest champions, joining Gary Marlowe, who was that age when he won in 1979. Additionally, the Loyola College sophomore follows his older brother, Michael, as the champion.

In the morning round, each player won four holes, both were a couple of shots over par and they stood all square.

As is so often the case in match play, each player had several chances to seize control of the situation – and didn’t. Yet, when the pressure was on, each was usually able to display the fine shotmaking that got them to the final.

In earlier matches, Mulieri defeated Jim Morris, Phil Fairbanks, Brendan Kelly (Mulieri was 3-up with three to play and won it in 19 holes), and Charlie Winegardner.

- Reported by John Stewart from Chevy Chase Club

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