NEWPORT NEWS –– The day that was many believed was only a matter of time in arriving for Scott Shingler of Haymarket has come.
The 38-year-old northern Virginian carded a final-round 2-under-par 68 to post a two-stroke victory and record his first victory in a Virginia State Golf Association event at the 34th VSGA Mid-Amateur Championship on Sunday at James River Country Club (6,598 yards, par 35-35—70)
Shingler left little doubt that it was his time in the final round. The only competitor in the field to post three rounds in the 60s (69-69-68), he finished at 4-under-par 206. Central Virginian Ben Keefer, 31, closed with a championship-best 4-under-par 66 to finish two back (2-under-par 208). Record seven-time event winner Keith Decker, 50, of Martinsville closed with 1-under 69 and finished four strokes back at even-par 210.
The day belonged to Shingler (pictured right), who took command of the lead on the outward half and never relinquished it in breaking through for the victory. He did it on a layout that competitors uniformly agree is as demanding as any 6,590-yard test anywhere.
“It’s nice to finally win a big tournament in the state of Virginia,” said Shingler, who took home the M.W. “’Dyke” Peebles Trophy, honoring the late VSGA president. “I’ve been working on a variety of things with my game, and this week I hit the ball really well.”
Characteristically steady and in control of his golf ball for much of the day, Shingler started the day at two under, before proceeding to jumpstart his round by drilling a 3-iron to set up an eagle at the par-5 seventh hole. He then holed a 14-foot birdie putt at the par-4 eighth to get to five under.
Even with a lipout for bogey at No. 9, he owned a three-stroke lead over the hard-charging Keefer at the turn. Playing one grouping ahead of Shingler, the central Virginian rode a hot putter to make the move of the day, rattling off three birdies at Nos. 5, 6 and 8 to shoot three under on the outward half and one under for the championship.
On a layout that requires exact shots, Shingler made an important par-saver from 10 feet left of the hole at the par-4 11th and knocked in a 9-footer for birdie one hole later to move to five under and keep a firm hold on the lead. Keefer continued his climb and got within two of Shingler’s lead by knocking in a downhill 6-footer at the par-3 15th.
But Shingler kept methodically manufacturing pars on the inward half, hitting fairways-and-greens in the late moments and playing the kind of solid, consistent golf that the James River layout requires and rewards. When he missed putting surfaces, Shingler converted a four or five up-and-downs that would otherwise seem straightforward, except for the pressure that accompanies the final round.
Add in slippery putting surfaces and a hard-charging fellow-competitor more than capable of going low in Keefer, and it was enough to test every part of the leader’s game and patient approach.
“I have to admit: I was a little nervous the last few holes, because I knew Ben was playing really well,” Shingler said. “I just tried to stay focused even though I knew he was making a little bit of a move.”
Keefer missed the putting surfaces at Nos. 16 and 17 and made resulting bogey at both holes. Meanwhile, Shingler’s par-machine kept churning, making five straight in what proved to be winning time from Nos. 13-17, and he owned a four-stroke lead standing on the 18th tee. He made a meaningless bogey at the last, while Keefer made a closing birdie up ahead.
Despite admittedly battling his game in recent weeks, Keefer shot 72-70-66, improving upon his play each day and closed with seven birdies against three bogeys on a course that stingily yields red numbers.
“The last couple of weeks, I hadn’t been hitting the ball very well,” said Keefer, the reigning VSGA Four-Ball champion. “It’s been kind of a grind. Today, I felt a lot more comfortable over the ball, and felt like I could be a little bit more aggressive and hit shots. And I made a few good putts, which really kept the momentum going.”
Always a sound ball-striker, Shingler is seemingly intent on polishing every area of his game and recent practice sessions dedicated to refining his short game proved to be time well-spent. Owner of an enviable powerfully-efficient swing, Shingler also positioned his ball precisely throughout much of the final round.
“Today, I was just trying to work the ball at the middle of the green and then back toward the [flagstick] whenever I could,” said Shingler, a George Mason University graduate and a former mini-tour player. “If it stayed straight and didn’t move like I wanted it to move, then I had a 15- or 20-footer, which was fine. But I did manage to come through with some good, solid iron shots to get some good looks at birdie, and I was fortunate to drain some of them.”
Decker has taken home more VSGA Mid-Amateur titles than anyone. He played in the final grouping with Shingler and can attest that the northern Virginia’s first VSGA victory was, well, only a matter of time. The two represented Virginia at the USGA Men’s State Team Championship in mid-September, where Shingler finished second individually.
“He started out really well and has been around the lead in every tournament that we play in,” said Decker, the owner of 18 “major” VSGA titles. “Today, he went out and got it. He made it happen himself. He didn’t wait for anybody to not play well. He went out and took it from the rest of us, and never wavered all day. He deserves it. He played great.”
For Shingler, the wait for a VSGA title is finally over, but another item of business is still delayed. The air-conditioning unit in his car broke down in the middle of this year’s sweltering summer that produced some record-high temperatures. Shingler promised his wife he’d treat himself to a new AC unit – only if he won an event this summer.
So much for a replacement now, he figures, with the fall season – and the prospect of cooler conditions – arriving. Shingler laughs when he thinks about the way things have unfolded. He has plenty to smile about after Sunday.
“I’m pretty pumped about this win,” he grins, “but I wish it would’ve happened a few months ago.”
View results for Virginia Mid-Amateur Golf Championship