MT. LAUREL, N.J. (May 25, 2011) -–Brian Gillespie refused to allow a pair of opening bogeys to derail his Mid-Am train.
Instead, the St. Davids GC member kept his game on track, rallying with four birdies and an eagle to shoot a day’s best 4-under-67. Gillespie, 35, of Wayne, Pa., enters tomorrow’s second and final round with a two-shot lead over local hopefuls Michael Hyland and Ryan McCarty, both of Little Mill CC, and star senior circuit competitor Chip Lutz of LedgeRock GC.
The cut line for the low 70 players and ties fell at 80. A total of 74 players of the 125 advanced into Day 2.
“There’s no better time to be 2 over than after two holes is kind of what I was thinking. You have 16 holes to make it up,” said Gillespie, the 2001 Amateur Champion. “I played a practice round here. I was pretty comfortable and knew what was ahead of me. It seemed like the holes were in fairly accessible locations so I felt like if I made a few good swings and made a few good putts I could get back in it, which I did. I got lucky. You have that mentality every time you go out and sometimes it doesn’t work your way. Today it did.”
Gillespie’s turnaround started in style on No. 5 (par 5, 505 yards). He hammered a 6-iron from 205 yards, downwind, to 25 feet below the hole.
“I made a really nice putt. It was right in the heart,” said Gillespie of the eagle three. “That got me back to even [par] and kind of settled me down and gave me an everything’s-going-to-be-fine kind of feeling.”
Gillespie added a nice two-putt birdie from 50 feet on No. 9 (par 5, 545 yards) to make the turn in 1 under. On No. 11 (par 4, 396 yards), Gillespie surprised himself when his 30-foot downhill birdie dropped in the right side of the hole.
“It’s not a putt you are trying to make. The hole looks really small going down that green,” said Gillespie who moved to 2 under after that. “It dropped in and I felt really good.”
Gillespie added another red figure on No. 13 (par 4, 387 yards) when he knocked a wedge from 123 yards to 15 feet and made the birdie chance. He noted a momentum saving 80-foot, two-putt par on No. 14 (par 3, 165 yards) before carding his final birdie of the day on No. 15 (par 5, 521 yards). He knocked a 3-iron 240 yards to 60 feet and two putted.
Gillespie carded three solid pars on the three difficult closing holes.
“I got a softball game tonight so I’ll try not to get hurt,” said a laughing Gillespie. “I had a good round. I’m excited. I’m only halfway home and anything can happen.”
In addition to the 2001 Amateur win, other top Gillespie GAP finishes included a runner-up performance in the 2003 Amateur and a second-place effort in the 2009 Patterson Cup. His top Mid-Am finish also came in 2009, a third-place showing. GAP-wise, the last couple years are a resurgence of sorts for Gillespie.
“I can’t point my finger at something in the last couple years as a turning point for me. There are really only four or five rounds that make or break your year. You could play well all year, and have four or five bad days in GAP events and it looks like you had a bad year,” said Gillespie. “I’m trying to focus a little more in these events. I’ve been trying to keep my swing thoughts clean and simple. Today after the first two holes everything went my way.”
A trio of challengers hover two shots behind the good-fortuned Gillespie. Hyland and McCarty are nearby New Jersey residents with a ton of Laurel Creek CC course knowledge.
Hyland, 32, of Marlton, N.J., graduated from Holy Cross High School in 1997 where in his four years on the golf team, the Lancers never lost a home match at Laurel Creek. Hyland opened his round with five birdies in his first 13 holes before a pair of misguided 7-irons gave three shots back.
Hyland birdied No. 3 (par 3, 167 yards) with a 7-iron he hit to three feet; No. 5 when he knocked a 6-iron from 195 yards on the green in two and two putted; No. 8 (par 4, 346 yards) with a wedge from 100 yards that stopped a foot from the hole; No. 9 with a 7-iron from 183 yards and an ensuing two putt and No. 13 (par 4, 387 yards) with a 140-yard wedge shot that stopped eight foot shy of the hole.
His two poor 7-irons, a push on No. 14 (par 3, 165 yards) and heavy effort on No. 18 (par 4, 437 yards), resulted in a bogey and double bogey, respectively.
Hyland said he’s never seen such calm conditions at Laurel Creek in all his time here. He’s hoping the wind picks up tomorrow. “I would be extremely happy if that happens,” said Hyland.
McCarty, 25, of Voorhees, N.J., was a Laurel Creek junior member when he was 16 and 17 years old. He recently graduated from Rutgers Law School and will begin studying for the bar exam next week.
“The last three weeks I’ve been playing a lot of golf. This is kind of my window,” said McCarty. “I know generally where to hit it off the tee here because there is a little bit more room than it looks. And I made some putts. It definitely helped [being a member here]. There are some intimidating shots around here and if you don’t know what club to hit or where to hit it, it makes it that much more difficult.”
McCarty birdied No. 3 after hitting a 7-iron to 15 feet; No. 5 on the strength of a two-putt from 30 feet; No. 9, playing his ball down the adjacent 18th, with a pitching wedge from 120 yards that stopped eight feet from the hole; and No. 11. He bogeyed No. 12 (par 4, 434 yards) after going long over the green but responded with a birdie on No. 14 (par 3, 165 yards) when his 6-iron stopped eight feet behind the hole. He failed to get up-and-down on No. 15 and then finished the last three holes in 1-over par.
“If you can get through those last three holes at 1 over, that’s like gaining a stroke on the field,” said McCarty. “They are the toughest holes here.”
Lutz, 56, of Reading, Pa., was the Golfweek National Senior Player of the Year in 2010. And he’s off to another good start, having won four senior events this past winter down South.
A perennial Mid-Am contender, Lutz is a two-time event champion: 1998 and 2007. Wednesday, his round was pretty benign. Lutz drained a 25-foot birdie on No. 1 (par 4, 405 yards) but missed a short second putt on No. 2 (par 4, 368 yards) to fall back to even. He birdied the fourth hole (par 4, 405 yards) with an 8-iron from 150 yards to 10 feet and No. 15 after rocketing his 3-wood from 247 yards onto the collar of the green and getting up-and-down.
“I struck the ball solidly. I hit it to the right spots on the green. I left a lot out there,” said Lutz. “I’m pleased with the results even though the score could have been better. I’ll be a couple back, but it’s a good position to be in. If you put something up, the guys will have to work at.”