Missouri State Amateur: Berkmeyer wins third title

By Warren Mayes

AUGUSTA, MO (June 27, 2011) -- One of Skip Berkmeyer’s biggest fans was the first one to congratulate him after winning the 104th Missouri State Amateur.

Berkmeyer won the granddaddy of all the state golf tournaments with a 3 and 2 victory over Justin Bryant, a DeSmet graduate who will be a senior at Wake Forest this fall. The Missouri Golf Association’s top tournament was held at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta.

It was Berkmeyer’s third state championship. When he won, his daughter Becca, 6, ran onto the green to give him a celebratory hug.

“It’s always nice to have your daughter run out on the green when you win,” said Berkmeyer, 37. “My family was all there — my mom and dad and my wife Jamie.”

It was Berkmeyer’s fifth trip to the 36-hole finals. He won in 1999 and 2009. He lost in 1998 and 2008.

The victory also gives the Berkmeyer clan 10 state amateur championships. Barbara Berkmeyer won five Missouri women’s amateur titles beginning in the 1960s and going into the 1980s. Jamie Berkmeyer won the title twice in the 1990s. Add Skip Berkmeyer’s three titles and you have 10 for the family.

“We’ve gotten to double digits and we got one in another decade,” Berkmeyer laughed. “It’s going to be a little harder to get the next one I think.”

Berkmeyer long has held the status of one of the top amateurs in the state. He had many titles to his credit and appearances in USGA events.

Still, playing in the state amateur holds a special place in his memories.

“This is my favorite tournament of the year,” Berkmeyer said. “It feels good to win it, it really does. It was a lot of fun. I was playing well going in. I didn’t play as well at the start. When I’ve done well before, I’ve gained momentum as the week went along. I did that this week.”

Winning in St. Louis and on his home golf course was meaningful to Berkmeyer. Both of his losses in the state finals came in St. Louis. In 1998, Springfield’s Chuck Greene defeated him at Lake Forest Country Club. In 2008, Justin Bardgett bested him at Winghaven Country Club in a battle of two Chaminade graduates.

“It is sweet to win this at home,” Berkmeyer said. “I kind of have lingering memories of losing in 1998 to Chuck Greene and it kind of hung with me. I had a chance in 2008 and lost to Justin Bardgett in the finals. It didn’t really bother me as much but it stuck with me.

“I feel better about getting it here at home. We had a pretty good crowd. Justin had a lot of people following him and a ton following him on the Internet.”

This was a rematch of sorts. Bryant defeated Berkmeyer 2 and 1 to win the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association’s Match Play Championship earlier this spring.

This was Bryant’s second trip to the state tournament.

“I played in the state amateur a few years back at Winghaven,” Bryant said. “It is an awesome tournament that combines stroke play and match play. It is a long week, but probably the most fun tournament of the summer in the area and a tournament that I wanted to win the most around here.

“I tried to make the tournament into two different tournaments. My first goal was to try and win the stroke play side of it, and then once I got to match play just take one at a time. My goal was definitely to win and I expected if I played well I’d be right in it on Sunday. But there were a lot of great players and I knew it would be tough.”

While carts could be used, Bryant walked the entire tournament.

“I did walk. I enjoy walking while I play,” Bryant said. “It gives you time to think, puts me in a good rhythm, and a chance to appreciate the beauty of the course and God’s creation. I would have taken a cart if I was tired but I was fine and continued to walk.

“The whole tournament was a lot of fun. The Missouri Golf Association did a great job of putting on the event. Boone Valley was in perfect shape and so much fun to play. I had my best friend, Ben Davis, caddying for me all week and my friend, Van Pierce, caddying one day, so it was fun being on the course with them. Having a crowd watching the last day and the opportunity to win on the last day makes it even more fun. You play the game to be in situations like that.”

Bryant finished fourth in stroke play with a 146. Berkmeyer tied for 14th with a 153.

“Finishing fourth in stroke play was a nice accomplishment but I wanted to get the No. 1 seed so I was disappointed,” Bryant said. “I played poorly the second round, but I took pride in the fact that I was the only one to shoot under par either round. Once the stroke play portion was over, I didn’t think about it though because your seed doesn’t matter. Anyone can beat anyone and it’s a new tournament.”

Berkmeyer opened match play with a 1 up win over Robert Meeh, of St. Louis. He needed 19 holes to win 1 up over Brian Haskwell, of St. Joseph. In the round of 16, Berkmeyer whipped T.J. Sweet, of Columbia, 6 and 5. In the quarterfinals, Berkmeyer got past Kevin Kring, of Springfield, 3 and 2. In the semifinals, Berkmeyer rolled by Eric Ecker, of Springfield, 7 and 5.

Bryant defeated Ben Tummons, of Springfield, 7 & 5 in the first round of match play. He followed that with a 3 and 2 victory over Jason Chun, of Ellisville. Bryant stopped Ted Maloney, of Ballwin, 1 up in the round of 16.

“My match with Ted was very similar to the match I had with him a couple weeks ago at Old Warson,” Bryant said. “It was very back and forth. I was up 2 with 5 to play, then lost the next three holes. Going into 17, the pin was tucked in the back and the hole was playing 470 and was into the wind. I just wanted a putt at birdie, and I knew par would be good. I made par and won the hole, and on 18, I made a 6-footer to win which was the difference. Ted is a great competitor and never gave up.

“Winning that match against Ted was huge. I didn’t play my best at times but the thing about match play is you don’t always have to play your best. You just have to survive, and in the match I just figured out a way to win and survive and move on to the next day.”

Bryant scored a 5 & 3 quarterfinal win over Patriot Riordan, of Wildwood. In the semifinals, Bryant stopped Jace Long, of Dixon, 2 & 1.

“My semifinal match against Jace Long was a tough one,” Bryant said. “He is a great player who has been playing really well lately. I played well, but what was big for me was beating him after being 2 down after 5 holes. It was the first time I had really been down early and it was a good feeling to know I could battle back against a great player. He made me play well, which gave my game confidence.”

Berkmeyer said he wasn’t too concerned about coming in 14th in the stroke portion of the tourney.

“That golf course is a lot of don’ts,” Berkmeyer said. “You always saying to yourself ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ because the golf course is to tough. Plus, it was windy.”

His first two matches were close and hard-fought.

“Bobby and me played great,” Berkmeyer said about his match with Meeh. “He took it to me. I found a way. It’s all survive and advance in match play. Against Haskell, I was down and up. I just survived.”

A par on the 19th hole enabled Berkmeyer to advance.

“Then I started playing well for from that afternoon on,” Berkmeyer said. “Once you get to Saturday and that’s the goal, you can think about winning the tournament. I’ve only lost once on a Saturday.”

Berkmeyer got past Kring, who won the Class 4 state tournament in 2008 and is a junior at Colorado, in the quarterfinals. He easily defeated Ecker, who played at South Carolina in the late 1990s.

“They were both good players but I got up early on them,” Berkmeyer said. “I made a ton of birdies.”

That set up the final with Bryant. Berkmeyer recalled their match earlier this year at Old Warson Country Club.

“I think the fact that I was in for a competitive match helped me,” Berkmeyer said. “He putted well at Old Warson. I knew it would be a close match and he was going to make putts. He would get up and down. I never thought he’d never make a shot or a putt. In my mind, he would make his shots and he proved it early in the match.”

Bryant expected a tough match with Berkmeyer.

“Going into the final with Skip, I knew I had to play well but I knew it was going to be a long match and we would both have our stretches where we played well and I knew it would be back and forth,” Bryant said. “I didn’t think too much about the match play at Old Warson against him. I know his game and know what I had to do, but it did give me confidence knowing that I had done it before.”

The two were never more than two holes apart. It was back and forth and the momentum swung throughout the match.

In the second round of the day, a turning point came on No. 13 just after Berkmeyer had birdied to even the match. Byrant had a tough putt that was downhill and would go left to right. He missed the birdie putt.

“That was a boost for me,” Berkmeyer said. “I avoided going down again. I had life.”

Bryant agreed.

“I had about an 8-footer for birdie that I missed,” Bryant said. “It was an extremely fast tough putt. I hit a good putt but it just didn’t go in. That would have been a huge putt, but I didn’t make it.”

Berkmeyer won the next two holes with a par and birdie. He never looked back.

“I made a sloppy bogey on 14 and lost the hole to go 1 down and on 15, I hit a pure wedge shot but must have had adrenaline or something because my ball flew the green and plugged in the bunker and I had no chance,” Bryant said. “Skip played great and didn’t give me anything. I would have liked to play better than I did but it is what it is. He deserved to win.”

Playing such a long match is exhausting.

“It’s a lot of relief to win,” Berkmeyer said. “It’s a full-court press day. You’re nervous the whole time. It’s like a tournament on every hole. It’s emotional. It’s a long, long week.”

Berkmeyer congratulated Bryant for his performance.

“I can’t really remember what Skip said exactly, but he was very nice and talked about how he enjoyed playing with me and how I was a good player and how he was sure he’d see me again many times in similar situations,” Bryant said. “Coming in second is a nice honor since there were so many great players playing in the event, but I came to the event to win and I didn’t do that and right now there is more disappointment than anything.

“But I’m not going to dwell on it. You always have the next tournament and round to play and I can’t worry about this one. I played well this week and learned a lot about my game and what I need to work on, so a lot of positives came out of this week.”

For Berkmeyer, it’s a special victory.

“I always dreamed of winning it one time,” Berkmeyer said. “Now I’ve three.”

He will defend his title next year when it’s held in Cape Girardeau at Dalhousie Golf Club.

“I love it. It’s a great course,” he said.

Bryant will be keeping busy playing.

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