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Virginia Amateur: Brittain, Mondy ready for final
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virg. (June 29, 2012) -- Tazewell’s Buck Brittain, 45, and 19-year-old Jake Mondy of Blacksburg posted a pair of wins in Friday’s quarterfinal and semifinal round matches and will meet in Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final at the 99thVirginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship being conducted at the 7,100-yard, par 72 Bayville Golf Club in Virginia Beach.

Brittain and Mondy (pictured right) will each be making their first appearance in the deciding match.

Brittain, the only mid-amateur (ages 25 and older) to reach the quarterfinals, scored a 2-and-1 morning victory over medalist and three-time champion Brinson Paolini (Virginia Beach), a 21-year-old rising senior at Duke University. In the afternoon, the southwest Virginian drained a right-to-left breaking 45-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole, the par-4 first, the 19th hole of the match, to outlast 21-year-old Jeremy Wells of Hopewell, a rising senior at the College of William and Mary.

Mondy, a rising sophomore at Auburn University, bested two central Virginians. In the third round of match play, he defeated last week’s VSGA Junior Match Play champion, Adam Ball of Richmond (rising senior at St. Christopher’ School), 2 and 1. After lunch, he registered a wire-to-wire 5 and 4 win over Tim Osterbind, 23, of Midlothian.

In the Brittain-Wells encounter, neither semifinalist held more than a 1-up lead. Brittain made a right-to-left breaking 8-footer at the par-4 11th hole to go 1 up, before Wells escaped a thick lie through the green on his approach shot from the right side at the par-4 14th hole to eventually notch a par-win.

At the par-4 17th, Brittain looked to have an opening after his opponent appeared shut out. Wells blocked his tee shot way to the right and his ball came to rest in tall fescue grass with high-arching trees obstructing his view 20 feet in front of him. With Brittain comfortably on the green following his approach, Wells played an incredible 8-iron recovery shot that flew over the cluster of trees. For a moment, it was anyone’s guess where the ball came to rest, but when Wells reappeared, he must’ve liked the result. The ball was, almost miraculously, on the putting surface, 18 feet below the hole, closer to the flagstick than his opponent’s ball. He eventually earned a par halve after the great escape.

“I hit it like it was on a tee and hoped the ball got airborne,” Wells said. “We had no clue where it was. We got up there and it was inside of Buck’s ball. That’s match play for you. I would’ve liked it better if I had made the putt.”

For an instant, Brittain thought he had the upper hand.

“I was thinking, ‘At this point you can’t make a mistake and this may be his mistake,’ ” Brittain said. “He hit a great shot. I was thinking ‘I have to get back to work.’ ”

He did just that, knocking a clutch 5-footer for par at No. 18 to send the match to extra holes.

At the first extra hole, Wells detonated a 330-plus yard tee shot and hit a crisp wedge shot that came to rest 16 feet short of the demanding back left hole location. Brittain’s 6-iron approach caught the right side of the green.

Advantage Wells.

But Brittain’s birdie chance from long distance started right on his intended line, tracked straight to the hole and tumbled in the center. Brittain spun around and clenched his fist in celebration after the ball disappeared. Wells’ chance for a halve went just past the low side of the hole to conclude an incredible turn of events.

“It’s one of those putts where you just want it to be close and you make him make his putt,” Brittain said. “I don’t know if you can plan on making putts like that. It just happened to go in.

“I knew I hit the putt well. It was on the line and it looked like it was into the grain, so I thought I had to hit it pretty hard. As it got closer, it was a little right of the hole and I kept thinking, ‘It’s going to break. It’s going to break.’ It was just the right speed and fell in.”

Said Wells: “That’s match play. I expected him to make it and I knew I would need to make mine either way and he did. Buck played really well. He missed a few putts that almost went in, so he probably deserved that one.”

For his part, Wells was the stroke-play equivalent on six under par in his morning match and estimated he was a combined 16 under par in his four matches.

“I’m going to look back on this positively, but right now it hurts,” Wells said afterward. I missed some putts on the back side and that really cost me. I missed a short one at No. 10 and could never get any momentum after that.”

In the uncertainties inherent in match play, a steady approach and efficient play has carried Brittain to the final.

“He’s not going to give you many holes,” Wells said. “I mean, I hit it 40 yards past him and he beat me. He hits the ball in the fairway and makes some putts. He plays golf the way you’re supposed to play it.

“For all of us young kids who come out here that are supposed to be big and strong, Buck’s the opposite of us, kind of. He’s just a great player. He’s a really tough opponent in match play because he’s not going to give you anything.”

In the quarterfinals against Paolini, Brittain held a two holes up lead in the late stages and knocked in a gutsy 14-footer for par at the par-3 16th for an important halve.

“I was thinking, ‘If I make this, this is the putt to win the match and it went in,’ ” said Brittain, who closed the match one hole later.

Paolini, who struggled to make putts for much of the day, knew the significance of the putt that moved his opponent to dormie-2.

“The putt he made on 16 – that was pretty much the match. If he misses that, I think I win,” Paolini said. “He made it and he won. He played really great and deserves all the credit. He got the job done.”

So did Mondy. All-square in his match against Ball in the morning, Mondy went eagle-birdie on Nos. 15 and 16 to go two holes up and ultimately win the match. Counting the concessions that are typically a part of match play, he was the stroke play equivalent of four under par in the quarterfinal-round encounter.

In seizing control in the semifinals against Osterbind, Mondy drained a downhill 6-foot birdie putt at the par-4 ninth to go three holes up, rolled in a 25-footer at the par-4 12th and closed out the match two holes later.

For all of his enviable length, Mondy showed a deft touch on Bayville’s slick greens.

“I made a lot of putts,” Mondy said. “Putts are key in match play, so it was good to make some of them.”

In reaching the final, Mondy has memories of the host site. He represented the Virginias team against their Carolinas counterparts at the Captain’s Putter Matches in October 2010. That competition would be the last time Mondy’s, father, Dave, would see his son play. Dave Mondy died later that October of a heart attack at the age of 56.

Mondy knows taking home the Schwarzschild Brothers Trophy, awarded to the champion, would hold special significance.

“It would mean a lot. This is the last place my dad ever saw me play a round of golf, so he was on my mind a little bit today,” Mondy said. “I know he’s watching out for me. It would be an honor. It would be pretty special.”

Even though his opponents have walloped their tee shots past him, it seems to have mattered little to Brittain. He’ll face more of the same against the powerful Mondy on Saturday.

“I think he hits his 2-iron 20 yards past my driver. I’ll be there struggling, but I’ll do what I can,” Brittain said with a smile.

A veteran of the VSGA Amateur who has played in the championship on a consistent basis since 1997, Brittain won’t alter his approach as he pursues a first triumph in the event.

“I’m playing as well as I’ve ever played,” said Brittain, ranked second among points leaders in the VSGA player rankings entering the event. “The more you play and the closer you get, the more you want to try to win.”

What would it mean to pull off a concluding victory?

“I can’t even put that into words. It would be great,” Brittain said. “I’m a long way from being there. If I can do the same thing I did today – get close to the end with a chance. If I can get near the end and I’m still in the game, better watch out.”

The championship final is set to begin at 7:30 a.m.

The final signals the first time two players from the western part of the commonwealth have met for the title since before Mondy was born. At the 1988 VSGA Amateur, Martinsville’s Keith Decker defeated Dicky Linkous of Roanoke, 3 and 1 at Danville Golf Club.

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