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Virginia Sr. Four-Ball: Gallagher/Nirich go wire-to-wire
SPOTSYLVANIA (May 23, 2013) –– Stoked by steady play, the tandem of James Gallagher (Yorktown) and Jim Nirich (Catlett) delivered a final round 5-under-par 67 to post a one-stroke wire-to-wire victory as the 31st Virginia State Golf Association Senior Four-Ball Championship concluded today at Fawn Lake Country Club.

Fueled by an opening-round 10-under-62, Gallagher-Nirich concluded the championship at 15-under 129. Martinsville’s Keith Decker and David Partridge (Manakin) closed with 6-under 66 to finish second (14-under 130). Vienna residents Bob Morris and Pat Tallent, the 2011 event champions, returned 7-under 65, equaling the low round of the last day, and finished four back at 11-under 133. Yorktown’s Allen Barber and Charles Green (Tazewell) also registered a final-round 65 (10-under 134).

But the day—and championship—belonged to Gallagher-Morris, who played bogey-free in the event and withstood a hard-charging Decker-Partridge tandem with whom they were grouped in the final round.

“I think we both feel like we played phenomenally,” Gallagher said. “I mean we went a combined 72 holes without a bogey. We knew Keith and David were going to play well—that’s who they are. But we never really struggled for par—par was basically in the pocket both days. We had a lot of free runs at birdies.”

Gallagher-Nirich started the day at 10 under and, despite a slow start, birdied three of the final four holes on the outward half to get to 13 under, capped by Gallagher’s 15-footer that went right down the throat of the hole at the par-4 ninth. Their birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 to start the stretch combined for less than 5 feet.

Two strokes back to start the final day, Decker-Partridge stayed close by shooting 4-under 32 on the first nine; all of their birdies on the outward half came inside 5 feet, with Decker supplying three of the four to move the tandem to 12 under. Decker, regularly the top-ranked amateur in the commonwealth since 2001, was at it again at the par-4 10th where he rolled in a tricky left to right slider to get the team a share of the top spot at 13 under.

Decker two-putted for birdie from 22 feet at the par-5 14th, but Gallagher calmly responded by draining a 15-footer for birdie right on top of his fellow-competitor and the teams remained tied at 14 under. The significance of the putt was not lost on Gallagher-Nirich who were up against two of the top players in the commonwealth and partners who teamed for three regular Four-Ball victories.

“That was big,” Gallagher said. “If they ever got up on us…”

He paused for a moment.

“It’s hard to play from behind against Keith Decker and David Partridge.”

Nirich assured them that they wouldn’t have to in untraditional manner at the par-5 16th. Decker played his short-iron third shot to 8 feet right of the hole. Nirich faced a pitch from a thick lie 20 yards right of the green and his third shot scooted over the putting surface down a swale. Advantage Decker-Partridge.

But Nirich answered, lofting a 60-degree wedge fourth that he played perfectly, landing the ball just on the putting surface before it tracked right to the hole and tumbled over the edge for an unlikely birdie.

“The lie was good. I knew I had a good chance of making it,” Nirich said. “That was a big turning point.”

It became even more significant after Decker’s bid for birdie from 8 feet to share the lead came up just short.

Gallagher-Nirich still held a one-stroke advantage at the par-4 finishing hole where they both found the fairway with their tee shots. Partridge hit a perfect drive and they needed it—uncharacteristically, Decker’s pushed his tee shot way to the right and out of bounds.

Partridge’s second shot approach traced right to the flagstick before coming to rest 8 feet beyond the hole. Gallagher and Nirich both found the green safely. With Nirich in for par, in his bid to tie, Partridge’s downhill putt came up a half a roll short of falling.

“It’s an empty feeling,” Partridge said afterward. “I thought I hit it hard enough. It just wasn’t enough. Keith played so well.”

Decker accounted for five of the team’s six birdies in the final round, but the combination seemingly weren’t both in holes consistently enough to grab the lead.

“We left each other out there a few times today. I certainly left David out there one-legged on 18,” Decker said. “We had a good tournament, but they got the job done. It was enjoyable.”

He could only shake his head and laugh for a moment. “We were hoping they were going to be a little more generous, but they made the birdies when they needed them.”

Gallagher-Nirich relied not only on teamwork, but friendship, in taking their first VSGA Senior Four-Ball title. They met while playing each other in a match at the VSGA Public Links Championship a few years ago and developed instant camaraderie. They share similar games—and perspectives.

“It’s an enjoyable experience each time we play because Jim is truly one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” said Gallagher, a retired Air Force bombardier who retired from the Air Force in 2008 after 27 years of service and multiple tours of duty in the Middle East.

Said Nirich: “Jim is a great friend. You think about not only what he does out there on the golf course, but his service to our country. I think our partnership will continue for a while.”

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