ARLINGTON, Va. (August 28, 2014) — Watching Keith Decker of Martinsville pound another long drive down the middle of the fairway, 80 yards past his ball, John Cuomo of Richmond shook his head and smiled.
“I used to hit ‘em like that,” said the 67-year-old Cuomo in his semifinal match in today’s Virginia State Golf Association Senior Amateur semifinals.
On Thursday at Army Navy Country Club’s Arlington Course, the match between Decker, a burly 54-year-old, and the 5-5 Cuomo didn’t seem to be a fair fight.
But Cuomo made Decker sweat before the defending champion emerged with a 3-and-1 victory.
“He’s a bulldog,” said Decker, 54. “It’s not unnerving when he’s hanging in there. I knew how good he is, how steady he is and how tough he is to beat.”
Decker, one of the most decorated players in VSGA history, will try to add another title to his resume Friday morning when he faces Michael Caprio of Arlington in the scheduled 18-hole match play final which begins at 8 a.m.
Caprio did the near impossible in his 19-hole round of four victory over George Kapetanakis of McLean, winning the match without making a birdie.
“I had been playing really well, and had made a ton of birdies in the other matches,” said the 51-year-old Caprio. “I actually thought on (No.) 18, when I was looking at my putt, ‘I haven’t made a birdie all match. This would be a really nice time to make a birdie.’ ”
But Caprio’s 25-footer to win came up inches short. Kapetanakis, 61, followed by draining his three-footer for par to force extra holes.
At the par-4 first, the 19th hole of the encounter, Caprio struck the shot of the match. His 6-iron from 170 yards settled eight feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Kapetanakis missed the green from the rough and left his chip shot 15 feet short. After he failed to make his par, Caprio cozied his downhill putt close to the hole to ultimately seal the win.
It was a grinding encounter in which neither player ever held more than a one hole up lead. The only birdie for either player came at No. 11, where Caprio missed two shots way to the right and conceded the hole to Kapetanakis.
“It was a combination of fatigue and the heat,” Caprio said. “I was feeling a little woozy. Thankfully, my wife (Terry) went and got some ice, iced down some towels and tried to get the temperature down. (Over the) last few holes, I was feeling a little better.”
Standing in a deep bunker at No. 16, Caprio appeared in danger of losing the par 5 hole as Kapetanakis faced a relatively simple uphill chance from the fringe. But Caprio hit a beautiful explosion shot, leaving it 10 feet below the hole and made a key save to halve the hole with par to remain all-square.
It was Kapetanakis’ turn to save par on No. 17 as his flop shot landed softly near the hole to earn a halve.
In the other match, Decker started with a three-putt to hand the advantage to Cuomo. But Decker took command by winning the final four holes of the front nine. With the wind swirling, Cuomo struggled, making three straight bogeys at Nos. 6-8. Then at the ninth, a tight, uphill 274-yard par-4, Decker used his length advantage. After blistering his drive that put him just in front of the green, he chipped to within four feet and made the birdie putt to take a three holes up lead.
But Cuomo wasn’t done. He made an eight-footer for birdie at No. 10 to win the hole. Thereafter, at No. 12, a 215-yard par-3, Cuomo’s tee shot came to rest 15 feet from the hole. Decker missed the green with his 5-iron. When Decker failed to convert an up and down, Cuomo was one hole down.
At No. 15, Decker’s length edge was critical. After a 280-yard drive on the 333-yard hole, Decker pitched to within two feet. Cuomo nearly holed out his flop shot third, then conceded Decker’s birdie putt.
“He asked me, ‘Can you make that one?’ ” Decker said. “I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Pick it up.’ ”
Two holes later, Decker played another brilliant wedge shot to five feet. Cuomo conceded the birdie as Decker pushed his match play win streak at the championship to nine straight victories dating back to last year’s event.
On Friday morning, Decker will be the favorite against Caprio who has never won a state amateur event. Caprio, a former player at the University of Connecticut who recently moved to the Washington, D.C., area, owns four runner-up finishes in amateur events in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Decker is trying to become the first repeat champion in the event since 2005-06 when Jamie Gough of Fairfax claimed consecutive titles.
“His reputation and his results speaks for itself,” Caprio said of Decker. “I understand he’s really long. But one of the nice things about that is that I will get to hit first into the greens and that can be a good thing.”
Caprio hopes to recapture the ball striking acumen he had Thursday morning in a 4 and 3 victory over Dave Pulk of Williamsburg. Caprio took a one hole up lead in the match with four birdies on the last six holes of the front nine, with all of his makes measuring less than 10 feet. He then proceeded to play steadily and won the final four holes of the encounter.
Caprio may need his best against Decker who has collected five VSGA senior titles, including the most significant senior events the association conducts, since turning 50 in April 2010. In addition to triumphing at last year’s Senior Amateur, he posted a repeat victory at the VSGA Senior Stroke Play this spring. Decker claimed the VSGA Senior Four-Ball Championship (with Vienna’s Pat Tallent) in May. He also won the 2010 Senior Open of Virginia.
Decker has also captured a record six VSGA Four-Ball titles, three State Opens, two VSGA Amateurs and an unprecedented seven VSGA Mid-Amateurs. He has amassed a combined 23 victories in the aforementioned championships (including senior events), as well as hoisting the trophy in a host of VSGA ‘majors.’
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