EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Two first-time competitors, John Jackopsic of Meadow Brook and Kevin Silva of Montaup, will meet on Friday at Metacomet for the title in the 110th Rhode Island Golf Association Amateur Championship.
The match is interesting in that it features one player, Silva, who has just returned to playing amateur golf after spending seven years as a pro, against another, Jackopsic, who is planning to turn pro at the end of the summer.
It is doubly interesting in that it showcases the policy of inclusion under which the RIGA operates. Neither Silva not Jackopsic are true Rhode Islanders. Silva grew up and still lives in New Bedford. He joined Montaup in order to be eligible for RIGA competition and thus is fully eligible as are a number of others who regularly play in association events.
Jackopsic is similar in that his family spends most of the year in West Hartford, Ct., where he grew up. But the family also has a home in Westerly, which is where they spend the summer. Jackopsic earned an automatic berth in the Amateur when he won the Burke Memorial last spring, the first RIGA event in which he took part.
Regardless of where they call home, Silva and Jackopsic both earned their berths in the 36-hole title match thanks in large part to terrific clutch play.
The 31-year-old Silva, who has played in two U.S. Opens and had a strong college career at the University of North Carolina, has a new favorite hole, the downhill par-4 closing hole at Metacomet. He pulled out 1-up victories in both his morning quarterfinal against Seamus Fennelly and the afternoon semifinal against West Warwick’s Rob Grossguth with birdies on 351-yard hole.
"I had 77 (yards to the green) this morning and 72 just now, pretty much the same shot each time,’’ he said. "That pin placement (in the middle of the green) is an attackable pin. I hit good wedges both times.’’ Both times he pitched within five feet of the hole.
"I liked the one this afternoon better than the one this morning. This one was uphill,’’ he pointed out. "This morning was downhill.’’ He made them both to win his match each time.
Silva showed the poise of a veteran in coming back from behind in both matches. He felt the key in squeezing past Grossguth, who also was a semifinalist last year, came on the 13th. Grossguth had just won 12 to go 2-up, the biggest lead by either player.
"He putted great all day, but he three-putted there, which opened the door just a crack,’’ Silva said. "I felt I needed some momentum and felt that was the crack I needed.’’ Silva drew even with a conceded birdie at 16, setting up his big finish on 18.
Jackopsic’s semifinal might have been even more dramatic as he outlasted Mid Amateur champion Jamie Lukowicz of the home club in 21 holes. Lukowicz never trailed until he took three from the fringe for bogey on the 21st hole, that after hitting a terrific punch shot from out of the trees with his approach on the par-4.
Lukowicz led early by two holes, lost it, then two more times took 1-up leads. Each time Jackopsic fought back. Jackopsic used an improbable birdie putt on 15 to pull even.
"I made that outrageous putt. It was about 45 feet with about 12 feet of break in it,’’ he said. "I was really lucky I saw him putt on the same line before I had to putt. It went right in the middle.’’ The two ran off pars to stay even going to 18. Both had chances to win on 18, but Jackopsic three-putted from above the hole and Lukowicz missed a six-footer for par.
They both parred the first two extra holes before Jackopsic won it with his par on the 21st.
The morning quarterfinals continued the weeklong trend of close matches as all but one reached the 18th green. The only exception was Jackopsic’s 4-and-3 victory over former champion Tom McCormick.
Even that match, though, was close much of the way. McCormick, who won in 2005, led through most of the front nine, though never by more than one hole. The two were tied through 10. The big swing came on 11, where Jackopsic bogeyed, but still won the hole because McCormick doubled it.
With the lead for the first time, the recent BC grad went on to win 12, 13 and 14 to quickly jump his advantage to 4-up. When both birdied 15 for a halve, Jackopsic had his spot in the semis.
The three other quarter-finals had more exciting finishes. Grossguth and Blanchard, the two veterans who have been in this position often in the past, went 20 holes before Grossguth earned his semifinal berth for the second year in a row.
Grossguth and Blanchard, a two-time champion, were never more than one hole apart as they halved 13 of the 20 holes they needed to decide the issue. Blanchard won the par-4 16th to pull even. The two then parred 17, 18 and 19 before Grossguth won it with a par on the par-5 20th hole.
Silva earned his spot in the semis against Grossguth with a spectacular finish to edge URI’s Seamus Fennelly, 1 up. Those two were even through 15. Fennelly, who learned the game at Foster and now plays out of Metacomet, birdied 16 to go ahead. Silva responded with a bird on 17 to pull back even and then a bird on 18 to win it. Both came thanks to outstanding approaches on the par-4s, within three feet on 17 and four feet on 18.
Lukowicz became the last member of the home club to stay alive when he survived a wild 1-up decision over Wheeler senior Jeffrey Giguere. Lukowicz started fast and won 2, 3 and 5 with two birds and a par. He was still 3-up through nine before Giguere won 10 and 12 with pars and 13 with a bird to draw even.
Over the last five holes, both players parred out, with one exception. Giguere bogeyed 17, just enough to allow Lukowicz to take the 1-up thriller.