Don Wright secures playoff win at Rhode Island Senior
REHOBOTH, R.I. — Don Wright won the 57th Rhode Island Senior Amateur Championship Wednesday at Crestwood in one of the wildest finishes in any state championship event in years. He took the title by edging Tom Goryl in a playoff after both finished the event at 1-over-par 143. Wright birdied the third playoff hole, the par-5 12th, to earn the crown.

Wright also birdied the last hole of regulation just to get into the playoff, giving him a 71 on the day and his 143 total.

Still, neither Wright nor Goryl was involved in the turn of events that made it such a wild day. It was three-time State Amateur champion Mike Soucy who was the subject of much of the conversation _ and as many congratulations as the champion received _ when it was over.

Soucy called a penalty on himself on the next- to-last hole that cost him the tournament. He already had had a crazy day before getting to the par-3 17th. He began with a two-stroke lead after firing a 67 in the first round. But he went 4-over in the first 10 holes and not only lost the top spot, he fell two strokes behind at one point. His problems in mid-round (he had bogies at 8, 9 and 10) turned the event into a scramble. As many as 11 players were within five shots of the lead in the middle of the day.

Soucy was able to regroup, however, and went even par for the next six holes. All the others in contention were falling back, so when Soucy stepped to the tee at the par-3 17th, he was back in the lead by one stroke.

He pushed his tee shot on 17 right, into the hazard that borders the entire right side. As his threesome headed down after finishing all the tee shots, Soucy took a ball out of his bag in case he could not play the one that went in the hazard.

"I didn’t have to hit a provisional. If I had to, I could have hit a provisional from where it crossed the hazard. So I just got in the cart and put in t in my pocket,’’ Soucy related. When he reached the hazard, he saw that his ball was playable. He was able to punch it out and get it on the green about 20 feet from the hole. His first putt missed by about two feet.

"I went over and washed my ball. I was the last one to putt, so I put it in my pocket,’’ he related. When his playing partners finished putting, he reached into his pocket, took out a ball _ the wrong ball, not the one he began the hole with _ and tapped it for what should have been a four. As he was bending over to take his ball out of the cup he realized what he had done.

"There were no markings on the ball. I thought, that’s not the right ball,’’ Soucy explained. As all players do, he has a specific set of markings he uses to identify his ball. The ball he putted into the hole was the provisional he had put in his pocket. It had no markings. "He was the only one who knew. Nobody else knew,’’ pointed out Goryl, who was one of his playing partners.

The rules dictate that a player cannot substitute a ball in the middle of a hole. The penalty is two strokes, so Soucy had a six. He then birdied the par-5 finishing hole to finish with a 77 for the day and 144 total. Without the penalty, he would have won the event by one stroke.

Soucy just shook his head as friends came up to console and congratulate him for his integrity.

"You just have to do it,’’ he said of calling the penalty on himself.

Soucy’s misfortune opened the door for a playoff between two of the most popular players in the RIGA, Wright and Goryl. Both are like Soucy, class people on and off the course. While both have been frequent contenders, neither had won an individual RIGA event.

Wright three times reached the State Amateur semifinals, twice qualified for the U.S. Amateur and once finished second to Mike Capone in the Stroke Play.

"It’s feel great to win,’’ said Wright who is the executive director of the Button Hole Children’s Course and Teaching Center where RIGA offices are located.

"It’s always such a great time playing in these events. You make so many good friends,’’ Wright said. "We have fun, but we’re still a little competitive, too.’’ Wright who came to Rhode Island to play baseball and basketball at Brown University, had the lead for part of the day as he went 1-under through 15. He looked to be in trouble when he double-bogeyed 16. But he had a near eagle on his last hole, about the same time that Soucy was making his six on the 17th.

Wright normally spends his time helping others learn the game. The Button Hole facility has become one of the best of its kind in the nation and now not only has programs working with kids but also has new programs to help military personnel.

The loss was more frustration for Goryl, although he did win the Super Seniors Division for players aged 62-67. Goryl twice won the Four-Ball with Chuck Woytowicz as his partner (1994 and 1996), twice won the Senior Four-Ball with Mark Forbes (2008 and 2011) and twice won the Mixed Championship with Kim Augusta (1993, 1994).

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ABOUT THE Rhode Island Senior

36-hole stroke play championship for seniors, super seniors and legends. Eligibility: Age 55 & over. Gross & Net Divisions. Member of RIGA member club.

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