by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW CASTLE, PA (June 6, 2017) - Five strokes down with seven holes remaining, Sean Knapp wasn’t sure there was enough charge in his game to catch his old friend and playing partner, Rick Stimmel.
And even though Stimmel, like Knapp, was an amateur, it had been a long time since the seven-time West Penn Amateur champion had won a professional event. But, at 55, Knapp showed he still had the firepower to do both.
Knapp birdied four holes in a five-hole stretch on the back nine, watched Stimmel go bogey-double bogey on the final two holes and rallied to win the Tri-State Open at New Castle Country Club for the first time in his decorated amateur career.
Knapp overcame a disastrous finish to the front nine to shoot 72 and finish at 3-under 141 on Tuesday, good for a one-shot victory over Oakmont professional Devin Gee (142) and two shots ahead of Stimmel and former PGA Tour player Bob Friend at 143.
He’s hoping to use the victory — his first in a professional tournament since he won the last of his three Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational titles in 2000 — as a springboard before it’s too late.
'I kind of still want to do more, and maybe this is it,' Knapp said. 'Don’t get me wrong, this is a great event to win. I haven’t won a pro event in a long time. But I want to do more at the national level.'
Knapp, who has won a record 35 West Penn Golf Association championships and is a member of the WPGA Hall of Fame, kind of felt that way on the golf course when he was five shots down to Stimmel, the first-round leader, standing on the 12th tee.
But he put a little hitch in his step with a 12-foot birdie putt at the 346-yard 12th and nearly one-hopped his approach into the cup for eagle at the 305-yard 14th, settling for a kick-in birdie. When Stimmel three-putted from the back fringe for bogey, Knapp was only two back.
'It’s game on now,' Knapp said.
And what a game he put on. Knapp two-putted for birdie from 48 feet at the 483-yard 15th and sneaked in a 15-footer for another birdie at the 559-yard par-5 16th after electing to lay up from the left rough with an iron.
'It was probably a blessing because it took away an option to go for it,' Knapp said. 'It forced me to get back into position, which you have to do on this golf course.'
It was a disappointing finish for Stimmel, 49, whose day got off to a bad start when he cracked his driver after hitting just one ball on the practice range. Without a backup driver in his car, Stimmel went to the New Castle pro shop and borrowed a demo Titleist driver with less stiffness in the shaft and a much smaller grip, causing him to hit big, sweeping hooks off the tee.
It didn’t seem to hurt him too much, especially after he made an 18-foot birdie at the sinister 11th, a 351-yard par 4 where the fairway slopes right while the green tilts left. Stimmel, though, never made another birdie after that, even with two par 5s and a pair of drivable par 4s ahead of him — holes that play to his considerable length off the tee.
But when he needed it most, the borrowed driver finally appeared to cost him.
Tied with Knapp going into the 408-yard 18th, after each three-putted the par-3 17th for bogey, Stimmel hooked his tee shot into the left rough, behind an overhanging tree. When his approach shot hit a branch and ricocheted to the left, Stimmel could only punch his third shot over the back of the green and onto the cart path. From there, he chipped 12 feet past the pin and two-putted for double bogey.
Stimmel offered no excuses.
'I should be able to grab a club and hit it on the planet,' he said. 'I’m not going to pin-point one hole. Knapper birdied four out of five — that’s pretty impressive. He’s my buddy. Twenty years of playing golf with him. He’s my buddy.'
View results for Tri-State Open
ABOUT THE Tri-State Open
36 hole stroke play tournament with a cut to the low
and ties after round one. The tournament is conducted
by the Tri-State PGA whose section encompasses
Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the
corner of Maryland.
View Complete Tournament Information