David Kimbley (GAP photo)
ELVERSON, Pa. (Oct. 4, 2018) — Unlike the event’s other 97 competitors, David Kimbley didn’t technically win a club championship to get into the Tournament of Champions field. Instead, he took home the Philadelphia Publinks Golf Association’s Player of the Year honor with 680 points, earning him the coveted bid.
That gave Kimbley the opportunity needed to fire a 1-under 70 in regulation Thursday at French Creek Golf Club. It also gave him the chance to eventually win the overall crown, beating DuPont Country Club’s Matt Finger on the second playoff hole.
“It means a lot. There are so many good players in this field with all these champions,” said Kimbley, 44, of Elverson, Pa. “It’s a great win for me.”
The towering Kimbley, a long hitter with precision around the greens, made the turn at 1-over par before catching fire on French Creek’s back. He’d go on to birdie four of his final six holes – including a two-foot tap-in on No. 18 – to take the clubhouse lead.
“I got it going down the stretch there. The putts were just dropping,” he said.
Finger would soon after match Kimbley’s card, meaning a playoff was in order to decide a champion of champions. With darkness threatening, the players stepped up to the tee box on No. 1 with a sense of urgency. Finger’s drive rolled into the right rough, while Kimbley’s bomb found the center of the fairway. Both players took wedge on their approach shots, and landed, identically, just off the front of the green. Again, identical shots were played on the third try, leading to tap-in pars, so the sudden-death scenario moved on to No. 2.
Rain made an unwelcome appearance there as both players lifted their tee shots into the air. Finger landed in position A in the center cut while Kimbley came up short and left in the thick, slick rough. The wet lie posed problems for Kimbley, leaving him with a punch 6-iron that “didn’t jump” and rolled back down into the fairway. Finger lifted his approach up and over the green, leaving a tough up-and-down chance from the rough. Kimbley’s 50-yard chip then checked up perfectly and nestled up to 3 feet. Finger played next, as his wedge shot caught the soaked fringe, resulting in zero roll out. Next came Finger’s par putt, which caught a fair share of the lip but failed to drop. Kimbley stepped up and jarred his 3-footer for the victory.
“I do have some experience in playoffs, but I’d say my record in those is around two losses and three wins,” said Kimbley, who fell earlier this summer in a playoff, alongside teammate John Buliga, in the Four-Ball Stroke Play Championship at Cherry Valley Country Club. “Stepping up to that last 3-footer for the win felt great. It was a solid left-to-right putt that hit dead center.”
An adjustment on the greens gave Thomas Hyland the gusto needed to storm the event's senior castle. He carded a 1-under 70 to edge Lehigh Country Club's Thomas Soares, who notched an ace on the day, by two strokes.
"I've been playing pretty well, but I've been putting kind of poorly. I had a rare good putting day today," said Hyland, 62, of Marlton, N.J. "I played in this team match type of event at Northampton (Country Club) on Tuesday, and the pro (Brent Wallace) came out after the round, looked at me and gave me a couple of putting ideas. I was mainly having trouble with my left-handed putting. I was playing it really far forward and had my hands back. That was causing me to pull it. Brent definitely helped me."
Two putters and three styles distinguish Hyland from his compatriots.
"For the long putts, I use a mid-length putter with a conventional long putter style. The hands split," Hyland, a Little Mill Country Club member, said. "If I'm inside 25 feet, I'll putt sidesaddle most of the time. If it's a right-to-left putt and it's fairly short, I'll putt those with a left-handed putter."
Hyland's putting performance started in style with a birdie on No. 10, his first hole. He converted an 18-footer following a solid 8-iron. On the short par 4 15th hole, Hyland played a safe 4-iron off the tee before smacking a sand wedge 70 yards to four feet for birdie. He went back-to-back on Nos. 6 and 7 thanks to 7-iron set-ups from 130 yards. Hyland bagged both putts from inside five feet.
Needless to say, a three-putt wasn't to blame for his three bogeys on the day.
Hyland's victory marked his first individual GAP triumph since 2007, when he seized the Marston Cup at LedgeRock Golf Club. It also elevated the Little Mill Country Club member to fourth in the Senior Player of the Year standings.
Icing on a delightful 2018 tournament cake for a humbled Hyland.
"It's nice to get a win anytime. I don't expect many more," he said.
A pair of Super Senior titles hung in the balance at French Creek: the tournament itself and a Player of the Year honor.
White Manor Country Club's Don Donatoni trailed Saucon Valley Country Club's Robin McCool by 12 points entering the day. He made up the difference — and then some.
Donatoni carded an even-par 71 to capture the Super-Senior crown and to catapult ahead of McCool in the standings. His victory returned 25 points, enough for a sixth straight POY designation.
"Even though I knew my score today was going to be tough to beat, you don't count your chickens," Donatoni, 70, of Malvern, Pa., said. "I never got out of the moment out there. I really never thought about [the Player of the Year]. I just wanted to hang in there and do the best I could. I knew if I could win today, I'd have a chance. That's all I was looking for. If it turns out I win my sixth in a row, nothing could be sweeter. I'd be thrilled."
He's likely bouncing off the walls.
Donatoni, who played in the morning alongside McCool and Spring Ford Country Club's Steve Tagert, made the turn in 2 over. French Creek's par 5s staged his only slip-ups: hazard greenside right on No. 4, a hack lie in the right fairway bunker on No. 6.
"The golf course can be dangerous in spots," Donatoni, who won the Tournament of Champions' Senior title in 2010 and 2016, said. "I thought the greens had a lot of fire in them. You really had to be careful."
A clean back nine suggests that Donatoni used caution. On No. 14, he hit a three-quarter wedge 124 yards to 20 feet for birdie and a six-shot lead over McCool. Donatoni closed his TOC and POY case with an emphatic birdie on No. 17 green, where he delivered a 4-hybrid to 25 feet below the flagstick.
He and McCool traded smiles and respective congratulations as they walked off the No. 18 green.
"I didn't play very well today, so I'm rather disappointed with respect to that," McCool, 67, of Center Valley, Pa., said. "I got a chance to watch some really good golf. Don played beautifully. He had a great season, and I did too. I'm disappointed to end it with a bad round."
"Robin's had a heck of a season. He's such a great competitor," Donatoni said. "I know he had a [points] lead on me coming into today. I figured today was an important day to perform well and do my best."