- RIGA photo
By Dalton Balthaser
Andrew O’Leary needed a break to keep his lead late on the back nine against Bobby Leopold in the 114th Rhode Island Golf Association Amateur Final.
On hole No. 30 (par 5, 509 yards), the 12th at Shelter Harbor Golf Club, O’Leary immediately pointed right as his 3-wood approach sailed into a dense forest, about to disappear.
“That back pin was hard to get at with a wedge, so I had to go for the green since I knew Bobby was going to,” said O’Leary. “I had to get it somewhere around the green and I blocked it right.”
Fortunately for him, he had the Luck of the Irish on his side.
The rising sophomore at the University of Notre Dame just smiled when the gallery following the match told him his ball hit the trees, bounced off the cart path and landed in the fairway just off the green.
He then rolled in a 20-footer for an unlikely birdie after a poor chip and a 2-up advantage. That would be all he needed.
O’Leary, led by his steady golf game and guided by his dad as his caddie, is the 114th #RIAmateur champion.
He defeated two-time champion Bobby Leopold (2009, 2014), 3&1, in the 36-hole Final played on Friday and Saturday. It was his first appearance in the event.
“It means a lot to join the great names associated with this event,” said O’Leary. “I am happy I could come away with this trophy. Bobby had the experience over me so he knew what he had to do. I am happy to be the champion.”
The remaining 18 holes of the final had to be pushed back to Saturday due to a stoppage of play for the day on Tuesday.
“I thought my ball was in the woods and then I saw it in the fairway,” said O’Leary, 19, of Norfolk, Mass. “You need a couple of breaks like that during a tournament. I got that break at the perfect time. Luck of the Irish I guess.”
“No. 30 (No. 12) was a killer,” said Leopold, 34, of Coventry. “To have a chance just to stay 1-down was much better than 2-down. I knew it was going to be tough after that hole.”
Leopold, of Wannamoisett Country Club, was 1-up through 27 holes. Then the Nos. 28 (No. 10) (par 4, 458 yards), 29 (par 3, 133 yards) (No. 11) and 30 (No. 12) put O’Leary in the driver’s seat.
O’Leary won No. 28 with a par after Leopold was forced to layup out of the left fairway bunker and couldn’t scramble for par. The Pawtucket Country Club member then stuffed an 8-iron to 10 feet on No. 29 and converted that birdie putt. Then No. 30 happened and all of a sudden Leopold’s advantage was gone.
“It was one of those weeks where I was fighting the whole week,” said Leopold. “I felt like the good luck was against me for a majority of it.”
Leopold’s grit and determination never faded in a week where three of his five matches went extra holes and his opponents made a longer distance of putts on him than it would take to get back to his native England. An exaggeration of course but it seemed that way.
“Keeping up with these guys gets harder and harder as the years go by,” said Leopold. “I often think to myself when I have a 50-footer or hit a bad drive that my kids aren’t going to care about that. There’s no pressure here anymore. It’s not like how I felt when I wanted to turn professional back in the day. It’s more about enjoying myself now.”
O’Leary was dormie with three holes remaining. After he hit it into the penalty area on No. 34 (No. 16, par 5, 495 yards), Leopold was 2-down with two to play. But he shut the door with a conceded birdie on No. 35 (No. 17, par 3, 178 yards).
“There are not too many times where you see the No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed make it all the way to the end,” said Leopold. “Seeing the top two qualifiers play each other for the title at the end is pretty cool.”
This was a special week for O’Leary whose dad Brian also qualified for match play as the No. 11 seed. After he was eliminated, he went to be his son’s caddie.
Being on the bag for his son’s biggest win of his life is a special reward for the elder O’Leary, who has been a fixture in his son’s life like any great dad.
“My dad has always been there for me,” said O’Leary. “He’s taught me everything I know about golf and has been my caddie for as long as I can remember. It definitely means a lot to get this win with him.”