L-R: Rick Stimmel, Bob Crnjarich (PA Golf photo)
After two runner up finishes in 2020, Rick Stimmel was looking forward to flipping the script in Pennsylvania Golf Association events in 2021. Aided by a string of six straight birdies in his opening round, Stimmel did just that, shooting consecutive rounds of 69 to fire a 6-under par 138 at Valley Brook Country Club to win the 80th Dressler Memorial Championship on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s hard enough to win as it is,” said Stimmel, of Diamond Run Golf Club. “But to get one early in the year when I haven’t really had that much time to put a lot of effort into my game feels really good.”
Stimmel, who finished second in the Pennsylvania Amateur and the R. Jay Sigel Match Play Championship last year, shook off a bogey on his opening hole of the tournament before the streak that put him in front of the field for most of the event. Having started on the back nine in Monday’s opening round, Stimmel approached the 14th tee after a ho-hum start that had him at +1 through four holes. Six holes later, he was on the second tee (his 11th hole of the day) and was on top of the leaderboard at 5-under par. He even had a chance at a seventh straight birdie after knocking his approach on No. 2 to three feet, but he couldn’t convert. But despite a couple of bogeys down the stretch, he finished round one as the leader at 3-under par, one shot ahead of reigning Pennsylvania Open champ Jimmy Ellis.
While the golf course may have been the same, the conditions for Tuesday’s round certainly were not. Monday saw chilly temperatures and a nearly two-hour frost delay before play could begin, while Tuesday brought sunny skies and almost 80 degrees. Playing with Ellis in the final round, it appeared that the event would be headed for a tight finish as Stimmel made an early bogey that combined with an Ellis birdie to put the South Hills Country Club stalwart on top for a brief moment. But Stimmel rallied to birdie No. 5, while Ellis bogeyed, giving him a lead that he would not relinquish.
Most of the drama came on the par-5 7th hole. Ben Cooley, the third member of the final pairing, hit first and his tee ball found a stream that runs down the right side about 40 yards off of the fairway. Ellis was up next, and his ball was on a similar line. Stimmel then stepped to the tee determined not to find the same fate.
“I hit it good enough to be in the first cut of the right side,” Stimmel said.
Ellis found his ball halfway down the hill, but he could only chip out from that spot and was still about 180 yards out and in the rough while looking at his third shot. Stimmel, meanwhile, was facing a 250-yard approach into the wind. A beautiful shot with his 3-wood landed just a foot from the hole, and the eagle cemented his advantage. On the other hand, Ellis stumbled to a bogey, a three-shot swing on a crucial hole. From there, Stimmel cruised.
“I haven’t had that big of a lead coming down the stretch in a long time,” commented Stimmel.
Knowing that pars were his friend, Stimmel succeeded on the back nine by leaving his approach shots pin high, usually within 12 to 15 feet.
“I never shot at any pins out there on the back nine,” said Stimmel.
And with a par on No. 18, he clinched the win and what he hopes is another strong season for the decorated state champion.
Stimmel’s fellow Diamond Run GC member, Bob Crnjarich, rallied from a day one deficit, as he was the only Senior entrant to shoot under par on day 2, firing a 2-under par 70 to win the Senior division by a shot over Sean Knapp.
"I figured if I shot a good round today, I'd be in the hunt," said Crnjarich.
After an opening round 76, he improved by six shots in day two. The reason?
"I was much better with my lag putting," Crnjarich said. "I put myself in some tough spots but was able to lag it to two or three feet and make the putts."
Crnjarich fired four birdies against just two bogeys in the final 18 holes, including a 3-under par stretch in his last 10 holes, to win the title. Among the keys to his title were the 10th (376-yard par 4) and 15th (206-yard par 3) holes. In four tries, Crnjarich made four birdies on those two holes.
On the 10th hole on Tuesday, Crnjarich hit a good drive and with the hole location toward the back of the green, he choked up a bit on his pitching wedge and knocked it to five feet and sunk the putt for birdie. On 15, where he nearly made an ace the day before when his tee shot ended up just one foot from the hole, Crnjarich struck a solid 4-iron to 10 feet and drained the putt.
His final birdie gave him the win in style, as he rolled in a 15-footer on the 18th to close out the victory.
In addition to the individual titles, the Team championship went to Diamond Run. The best 2 of 3 scores format for each round saw Stimmel and Crnjarich combine for a score of 284 (-4).
Indiana Country Club’s Don Erickson, III shot rounds of 76-75 to win the Super-Senior division by two shots over Hershey’s Mill Golf Club’s Mike Owsik with a score of 7-over par 151.
“Both days, I hit the ball as good as I can hit it,” remarked Erickson. “I hit a lot of greens and never got in big trouble.”
That’s usually a formula for success on the golf course, and it was no different this week for Erickson.
“I think I had four three-putts over 36 holes,” Erickson said. “I two-putted everything. I didn’t really make any putts, but that was the trick - hit a lot of greens.”
With a warmer day on Tuesday (“definitely helps us seniors,” said Erickson), the wind also picked up a bit, making conditions a little tricky.
“I was mostly playing to the middles of the green,” Erickson said. “It seemed like the setup had the pins in some friendlier locations that we could take advantage of.”
The co-champ in 2016 along with Mike Vassil, Erickson finally has a Dressler title to claim on his own.
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