Ryan Coughlin (Metropolitan G.A. photo)
Ryan Coughlin of Westchester successfully defended his title, Friday, in the 104th Westchester Amateur Championship, while Ned Zachar of host club GlenArbor and Mark Vassalotti of Sterling Farms secured their own Westchester Senior Amateur and Super Senior Amateur titles.
Facing Jack Woods of Ridgewood (Conn.), Coughlin earned wins on Nos. 4, 5 and 7 to grab an ealry 3-up advantage.
“I had gotten off to a slow start in my other matches, so it was good to get off to a hot start,” said the 33-year-old.
While Woods quickly responded with wins on Nos. 8 and 9 to trim the deficit to just one, Coughlin didn’t drop another whole the rest of the morning round, but added three wins of his own on Nos. 12, 17 and 18 to earn a 4-up advantage at the lunch break.
“You’re going to have your own good stretch, they’re going to have a good stretch and it’s just how you weather the storms,” said Coughlin of the 36-hole day. “What I did today was get a ton of up and downs and really not give him too many holes.”
One such up-and-down came on the par-3 11th, with Coughlin dying a sand shot in the rough and allowing it to run close to the flag for a tie on the hole.
After lunch, Coughlin won two of his first three holes to stretch the advantage to 6-up.
“My goal was to get one or two quickly, because it becomes mentally hard,” he said. “In those circumstances, you want to play good golf, but it’s hard to not play your opponent.”
Woods, 22, won Nos. 5 and 7, but three more wins for Coughlin on Nos. 9, 11 and 12 closed out the match by a 7-and-6 margin.
Coughlin gives a lot of credit to his putting for the week, as he managed to perform well on GlenArbor’s fast greens after returning to an old putter.
“Other than the first putt of the whole tournament, I didn’t miss a single one that I should have made and that was the difference,” said Coughlin, noting he had tried a mallet putter with a claw grip during the Ike.
For Coughlin, the win backs up he strong play last season as he amped up his competitive schedule.
“I had some big expectations after the way I played last year,” said Coughlin. “It has felt so good other than the putter and I knew that if I was a little patient, eventually they would start falling and I would win something. I’m so happy to do it at this one again too because it’s such an awesome tournament. I do look at all the names and history, there’s so many awesome names, so I’m thrilled to be a part of that for sure.”
Meanwhile, Zachar was competing in the event for the first time, saying earlier in the week that it often falls at a hard time in his schedule, but he made sure to attempt to compete with it taking place at his home club.
Zachar and Patrick Pierson of New York Country Club had a back-and-forth battle. Zachar began the day with his game on point, winning Nos. 1 and 7 with birdie and No. 5 with a par, securing a 2-up lead through seven holes.
“I got off to a very good start, hitting the ball good and made a couple of putts early in the round,” said the 61-year-old.
Several three-putts by Zachar mid-round paired with sharp play from Pierson flipped the lead, as Pierson won Nos. 9, 11 and 15 to grab a 1-up lead coming down the stretch. However, from his experience at the layout, Zachar thought back to times he’d been in a similar situation.
“I’ve been one down with two holes to go on this course and you’re not out of it,” he said. “Holes 17 and 18 are treacherous holes and I have zipped past people before. I was thinking about that after 16 and thought maybe that will happen again.”
Zachar did just that, hitting an outstanding hybrid into the par-3 17th to tie the match and then playing the challenging 18th perfectly by finding the fairway and green before lagging his put close for a conceded par and win.
“It’s a big deal to win a Met section event,” said Zachar. “It’s just awesome and I could not be happier.”
Vassalotti also recorded a convincing victory, defeating Steve Gersh of Rolling Hills by a 5-and-4 margin. For the 65-year-old, par was what typically got the job done.
“The pin placements were so difficult today and you had to play defensively,” he said. “So many times you’re putting for par and I just ground out a lot of pars—that was a huge thing for me all three days.”
Vassalotti and Gersh traded the first two holes, but Vassalotti quickly grabbed hold of the match with a win on No. 4 and Nos. 6-9. Both competitors won a hole on the back, but a pair of pars on the par-3 14th closed out the match in Vassalotti’s favor.
After runs to the finals and semifinals on multiple occasions in match play events, Vassalotti was excited to capture the title.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to beat these guys who have been doing this for such a long time,” said Vassalotti, saying he was a soccer player in college and didn’t begin to play competitive golf until around the age of 55. “I know how hard I’ve worked at it.”
Vassalotti gave much credit to his coach John Reeves of Metropolis for his game’s transformation over the last decade.
“John has really brought me to a different level and I can’t thank him enough,” he said.
While Vassalotti admitted to his struggle with consistency, that’s what pulled him through this week.
“I can play certain days, I’m like every golfer,” he said. “And I think this week all my matches were really consistent—a lot of pars and keeping the ball in play.”
While GlenArbor has hosted the Westchester Open in the past, this was its first year welcoming the historic Westchester Amateur Championship. Despite the 90-degree days, players enjoyed fantastic course conditions and speedy greens on the Gary Player design which provided plenty of options for the match-play competition.
The 105th Westchester Amateur, Senior and Super Senior Amateurs will take place at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, Conn.
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