OLEAN — After Mitch Faulkner earned a berth in the finals of the 83rd Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur Golf Tournament Saturday morning at Bartlett Country Club, he offered an analogy.
Realizing he would be facing Chris Blocher, an eight-time tourney winner and zero-handicapper playing his home course, the 21-year-old senior-to-be at Pennsylvania’s Clarion University, offered, “He’s like the boss in the video game ... the final level. It gets harder and harder until you finally get to the boss.”
On Sunday back at Bartlett, in the afternoon round of the 36-hole match-play final, he watched Blocher save another halve on an early hole, glanced at an observer, and allowed, “That’s what it’s like to play ‘The Boss.’”
When it was over, Blocher owned a 6-and-5 victory and had tied Men’s Amateur legend, Ted Kochan, for victories in the tournament with nine.
Blocher, the day before, had already passed Kochan’s 10 with his record 11th finals appearance.
AFTERWARD, Blocher, the 43-year-old physical education teacher and basketball coach at Hinsdale Central School, not only held the record for Men’s Amateur medalist titles (six) and finals appearances, but was also a win away from the record for tournament victories.
“Nine (wins) was never a goal … the goal was always medalist wins),” said Blocher after the match ended on the 31st hole. “Nine seemed so far out there it didn’t appear obtainable. The stories they would tell about (Kochan’s match-play proficiency) … nine wins seems to be a number you can’t get to and he did it in a span of 11 years.”
AND DON’T be confused by the final score, for 23 holes this was a match.
After 21 of them, Faulkner, the Bradford High alumnus who plays to a zero handicap at Pennhills and will be the Golden Eagles No. 1 golfer this coming season, was 1-under par and only one down. He was still at that score two holes later when Blocher sunk a super-speedy 30-foot birdie putt on No. 4.
But starting on the 24th when Faulkner lost the first of four straight holes, Blocher took control of the match.
Still he was impressed with his opponent.
“(Mitch) hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens … but my only frustration today was that I bogeyed the first hole … and it was my only bogey all day,” said Blocher who struggled with his driver in Saturday’s 1-up in 19-hole win over Bartlett scratch golfer, Scott Brady.
“It took me hitting bad shots on 17 and 18 (in the semifinals) that I went home and figured something out.”
And other than that botched drive on No. 1 in the morning, Blocher played the next 30 holes in 3-under and without a bogey.
OF SUNDAY’S round, he admitted, “I told myself at lunch ‘I hit in good in the morning, I just didn’t make very many putts … but I wasn’t down on my putting because I didn’t have easy putts, so I felt pretty comfortable (in the afternoon).”
And while that spectacular birdie putt on No. 4 in the afternoon was a heartbreaker, Faulkner didn’t see it as a game-changer.
“I don’t think that was the turning point,” he maintained. “I would say it was my wedge shot on No. 6 (which he lost) and then on No. 7 when he knocked it close (to win another hole) ... I got the impression momentum had shifted (Blocher was then 4-up).
“It’s been a couple of years … I can’t remember when I last had four bogeys in a row … it’s uncommon.”
Of course that dynamic played squarely to Blocher, a medal player at heart, who, through nine Men’s Amateur victories, has intentionally forced his opponents to make pars.
“It’s always been my thing,” he admitted. “You make people make pars ... it’s going to be really tough to chase somebody who’s making pars.”
Faulkner, a sports management major, agreed
“When you’re starting to miss the greens and your opponent’s hitting them and has a good opportunity for birdie, you kind of feel pressure that you have to put one close,” he conceded. “With all the people who came up to watch, it does get upsetting because they were expecting the best out of you.
“If you can get yourself in the groove early, it’s a lot easier down the stretch … when you’re pressing coming into the turn (on the second 18) it can definitely change the game.”
As for his analogy about playing against “The Boss,” Faulkner concluded, “I definitely lived it … but hat’s off to Chris, he definitely deserves the day, he played a helluva round.”
In record-tying fashion.
CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT Sunday’s 36-Hole Championship
Chris Blocher (Bartlett) 6 and 5 over Mitch Faulkner (Pennhills)
CHAMPIONSHIP CONSOLATION FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
Roy Dwailebee (PFW) 1 up over Kole Maytum (Chautauqua)
FIRST FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
Connor Alfieri (Smethport) 2 and 1 over Knut Johnsen (Bartlett)
SECOND FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
Sean Campbell (Bartlett) 1up over Paul Bzdak (Bartlett)
THIRD FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
Kevin Mole (Bolivar) 3 and 2 over Tracy Bush (PFW)
FOURTH FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
George Moses Jr. (unattached) 1 up over Ed Drake (Birch Run)
UNDER 60 CONSOLATION FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
RJ Pauly (Bartlett) 3 and 2 over Honsey Russell (Birch Run)
45-59 CONSOLATION FLIGHT Sunday’s 18-Hole Final
John Foley (PAR) 2 and1 over Frank Higgins (Bartlett)