OLEAN — Two of the four players who made Saturday’s semifinals of the 83rd Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur Golf Tournament hadn’t gotten that far before.
But after they won their quarterfinal matches Friday afternoon at Bartlett Country Club, each offered a prediction.
Mitch Faulkner, 21, the No. 1 player for Pennsylvania’s Clarion University, drew Zach Chaddock, one of St. Bonaventure’s top golfers, who set a record last year by winning the Men’s Amateur twice before turning 21.
Faulkner, who has to give Pennhills two strokes, speculated, “(Saturday) can be anybody’s (match). I understand he’s won this two times (2016, ‘18) and has the experience. But I think the way I’m playing right now I’ve got just as good a chance as anybody.”
Meanwhile, Scott Brady, a 27-year-old former Bonnie who had been 0-for-5 in Men’s Amateur quarterfinals, faced a semi against eight-time winner Chris Blocher.
But Brady, a physical education teacher in the Salamanca district, was realistic.
“If you’re gonna win this tournament,” he said, “you’ve usually got to beat Blocher.”
As it turned out, Faulkner was dead right and Brady almost was.
An alumnus of Bradford High, Faulkner rode a fast start to a 2-and-1 victory over Chaddock.
Brady, a scratch golfer at Bartlett, rallied from two holes down with four to play to take Blocher to sudden death, where the 43-year-old Hinsdale phys ed teacher and basketball coach, won 1-up in 19 holes thanks to a 10-foot birdie.
And this morning, at 9:45, Faulkner and Blocher will meet in the 36-hole match-play final.
FAULKNER recalled of his match with Chaddock, “I was 4-under (par) through six and was four up through eight holes. I birdied 1, 2, 4, 6 and 17 (to clinch the victory), and finished the day 2-under.”
The two had played only once before.
“In the Betty Bergreen match-play championship of 2013, I played Zach the first round (at Bartlett) and he beat me, 3-and-2. So I told my dad before the match, ‘This could be a little payback.’”
But Faulkner also admitted the zero handicapper from Springville was unlucky because of his own impressive fast start.
“He actually played very well up until he had a double (bogey) on 15,” Faulkner said. “Up to then, he was either even or 1-under.”
MEANWHILE, today Blocher can add another entry to his already-glittering Men’s Amateur resume.
The scratch golfer from Bartlett, on Saturday, set the record for finals appearances with 11. Besides winning in 1997, ‘99, 2007, ‘10-’13, ‘17, he lost in the 2003 and ‘16 championship matches. That breaks the tie with the legendary Ted Kochan, whose record nine victories Blocher can tie with a win today.
Of course, Brady’s comeback nearly kept the former Bona star from being in that position.
“That’s Scott … he doesn’t make mistakes,” Blocher said of the fellow Bartlett zero handicapper. “He hits it on the greens, he has a good short game, his wedges are good, he makes putts. And I finished terribly. On 17, I hit my drive into No. 1 fairway. Then, on 18, I hit it the opposite way (into a tree barely halfway down the fairway) … it’s something I’ve got going on and I’ve just got to figure it out.”
He added, “I’ve been chipping and putting well and my irons have gotten better. But Scott finished way better than I finished … he was solid at the end.
“I played the last four holes 2-over and was lucky (to win). As good of a wedge player as he is, he’s going to birdie at least one of them (16 or 17) the majority of time.”
As for his place in Men’s Amateur history, Blocher noted, “My goal was just to win it a few times … and I’ve done it more than a few times. And my goal was to be (the all-time) medalist, and I did it a few years ago (getting his record sixth in 2017).
“I’ve gotten to Saturday (semifinals) 16 times … and that kind of thing gives you confidence. When things aren’t going good, I know how to (get out of it).”
Blocher has never played Faulkner, but noted, “We had our Border Cup and we played in the same group … he’s a super nice kid. I know I can’t have lapses tomorrow, I’ve got to play well all day.”
But Faulkner also knows he’s playing a legend.
“He’s like the godfather of this tournament ... he’s won it eight times,” this year’s medalist said of Blocher. “Every time you mention the Men’s Amateur, you automatically put his name up there. He’s like the video game ... the boss at the end of the game … the final level. It gets harder and harder until you finally get to the boss.”