|Thursday, May 26, 2016 - |
ORLAND PARK, Ill. - An excited phone call in mid-January paid dividends in late May, as the pairing of Tom Kearfott and Tim Sheppard scored a 1-up victory in the championship match of the inaugural CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship Thursday at Crystal Tree Golf & Country Club.
“Tommy called me up and said ‘Hey, you’re 55 in February, right?’ and I said ‘Yeah,’ and he said ‘Let’s do this!’” Sheppard recounted of the conversation.
After carding a 3-under-par 69 in Monday’s stroke play qualifier, the pair earned the ninth seed for match play. A 2-and-1 first round victory set up a quarterfinal match against brothers Bob and Larry Silvestri, who had earned the top seed as co-medalists. Kearfott and Sheppard defeated the Sivestri pair 3 and 2, then dispatched of U.S. Amateur Four-Ball qualifiers Vance Antoniou and Mark Esposito, 4 and 3, in the semifinals, in Antoniou and Esposito’s fifth consecutive day of competitive four-ball golf (two at Winged Foot in the USGA championship and three at Crystal Tree).
The Pekin Country Club pairing of Kip Blakesley and Tim Saurs awaited the champs in the final, having earned the seventh seed in match play on a tiebreaker after their 69 in qualifying. Blakesley and Saurs cruised to a 6-and-4 opening round victory, then defeated second-seed and co-medalists Brad Barker and Dan Roan 4 and 3 in the quarterfinals. Blakesley and Saurs waited out a 40-minute lightning delay on Wednesday to edge out Anthony Cascino and Tom Destefani 2 and 1 to advance to the final.
A 20-foot Sheppard birdie on the par-4 first put Blakesley and Saurs on their heels early, but Saurs countered with a birdie at the fourth to square the match. Kearfott and Sheppard capitalized on their opponent’s bogey at #9 to take a 1-up lead into the back nine. After a tap-in birdie for Kearfott at the par-5 13th and Kearfott winning the 14th with a par, the match appeared in hand. Blakesley and Saurs battled back, however, winning the 16th with a par, before Blakesley coolly drained a 12-foot birdie at the 17th with the match hanging in the balance.
“When you get 3-up, you get a little more relaxed and all of the sudden you lose the one hole, and Kip (Blakesley) made a great 12-footer on 17 to win the hole, and you’re thinking, now anything can happen,” Kearfott stated.
At the 18th, Blakesley found the water, while Saurs carded par. Needing only to halve the hole, Sheppard, whose tee shot found a fairway bunker, got up and down from the side of the green with a 10-foot par putt to lock the title up.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything but trying to start it on the right line,” Sheppard said of the clinching putt. “The worst thing that could happen was we go to extra holes. I knew it was straight, but after watching his (Saurs’ putt), I was a little bit in doubt it could go left, I just hit it dead middle with a hair extra pace than him and it held its line.”
The victory gives the new seniors from downstate—Sheppard playing out of Lick Creek Golf Course and Kearfott from El Paso Golf Club—top billing on the new event’s champions list. Kearfott is a resident of El Paso, while Sheppard hails from East Peoria.
“We went from being the ‘old young guys’ to being the ‘young old guys’,” Kearfott added referencing the pair’s new status in the senior circuit.
The CDGA championship schedule takes a month-long break following this event, with qualifying taking place for two of the summer’s biggest amateur golf events in the state, the 97th CDGA Amateur Championship, June 27-30 at Calumet Country Club, and the 86th Illinois State Amateur Championship, July 19-21 at St. Charles Country Club.