MANCHESTER, N.H. – It was a finish every golfer dreams of, but most never achieve.
Shawn Warren, PGA (Falmouth CC) was four strokes off the lead with five holes to play in the final round of the 2019 New England PGA Section Championship at Manchester Country Club, but closed with a back-nine 30, including must-make birdies on the 17th and 18th holes, to steal a one-stroke victory over David Bennett, PGA (CC of Vermont). At the end of the day, it added up to a 4-under par 67 for Warren, the second in as many days to win his second NEPGA Section Championship at 8-under par.
Bennett, who began the day with a one-stroke lead, made six birdies in his first 13 holes and seemed unshakeable throughout the round. But after about a 30-minute weather delay with the final group standing on the 16th tee, Bennett was unable to convert par putts on the 16th and 17th holes. Warren, meanwhile, made a 10-footer for par on the 16th to stay alive, then rolled in a 12-footer on the 17th to draw even with Bennett going into the 18th.
Warren had the advantage after tee shots on the 18th, as Bennett found the thick left rough. But Bennett hit a gutsy approach shot to four-feet to put the pressure squarely back on Warren. Warren followed with an approach to about 30 feet, and after analyzing his putt from every angle, he stepped up and rolled it in, walking it home with fist-pump as he secured himself at least a spot in a playoff for the Championship. Bennett, however, was unable to convert his putt to force that playoff, and Warren earned his first NEPGA section Championship since 2013.
“It’s definitely not a stretch of holes that you want to go in knowing that you need to birdie two out of three, and that’s kind of where I was today,” Warren said of the challenging final three holes at Manchester CC. “Knowing that David was playing so well, and he wasn’t making mistakes, so going into those last three holes I knew that I had to birdie two of them at least. Holing the putt on 17 gave me the outlook that it’s anybody’s game. He hit an unbelievable shot from the rough in there close, and at that point I really had no other choice but to hole the putt, and I was fortunate enough to have it go in.”
Warren’s putter wasn’t that hot all day. He made the turn in 1-over par after suffering a double-bogey on the third hole in which he missed a short bogey putt. It turned out to be the only blemish on his scorecard, and he made up for it with birdies on the sixth, 10th, 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th holes.
“When everything is easy sometimes it’s not as gratifying,” Warren said. “Today I played not my best golf. I hit a lot of poor shots and I was fortunate enough to manage it and hang in there and I kind of found my rhythm on the back-nine. Coming down the stretch when I knew I needed to make putts, to end up holing them, that’s why you practice. That’s why you do it all. It’s something I’ll look back on and gain a lot of confidence from.”
Bennett shot 2-under 69 to finish alone in second at 7-under for the tournament. Starting the day with a one-stroke lead, he bogeyed the first hole to drop back into a tie for first, but responded with a birdie at the second to regain the lead, an advantage he held until his bogey on the 17th dropped him back into a tie for the lead. First round leader Eric Barlow, PGA (Winchester CC) joined Warren and Bennett in the final group and matched Bennett with a 2-under 69 to finish alone in third.
“Those guys played phenomenal,” Warren said of Bennett and Barlow. “I was the only one missing shots. Those guys were just relentless. They hit some unbelievable shots throughout the day where I was just kind of whiffing it around the park. It got to a point where I had to make sure that I really turned it on myself, because David was not going to relinquish anything. I was fortunate enough to hole a few putts coming in.”
Seul-Ki Park, PGA (Winchester CC) shot even-par 71 with four birdies and four bogeys to finish alone in fourth at even-par for the 54-hole tournament.
The top 12 finishers from the NEPGA Section Championship earned a spot in the 2020 PGA Professional National Championship. Joining Warren, Bennett, Barlow and Park in the top 12 were David Jankowski (Burlington), Kevin Rhoads (The Country Club), Boomer Erick (Boston GC), Kirk Hanefeld (Salem CC), Jeff Martin (Wollaston GC), Liam Friedman (Nashawtuc CC), Robert Bruso (Blackstone National) and Christopher Abbott (Shelter Harbor GC). Steven Hausmann (Hausmann Golf) was the odd-man-out in four-person playoff for the final three spots, and will be the first alternate. Rich Berberian Jr., who finished T16, is also exempt into the 2020 PGA Professional Championship by virtue of qualifying for the 2019 PGA Championship.
The New England PGA would like to thank the host facilities, Manchester CC and Concord CC, and host PGA Professionals Brian Moskevich, Jeff May, Brian Kelley, and Rich Thibeault.
The NEPGA Section Championship would not be possible without the support of partners Cadillac, Club Car, Omega, Taylormade, Titleist, Footjoy, PGA Tour, Nike, Golf Channel, Avidia Bank, and Pukka.