It took awhile but a three-for-one place in sectional qualifying in the U.S. Mid-Am championship at Bretton Woods Recreation Center was finally resolved on August 22, as Randy Sroka birdied the 512-yard 18th hole to claim the spot.
An early evening rainstorm the day before forced a suspension of play in the middle of the 18th fairway and play resumed at 7:15 a.m. the next morning. At that point, Sroka had hit a 290-yard drive to the center of the fairway; Billy Peel had driven into the left rough and advanced his ball, and Andrew Rice had gone from wet, high grass in the left rough to wet high grass in the right rough.
Sroka began the session with his second shot, a 220-yard hit that came up short right, just off the outside edge of a front bunker From about 110 yards, Rice was able to get his third shot to 17 feet left of the hole, and from 100 yards, Peel’s on-line shot came up 30 feet short. Sroka had a delicate pitch shot over the bunker that stopped 3 1/2 feet away from the cup to set up his winning putt; Peel would two-putt, running the first one about a foot past the hole, while Rice almost holed his first putt. “I can’t believe it did not go in,” he said later. “It just stopped breaking with a few feet to go. I hit it exactly on the line I thought I needed.”
Peel and Rice went back to No. 1 to determine the alternates. Peel hit the green in two at the 414-yard hole, but 30 feet shy of the cup. Rice needed to get his second shot over a tree in front of him and he did so, the ball stopping several inches past the other ball. Peel rolled his ball and it appeared to be short as it stopped but fell in on its last rotation. Rice slightly pushed his matching bid by the hole and it was over.
With five places available for the championship, the first three were decided in regulation, as Ben Warnquist, from Olney, Md., shot 67; Frank Alafoginis, from Arlington, Va., 68. and Ryan Patrick, from Reston, Va., 69. There were four players at 70 vying for two chances to advance and two alternates — Mike O’Neil, from Baltimore; and Sroka, Stevensville, Md.; Peel, Washington, D.C., and Rice, Baltimore.
The playoff began, using holes 1-2-18, and after all four parred the first hole, O’Neil birdied the 185-yard second, knocking down a 5-foot putt, to collect the fourth spot.
In regulation play over a course in Germantown, Md., that was played at 6,919 yards to a par of 35-36–71, Warnquist, a 26-year-old insurance agent, included birdies at three of the par–5’s among his five. A missed green led to his only bogey. This was his second medal of the summer as he previously had been low in a U.S. Amateur qualifier.
Alafoginis, 33, a two-time U.S. Mid-Am qualifier previously, reached the first 15 greens in regulation before missing the 16th, leading to his only bogey. It led him to say it was the best he had hit it in a long time.
Patrick, 35, ended with five birdies and would have been in even better position if he had not hit it in the pond fronting the ninth green. Still, a two-putt birdie at the 18th assured him of his position instead of falling into the playoff. In IT sales, he has done reasonably well in Virginia State Golf Association events, making match play in the Amateur and playing well in several Opens.
O’Neil, 32, had a mixed effort, as he needed three back-nine birdies, including 17-18. to overcome three front-nine bogeys (a birdie at the sixth proved to be the overall difference).
“The front was rough, but I played well and was steady on the back. This will be the first USGA championship for the worker in land acquisition, with his closest effort in the past was a playoff loss in an Amateur qualifier about 10 years ago.
Sroka ended with three birdies, two bogeys, with a birdie at the 13th and a string of pars enough to get him to the playoff. Peel, the reigning Maryland State Amateur champion, finished with three birdies, two bogeys, with a bird at the 18th enough to get him to the playoff. It marks the second year in a row he has been first alternate after losing in playoff.
Rice had four birdies, three bogeys, with a chip-in for par at 17 and a 6-foot birdie putt at 18 helping get him to the playoff.
The championship will be played Sept. 14-19 at the Colorado Golf Club in Parker