John Nieporte Headed to Merion after Playoff at Bradenton
By Lisa D. Mickey
BRADENTON, Fla. – Two players punched their tickets to the 2013 U.S. Open in Monday’s sectional qualifier at Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club, and two players returned Tuesday morning to finish off a playoff for the third place in the field.
Amateur Kevin Phelan of Ireland earned medalist honors by shooting 9-under 135, while John Hahn Jr., of Hudson, Ohio, carded rounds of 65-71 to finish second at 8-under 136.
But “golf’s longest day” extended to one more day for two players who had tied at 7-under 137. As darkness fell at 8:22 p.m., teenager David Snyder, of McAllen, Texas, and club professional John Nieporte, of Boca Raton, Fla., each made par on playoff holes 18 and 10.
On No. 10, Nieporte nearly drained a 15-foot birdie putt, but his ball stopped one revolution short of falling. The sun had set by that time and the two players agreed to return Tuesday at 8 a.m. to resume the playoff on the 17th hole.
“It’s too dark,” said Nieporte, who is director of instruction at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the son of longtime Winged Foot Golf Club head professional Tom Nieporte. “You can’t really read the greens and you have to know where the grain is out here.”
Nieporte birdied the first playoff hole in the morning to earn a spot at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Earlier in the day, a 90-minute weather delay threatened to send more than just a pair of players back for a second day,
Nieporte made a dramatic leap up the leader board when he carded a hole-in-one on the third hole in the second round. He used a 7-iron to ace the 194-yard hole, leaping from 4 under to 6 under and joining a group of players chasing the lead. He shot an afternoon 66 to complement his morning 71.
Four players tied at 6-under 138 played off for the second-alternate spot. Amateur Bradley Bastion, of Clinton Township, Mich., eked out that honor.
Phelan played steadiest in the morning and rallied through the treacherous last three holes in the afternoon. The University of North Florida senior carded eight birdies and one bogey in the opening round. His afternoon round was highlighted by four birdies, but he nearly gave away his lead with bogeys on two of his last three holes coming in.
“I played really well overall, but I definitely had a tough finish,” said Phelan, 22, of Waterford, Ireland. “Those last three holes are probably the toughest holes on the course.”
Phelan hit a hybrid to the left side of the green on the par-3 16th hole and ran his putt three feet past the hole. He missed the par putt coming back.
On No. 17, his approach plugged in bunker. The Irishman hit a delicate shot to a difficult hole location and saved par.
“That might have been the best shot I hit all day,” said Phelan, who played in the U.S. Open Championship.
Phelan hit his tee shot on the 18th hole into the left rough and had 237 yards in.
His approach shot from “a bit of a dodgy lie” landed well short of the green and his third stroke left him with a 25-foot putt for par that he missed.
“The afternoon was quite a bit tougher because there was more wind and it was swirling at times, making it tough to judge,” added Phelan, who moved nine years ago to St. Augustine, Fla., and plans to remain an amateur until the Walker Cup teams are picked in August.
Hahn had the hot hand in the morning round, blistering the first nine holes of the Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club with a 6-under 30, including four consecutive birdies on holes six through nine. The Kent State University graduate and second-year pro charged into a first-round share of the lead with Phelan at 65.
“It was a really, really long day,” said Hahn, 24. “I played so well on the front nine in the morning, and then I struggled for the next 18 holes.”
Coming into his 36th hole, Hahn wasn’t sure where he stood on the leader board, but figured he would need his last putt to drop. His caddie and father, John Sr., advised him to focus on his putting speed and to get the right line on the green. Hahn’s birdie putt lipped out, but par was good enough.
“My dad caddied for me in Cleveland and we won our local qualifier there, so I booked him a flight to this week’s sectional tournament that night,” said Hahn. “We have a great track record together and he’s caddied for me in every one of my six USGA events.”
Hahn’s father is from Philadelphia, and his son is especially looking forward to playing at Merion.
“He’ll be going home,” he said. “And it will be a great Father’s Day present for my dad.”