There is no player in the Capital Region more suited to the survival-of-the-fittest format used in the annual Eagle Crest Shootout than Jim Welch.
Staying out of trouble until he needed to make a key chip on the 16th hole, Welch rolled in an
18-footer for birdie on the final hole to edge former champion Ben Kelly for his second shootout crown Tuesday.
Welch, a multiple Troy Invitational champ who is also a former Tri-County Match Play winner, owns two shootout titles and two-runner-up finishes in the last five years.
The Eagle Crest Shootout’s format is one of the most unusual on the area tournament schedule. After a qualifying event in the morning, the top 10 scores, plus ties, advance to the shootout on the back nine. In the shootout, the high scorer on each hole is eliminated, and ties are broken by chip-offs near the green.
Welch, a Skidmore College graduate who plays out of Winding Brook Country Club, is extremely comfortable in this format, and it showed on the final hole, a par-5.
After Kelly pushed his tee shot into the adjacent ninth fairway, Welch hit his tee shot to the right side of the fairway, but his drive, hit into the wind, was shorter than he had hoped. After checking to see what kind of shot Kelly had on his second shot, Welch tried to hit a big hook, but he ended up pushing his second shot into the ninth fairway, as well.
Kelly blasted his second shot back over the trees and landed just short in the greenside bunker. Welch, who was 101 yards from the pin, was blocked by two very tall trees. Somehow, Welch hit his wedge high enough to not only fly over the trees, but also to land on the top tier of the green.
Kelly’s bunker shot came up about 35 feet short, and his birdie putt stopped five feet short of the cup.
Welch then nailed his clutch putt for birdie.
“I just got lucky,” said Welch. “I made a decent shot, but the good thing was that I had that same putt in the qualifying round this morning, and I knew that it [the putt] stayed straight. I knew the line.”
Welch agreed that the shootout format is perfect for his kind of grind-it-out type of game.
“I was thinking this morning that the last four times I’ve played this tournament, I made it to the 18th hole,” he said. “This format is good for me. You know that somebody is probably going to make a bogey on every hole, and you just hope it isn’t you. I got lucky that I only had to survive one chip-off.
“I played decently today, and I stayed out of trouble. I feel very confident in this shootout because all you have to do is keep making pars.”
The closest Welch came to being eliminated was on the par-4 16th hole. He hit a fine approach shot, but it bounced to the back of the green, and he three-putted for bogey. Although Bill Sullivan made a fine up-and-down par from the bunker to avoid the chip-off, Welch, defending champion Don DeNyse III of Capital Hills at Albany and Kelly each were forced into the chip-off from behind the green.
Welch’s chip was close enough to avoid elimination, as was Kelly’s. DeNyse was ousted.
“I got a break on the 16th hole because I knew exactly how far I had to hit the chip after Don went long and off the green,” said Welch. “I also got another break when the other two guys also made bogey, or I might have been eliminated right there.”
Twelve players made the cut at two-over-par 74. Chuck Connolly of Hiland, another former shootout champ, was the qualifying medalist with a 68 that included his 10th career hole-in-one with a 6-iron shot on the 164-yard 14th hole.
Three players were eliminated on the first hole. Kevin Cassidy of Albany National, the New York State Parks Department director of golf, was ousted with a double bogey, while Connolly and former champion Todd Czepiel of Shaker Ridge Country Club were eliminated in the chip-off.
Mike McCarroll of The Edison Club was ousted on the second hole of the shootout with a double bogey after hitting his tee shot out of bounds. Spencer Sautin of the host club dropped out on the third hole when he double-hit his chip shot from just off the green and settled for a double bogey.
Steve Menhennitt’s double bogey on the par-5 fourth hole after hitting his tee shot into the hazard dropped him out of the competition, while Matt Canavan of McGregor Links Country Club, a former New York State Junior Amateur champion who shot 69 in the qualifier, was ousted with a bogey on the next hole.
Dave Pallas bogeyed the 15th hole, while Sullivan lost an extremely difficult chip-off between himself and Kelly on the par-3 17th hole. Both players had to hit their chip-off from 50 yards above and beyond the green, and they had to avoid several trees in their way. Kelly’s lob wedge hit one of the trees in front of the green and dropped straight down. Sulivan tried to punch his shot between the trees but came up short.
Qualifiers — Chuck Connolly 68, Matt Canavan 69, David Pallas 71, Bill Sullivan 72, Mike McCarroll 72, Spencer Sautin 72, Jim Welch 73, Steve Menhennit 73, Todd Czepiel 73, Ben Kelly 74, Don DeNyse 74, Kevin Cassidy 74.
Other top scorers — Michael Wheeler 75, Paul Pratico 75, Tom Salmon 75, Les Devitt 75, Mike Carroll 75, Chris Gilbert 76, Fred Guzielek 76, Matt Panneton 76, Steve Owens 76, Andy Bennett 77, Matt McCafrey 77, Steve Hughes 77, David Arakelian 7, Jim Mueller 77, Steve Quillinan Jr. 77, Dan Russo 78, David Huestis 78, Gregory Bennett 78, Michael Cavotta 78, Ryan Prinzo 78, Alex Olbrych 79, Greg Hayes 79, Fernando Mele 79, Rob Feldman 79.