Although he hasn’t shown off his talents on the local scene much lately, Matt Canavan definitely has game.
That’s why those who know the long-hitting Saratoga Springs native weren’t surprised that he finally won his first area major championship Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club.
On a day when a nasty cold front drastically changed the playing conditions from the morning semifinals to the afternoon finals, Canavan edged Mike Wheeler of Shaker Ridge, 1-up, to capture the Tri-County Golf Association Match Play Championship.
When the 24-year-old Canavan rallied from four holes down to beat Jim Welch, 2-up, in the semifinals, the sun was out and temperatures were in the low 60s. By the time the finals began about 11 a.m., the temperature dropped 15 to 20 degrees, and gusting winds made the playing conditions much more challenging.
“The conditions we had this morning were no problem. There was no wind,” said Canavan. “But [in the finals], it was a grind. I just tried to play my normal game, but it was definitely cold and windy this afternoon. The ball didn’t carry as well, and it affected your chipping and putting. But both of us faced the same conditions.”
Canavan had a tremendous junior career, winning the New York State Boys’ Amateur Championship, as well as several other local junior events. He went on to have an excellent career at Skidmore College before graduating in 2011.
But Canavan spent a good portion of last year living in California, and his game was also affected by a shoulder injury.
“This title means a lot to me,” he said. “I’ve never played in this before. It’s nice to play well in an important event.”
The former McGregor Links Country Club member is now working part-time and playing out of Saratoga National. He is going to graduate school at Southern New Hampshire University to get his CPA degree.
“Now I’ll try to play some more events around here,” he said.
Canavan won the first hole with a par, but then Wheeler, a former Colonie G&CC member, evened the match with a par of his own on the 197-yard, par-3 second hole.
Using an advantage of about 40 yards or more off the tee, Canavan reached the par-5 third hole in two and two-putted for birdie to retake the lead.
But Wheeler grabbed the momentum on the next two holes. He nailed a 24-foot birdie putt on the fifth hole to even the score, and then parred the sixth hole to go 1-up when Canavan failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
Canavan’s par was good enough to win the ninth hole and even the match once again. He went 1-up on the 11th hole, when Wheeler failed to get up and down for par.
But on the 223-yard par-3 12th hole, played into a gusting wind, Canavan struggled with a double bogey after his tee shot nearly landed in the water hazard. He opted to take a drop even though he could see his ball buried just inside the hazard line. But after he pitched onto the green, he failed to make his bogey putt and Wheeler evened the match.
The turning point of the match came on the next two holes. Canavan rolled in a three-foot birdie putt to win the 13th hole, and then his par won the 14th hole when Wheeler failed to get up and down, despite making a sensational escape shot from behind a tree.
Wheeler staved off elimination and cut his deficit back to one with a two-foot birdie on the 16th hole. Both players bogeyed the 17th hole, and each recorded pars on the 18th hole.
Wheeler, 36, was happy with the way he played for most of the three-day tournament.
“I had nothing coming into this weekend, but I found something with the driver, and I made some putts,” he said. “I borrowed a belly putter from Tom Salmon and cut it down to regulation size. I played very solidly this morning and probably shot even par, even though I bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes. But the afternoon round was a real grind. The weather really changed my game.”
In the senior division championship, Bill Paulsen Jr., the general manager/owner of Eagle Crest Golf Club, beat Mark Russ, 1-up. Paulsen had two conceded birdies in the match. Neither player led by more than one hole.
Semifinals — Mike Wheeler def. Jim Gifford, 1-up, 19th hole; Matt Canavan def. Jim Welch, 2-up. Finals — Canavan def. Wheeler, 1-up
Semifinals — Mark Russ def. David Arakelian, 1-up; Bill Paulsen Jr. def. Stan Moore, 1-up 20th hole. Finals — Paulsen def. Russ, 1-up.