For Jim Welch, match-play competition isn’t much different than medal play, except for a few specific instances.
“You can’t get preoccupied with what the other guy is doing, except toward the end of the match. The key is to play your own game and try to beat the course, unless the other guy gets into trouble,” said the 46-year-old member of Olde Kinderhook, who beat Steve Quillinan Jr. of Burden Lake Country Club, 2-and-1, to capture his third Tri-County Match Play Championship Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club.
In the senior division, six-time Gazette County Amateur champion Jim Mueller defeated two-time County Amateur winner Bob Cooper, 7-and-6.
Welch, a Skidmore College graduate and the defending Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Player of the Year, got to know the Colonie G&CC layout extremely well, as he participated in Wednesday’s Gazette Cup and then played five rounds of golf in the Tri-County Match Play.
“It’s a lot different than it was Friday, when I shot 73 in the medal-play qualifier,” Welch said. “The wind today was very challenging. I was trying to keep the ball under the wind all day with punch shots. The wind definitely affected a lot of our shots out there, and I was also having a lot of trouble with my driver.”
Welch, who also won the Tri-County Match Play in 2002 and 2007, took control of the match by winning the fourth, fifth and sixth holes with pars to go 3-up. Quillinan, also a former T-C Match Play champion and a Troy Invitational winner, suffered three straight bogeys when his approach shot found a bunker on the fourth hole, he missed the green and failed to get up and down on the fifth and then was forced to take an unplayable lie on the par-5 sixth hole, when his ball landed directly behind a tree, leaving him stymied.
Quillinan got one hole back with a par on the eighth hole, but Welch stretched his lead back to 3-up with a par on the ninth hole.
Welch, a former New York State Mid-Amateur titlist and CRAGA Stroke Play winner, fought off a challenge by Quillinan on the 233-yard, par-3 12th hole.
“I thought a key shot for me was that 5-wood on the 12th hole,” he said. “I was going back and forth between a 3-wood and a 5-wood because of the wind, but I hit a 5-wood in the morning round, so I figured it would work again.”
An up-and-down par on the par-5 13th hole put Welch 4-up when Quillinan once again had to take an unplayable lie after his second shot hit the cart path and bounced behind another tree.
But Quillinan wasn’t through yet. After a booming drive and a sharp gap-wedge shot, he parred the 14th hole and was conceded the 16th hole when Welch hit an errant tee shot into the left rough and had to punch out. That cut Welch’s lead to 2-up.
But Welch locked up the match with a par on 17.
“I made a number of mental errors today, but from the ninth to the 13th hole, I played pretty well,” said Welch. “That’s the period where I really didn’t want to give Steve any momentum to get back into the match.”
“It was hard with the wind swirling as much as it was,” said the 24-year-old Quillinan. “I had a few bad breaks on those unplayable lies, but Jim is a good player. He made some key putts, and he played a good match today. There is no doubt that the wind was a huge factor in our match.”
In the senior division championship, Mueller won the first and second holes with pars, eagled the third hole for another win and then extended his lead to 4-up with a par on the fifth hole.
After both players bogeyed the sixth hole, Mueller won the par-3 seventh with a bogey and the par-4 eighth with a brilliant up-and-down par.
Mueller also won the 11th after another sensational up-and-down par. His tee shot bounced off the cart path and into a hazard. After taking a penalty, he lifted a wedge shot over the trees and landed his ball about 40 feet from the cup. He then rolled in the long par putt.
Cooper conceded the match after missing the green on his tee shot on the 12th hole.