Craig Pickerel walked off the Ottawa Park Golf Course yesterday wearing a huge smile.
Playing in the S.P. Jermain Golf Championship for the first time, Pickerel experienced an afternoon in which he could do little wrong.
More than once he found himself in the rough and surrounded by trees during the match-play tournament. Yet, somehow he finds himself playing in the championship flight's title match today after defeating defending champion Jeff Kornowa 2-and-1 in a semifinal match. He will face Bill Kline, who defeated Doug Wade 2-and-1 in the other semifinal.
Pickerek and Kline tee off at 8:40 this morning.
“I thought I played OK, not anything special,” said Pickerel, 19, a member of the Bowling Green State University team.
On second thought, the Falcon sophomore realized his performance had a few scrapbook moments.
“On the 15th hole I hit into the trees and then ended up making a birdie,” said Pickerel, who was 3-up with three holes to play after stealing that one from Kornowa.
But the defending champ refused to give in. He won the next hole before coming up a few inches shy on a four-foot birdie putt on 17 that would have pulled him into a tie with Pickerel heading into the 18th hole.
“I just didn't make any birdies,” said Kornowa, 24, playing in his third S.P. Jermain. “I hit the ball all right, but I didn't make any birdies.”
Kornowa, who trailed Pickerel most of the match, said he never felt any pressure playing as the defending champion. Yet, watching Pickerel play himself out of tight spots throughout the day didn't really help his psyche.
“This afternoon I didn't play up to what I should have been playing,” Kornowa said. “He had luck on his side, but I beat myself, too.”
Kline will take on Pickerel after recording five birdies and three bogeys against Wade. He won four of the first six holes and looked to be on course for a quick triumph.
However, Wade, a member of the Ohio State golf team, rallied back to make Kline work for the win. Wade was down one hole with four to play before Kline regained control with a birdie on 16 to help secure a spot in the finals.
“I play in tournaments every week, but this is unbelievable considering all the great golfers playing in this tournament,” said Kline, who birdied 1, 5, 6, 11 and 12.
“He made a charge, but I wasn't going to let him have it.”
In the A flight, Ben Vanderwyst defeated Phil Smalley 2-and-1 and Brian Simmons stopped John Emery 1-up in semifinal matches. In B flight, Lyle Patrick held off Robert Tatro 2-up and Greg Reece disposed of David Patton 5-and-4.
In C, Mike Guzidlek stopped Joe Fulop 2-and-1 and Russell Strouse defeated Tom McKinch 2-and-1. In D, Scott Gawle knocked off Ronald Thornton 5-and-3 and Dave Pierce stopped Mark Perales 2-and-1 to advance into today's finals.