An otherwise confident Brian Simmons let his nerves slip just once in yesterday's S.P. Jermain match-play tournament final against John Hills at Ottawa Park, finding a deep-rough hazard right of the fairway on his very first tee shot.
He needed a mental mulligan, if you will.
But after Hills took a 1-up lead on that hole, Simmons regained the focus that had gotten him to his first championship-flight final, and used six birdies in 16 holes to claim a 3-and-2 victory.
“This is the best I've ever played, by far,'' said Simmons, who failed to even make the 64-player championship-flight bracket last year, and finished as A-flight runner-up. “I was really confident in my play this week. I usually get pretty nervous about things, but I wasn't nervous at all the whole week, even though I played some great golfers.
“I stood right up there and held my ground, and played solid golf all week. My mistakes were little mistakes. Every day it was just really consistent. I was really surprised how well I held together.''
It was the second runner-up finish for Hills, who had not competed in the Jermain for nearly a decade. The longstanding event - played on the public course his father, Arthur Hills, redesigned in the late 1970s - includes a qualifying round, plus six match victories to win in the 64-player championship flight.
“Brian was solid,'' Hills said. “He hit the ball solid all day. I always felt I had a chance until he birdied 15. Then I knew I was in trouble.''
Hills, 47, matched Simmons' birdie on No. 2, and held onto his lead until the 1989 Central Catholic graduate evened things with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth hole.
He took his first lead on No. 8 by making an eight-footer for birdie. After both players bogeyed No. 9, Hills gained his last tie on the 10th, when Simmons suffered his third and final bogey of the match and Hills sank an eight-footer for par.
The rest was all Simmons, who seemed to have a little extra hop in his step throughout the match.
“Sometimes I felt like I was leaving my caddie [Ty Fries] in the dust,'' Simmons said, “but I was just feeling good. After that first hole I pulled myself together. Once I got the lead, I didn't want to just hit the middle of the greens. I wanted to keep attacking. You don't want to loosen up too much.''
Simmons, who celebrated turning 31 Friday by beating Paul Sullivan (6 and 5) and Bill Kline (4 and 2) in second and third-round matches, chipped within six feet leading to a birdie on No. 11. He then landed his tee shot on the 103-yard, par-3 12th hole within 21/2 feet of the cup. When Hills missed a 15-footer for birdie by about an inch to the right, Simmons' tap-in for birdie produced a 2-up lead with six holes to play.
He would not need all six, thanks to a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 15 which netted a 3-up lead. When Hills failed to win the 16th, Simmons, who was 3-under for the match, had his first notable local amateur title.
“It was an OK round of golf for me,'' Hills said. “I was not comfortable over the putter and I was getting 20-foot putts and he was getting 8 and 10 and 12-foot putts. He was hitting the ball closer to the hole than I was. I had to out-putt him today to be able to beat him, and I wasn't able to do that.
“Overall, I'm very pleased. I won five matches against these guys in the Metro [golf association], and there's a lot of good players out here. For me to play seven rounds of golf in this tournament was great fun.''
Simmons had beaten Andrew Langhard (5 and 4) in last week's first round, and earned a finals spot on Saturday by defeating Dave Jagodzinski (1 up, 22 holes) in the quarterfinals and John Emery (4 and 2) in the semifinals.
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