SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Paul Erdman had a good plan going into the final round of Golf Channel Amateur National Championship. With a five shot lead in the Championship flight, the 2011 title holder figured all he had to do was play steady, and it would be difficult for anyone else to catch him.
The only problem was that golf doesn't always follow the script. After two holes, he was already 3-over-par and now even par for the tournament, not exactly what he envisioned. He couldn't chalk it up to nerves – he had a good night's sleep - especially after his Baltomore Ravens beat the Steelers on Thursday Night Football – and he wasn't nervious. But he has a history of trouble on the first two holes of the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club, most recently at a Golf Channel Am Tour Major held on the Raptor.
"I just can't play the first two holes here," said Erdman, who is originally from Baltimore, but moved to Denver a few years ago. "I don't know what to do. The bunkers are in the perfect landing area."
The second was particularly troubling. Hitting 3-wood off the tee, he didn't get his normal fade and instead tugged his drive into a small bush. He wound up taking an unplayable en route to 6.
"It was a wakeup call," he said.
Fortunately for Erdman, his fellow competitiors were also struggling on the front nine, so nobody closed the margin. After the third, he righted the ship, and when a few of his friends, who were also competing in the event, showed up on the eighth hole to show their support, he drew inspiration from them. His final-round 2-over-par 74 left him at 284, 1-under for the tournament and seven shots clear of second-place finisher, Jose Favela of Chula Vista, Calif. Still for a while it was uncomfortable, until his friends showed up.
"All of a sudden I make a nice par save, another nice par save and get on the back and started making putts," said Erdman, 46, who works for State Farm Insurance during the day. "And then I go birdie, birdie on 12 and 13, and I'm like 'All right, here we go.'"
Erdman finished with a back-nine 34, including another birdie on the par-5 18th. With only 180 yards left to the hole on his second shot, he flushed a 7-iron right over the lake and the stick, just off the back of the green. From there he two-putted for birdie, which he punctuated with a fist pump.
"I was going for the middle of the green (short of the pin)," he said. "That was the hardest 7-iron I hit all week."
Erdman, who has his sights set on the Champions Tour in four years when he's eligible, will continue to play as much high-level amateur golf as possible. Next week, he will tee it up in the Colorado State Mid-Amateur ar River Valley Ranch in Carbondale.
Blackwood storms to Hogan title
In the Hogan flight (handicap 8-11.9), it was a totally different story. Jeff Blackwood of Dallas came out of nowhere to win the title. He got a little help from third-round leader James Sheppeard of Tomball, Texas near Houston, but Blackwood deserves most of the credit for not only firing a 76 in the final round but overcoming a terrible start to the tournament.
Blackwood started the day nine shots off the lead set by Sheppeard who fired three rounds in the 70s before carding a disappointing 87 on the final day to wind up in a tie for second. Playing in the group behind Sheppeard, Blackwood had no idea he had won when he finished his round, but thought he might be close or at least higher on the leaderboard. It wasn't until a friend pulled up the scores on the Golf Channel Am Tour app on his phone that Blackwood thought he won. Minutes later, tour officials confirmed it.
For Blackwood it capped a remarkable week, especially after he shot an 85 on the first day. But he improved with every round afterwards, recording scores of 78 and 77 to go with his final round of 76.
"I started off horribly, but I just kept pushing," said Blackwood, who is originally from Midland, Texas and works in the trucking industry. "It's four days, so I just kept playing and having fun."