Twelve national champions crowned at Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – The individual portion of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championships wrapped up Friday, where six national champions were crowned in each of two divisions – Open and Senior. The championships were held over four days on seven different courses, culminating at the Stadium Course at PGA West (Open division) and the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West (Senior division).

Ten-year-old Charlie Reiter, Palm Desert, Calif., came in to the week as the sentimental favorite to win the Jones flight and he didn’t disappoint. Reiter came from behind to win the National Championship by three strokes, outlasting 48 other golfers, most of whom are at least three times his age.

“I knew I was two shots behind through 15,” Reiter said. “On 16 the cameras showed up. I liked that because I’m good under pressure.”

Reiter treated the gallery to a clutch birdie at No. 16 and pars at 17 and 18 to clinch the victory.


Open division

Snead Flight (20+ handicap)

Al Defeo, Absecon, N.J., closed a seven-stroke gap in the final round by shooting 91, the lowest score of the nine players who made the third-round cut. His four-round total of 366 was good enough for a four-stroke victory over Dorinda Pastorek, New Market, Md.

“I just hung in there all week,” Defeo said. “My goal coming into the week was to make the cut. I had no idea I was going to walk away with the trophy.”

Defeo was neck-and-neck with his competition until a birdie at the diabolical 17th hole separated him from the field. “If I hadn’t won, birdieing 17 would have been the highlight of my week,” he said.

Jones Flight (16.0-19.9)

Ten-year-old Charlie Reiter, a native Californian, became the darling of this year’s National Championships, beating out 48 other finalists in his flight.

Charlie Reiter Golf Channel Amateur Tour
Charlie Reiter celebrates with his father en route to becoming the youngest participant in GCAT history to win a national championship. (Marilyn Chung)

“My goal next year is to win the next flight,” he said. “I’ll start practicing on Monday, as soon as the Team Championship is over.”

Sarazen Flight (12-15.9)

Stephen Cannon II, Southlake, Texas, rode the momentum of two consecutive birdies on the back nine to win the title wire-to-wire. He was rewarded for his consistent play throughout the week, winning by a comfortable, 12-shot margin over Jeff Stahlhut, Houston.

“Because I was leading each night, a lot of guys were coming up to me saying stuff and trying to get in my head,” Cannon said. “On the back nine today I blocked it all out and got in my groove.”

Cannon’s 11-over 83 was tied for the lowest score of the day in the Sarazen flight. In addition, his opening-round 74 was the lowest round of the tournament.

Hogan Flight (8-11.9)

Zac Day, San Antonio, rode the momentum of three solid rounds to give himself a 12-shot lead heading into Friday’s final round, and ended up winning the flight by nine shots over Mark Fugett, Burlington, Wis.

Asked to pick one club that keyed his dominant performance, Day didn’t hesitate. “Driver,” he said. “I really figured it out this week. It’s usually the club that gets me in the most trouble, but I changed my grip and it really paid off.”

Recently a bogey golfer at best, Day has focused on his game lately, playing six times per week and taking lessons from a top instructor.

Palmer Flight (4.0-7.9)

Patrick Polzin of Indian Head Park, Ill., had a dream round Thursday at PGA West Stadium Course, firing his lowest tournament round ever with a 4-under 68 and building a seven-shot lead. Playing more conservative on Friday, Polzin cruised to victory in the Palmer flight by eight shots with a final-round 81.

“It was unbelieveable, everything just clicked,” said Polzin when recalling his Thursday round. “My ball striking was very good yesterday, and today I just tried to make pars and avoid the big number.”

Polzin’s 68 was the low round for the tournament at the Stadium Course (all flights).

Championship Flight (<3.9)

Pete DeTemple of Callaway, Md., knew he was in for a battle during Friday's final round at PGA West Stadium Course, holding on to a slim one stroke lead after three rounds.

'Today was match play for me,' said DeTemple, who carded a 2-over 74 to win his first national championship. 'I told myself that if I beat the two guys in my group, then I would have a chance.'

2009 was DeTemple's first year competing in the Amateur Tour. When asked if he plans on returning in 2010 to defend his title, his response was simple:

'Absolutely.'


Senior Division

Snead Flight (20+ handicap)

Pekka Ojapalo, Oakville, Ontario, kept his cool in the desert heat and walked away with a nine-shot victory over Steve Daughtrey, Simi Valley, Calif. Ojapalo was on the positive side of a wild swing at the par-5 15th hole where Daughtrey made a 13 and Ojapalo made par.

“Fifteen solved the whole thing on my side,” Ojapalo said. “He made a mess-up there.” Ojapalo followed his par with a clutch birdie at No. 16, all but sealing the win.

“I didn’t expect to win at all,” Ojapalo admitted. “I was surprised to play so well.”

Jones Flight (16.0-19.9)

Pete DeTemple Golf Channel Amateur Tour
Pete DeTemple captured his first national championship title in the championship division in his first year competing in the GCAT. (Marilyn Chung)

Chip Fleming, River Ridge, La., shot his second 83 of the week – the only player to do so – and captured the title by five shots over Eric Dortch, Decatur, Ga. and Buck Jackson, Temple Hills, Md.

“I was nervous the whole day,” Fleming admitted. “I was leading by two shots and I knew I just needed to play my game today.”

Fleming came to the daunting island green at 15 knowing that the title was within reach. “I knew that if I held it together for the last few holes I’d win. I played it one shot at a time.” He went on to make par at No. 15 en route to victory.

Sarazen Flight (12-15.9)

Steven Owensby, Stone Mountain, Ga., rode the momentum of a hole-in-one at No. 12 to capture the title by five shots over Jerry Cooper, Vanceburg, Ky.

Despite making double-bogey at No. 11, Owensby kept his cool at No. 12, and his 6-iron from 165 yards found the bottom of the cup. It was his fifth-career hole-in-one, all of which have come in tournaments.

Owensby, who is recovering from a brain tumor, made light of his affliction by saying that his lack of memory helped him on the golf course.

“It helps when you can’t remember the bad holes,” he said with a smile. “I’m living proof that if you have an affliction, you should never give up. Stick with it.”

Hogan Flight (8-11.9)

Scott Godino, Las Vegas, followed up a career-best 72 on Thursday with a workmanlike 82 Friday to capture the title by four shots over fellow Las Vegan, Lee Siefert. Despite the fairly comfortable margin, Godino said it was one of the most nerve-racking experiences of his life.

“I’ve played on a competitive softball team, in those pressure-packed moments,” Godino said. “But that is nothing compared to this. This is the biggest stage I’ve been on, by far. You find out a lot about yourself.”

Palmer Flight (4.0-7.9)

Clifford Conover, Roosevelt, Utah, kept in mind some advice his son gave him, and cruised to a six-shot lead over Terry Swartz, Davie, Fla. and Arif Shakeel, Laguna Niguel, Calif.

“I was thinking about three tips my son gave me: Elbow in, head still, and don’t call yourself stupid,” he said. “It helped me hit it consistently. I didn’t pin-seek. I just aimed at the middle of the greens and let my putter do the work.”

With a front-nine 41, Conover started slow, but rallied on the back nine with three birdies to seal the win.

Championship Flight (<3.9)

Normally a one-shot lead going into a final round of a national championship would test the nerves. Not so for Ken Larney of Orland Park, Ill. A past Amateur Tour National Champion in the Palmer flight (2007), Larney enjoyed the comfort this year of competing against one of his good friends, Roger Cole of Munster, Indiana, for the title.

'It was just another round of golf for us,' said Larney, who held off Munster on Friday at PGA West Nicklaus Course for a 2-shot victory. 'We play a lot of golf together, and we just felt comfortable competing against each other on the golf course.'

While he said his 2007 national championship victory at Innisbrook was tougher than his 2009 victory, he is holding his held high knowing he is the only two-time national champion in the senior division.

 

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