Berkshire’s Butto, Whitman win Senior 27-Hole Challenge in playoff
LEBANON, Pa. — Byron Whitman needs sleep.
A cross-country flight, a pre-dawn wake-up call, a petulant cold and 28 holes of golf ran the Reading, Pa. resident ragged Thursday. He’ll rest easy now, especially after an unexpected yet emotionally fulfilling victory in the Senior 27-Hole Challenge Thursday at Lebanon Country Club (par 72, 6,113 yards).
Whitman and fellow Berkshire Country Club member Joe Butto defeated Lehigh Country Club’s Bob Beck and Lu Lu Country Club’s Bert Kosup, the 2016 titleholders, in a sudden-death playoff to take the Senior Division. Both teams finished regulation tied at 1-over-par 144.
The event’s format is as follows: better-ball of partners, selective drive/alternate shot and team aggregate.
“We’ve been playing against each for years and years, beating each other’s heads in. We decided to team it up here,” Whitman, 59, said. “I was out in Eugene [Ore., site of the U.S. Senior Amateur] as an alternate trying to get in. I was fourth in line and the first three guys got in. So, I flew home last night and got into Philadelphia at 1:30 a.m. I didn’t get to sleep until 3 a.m. I got up at 5:45 a.m. to make it here and play in this tournament. It didn’t feel like it’d be worthwhile this morning, but it does now.”
On No. 17 (par 4, 304 yards), the first playoff hole, Whitman faced a difficult wedge shot from 84 yards. He skied it to the front of the green, avoiding a collar handcuff by some 10 paces.
“I didn’t want to get over that green because it’s treacherous from back-to-front. You always want to get over that hump. It’s a very difficult shot,” Whitman said. “I almost didn’t get it to the top level.”
Beck inadvertently popped up his birdie putt, leaving Kosup with a trying 15-footer uphill to save par. Butto, knowing aggression was required, navigate the slope accordingly from 30 feet away. Kosup’s par attempt stopped short. Whitman stepped up and sunk a four-footer for the win. He and Butto embraced.
The two, playing in the day’s second group, didn’t think a triumph seemed possible at first given their sluggish start.
“We were 3 over through 11 holes. We were short on No. 12 (par 3, 191 yards) and Joe made a nice putt up the hill to three feet, and I tapped that in. That started us getting loose, getting a feel and making some pars,” Whitman said. “We said to each other, ‘There are a lot of shots to be made up in the aggregate portion. If we can both stay around even par, then we can make up a lot of ground.’ Joe is a grinder, and I tried to do the same thing.”
In the aggregate portion, Whitman carded a 2-under-par 34, Butto a 1-over-par 37. The former knocked a wedge 119 yards to 10 feet on No. 1 (par 4, 294 yards). Whitman stopped a 9-iron at 12 feet on No. 3 (par 3, 123 yards). Butto’s lone miscue occurred on No. 5 (par 4, 378 yards), where he made a five-footer just to save bogey.
The Berkshire team then watched the leaderboard. Four teams finished 18 holes in red. Butto left the property after learning that a couple of teams on the course remained under par with a few holes remaining.
“I saw [Official in Charge] Chris (Roselle), and he said that Steve Walczak and Thomas Humphrey were 1 under [on No. 8]. I’ve played against Tom and Steve, and I know the chances of them finishing bogey-double bogey are miniscule,” Whitman said. “Then I saw what they did and I got on the phone with Joe. I said, ‘Pull over. We still have a chance.’”
“I was almost to the entrance [for the Pennsylvania Turnpike]. I’m on the phone with him, and he said, ‘You better come back,’” Butto, 57, of Mohnton, Pa., added.
Butto came back — just like his team Thursday. Perhaps he and Whitman will return to defend their title next year.
“I would think more outings are in our future,” Butto said. “When he joined Berkshire [earlier this year], we decided to play in at least two club events together. And then he mentioned this tournament, and I’ve always enjoyed playing this golf course.”
Two teams played 28 holes of golf together before one emerged victorious in the Super-Senior Division (par 71, 5,566 yards).
White Manor Country Club’s Don Donatoni and Spring Ford Country Club’s Steve Tagert edged groupmates Robin McCool of Saucon Valley Country Club and Craig Scott of Great Bear Golf Club in a sudden-death playoff. The two also claimed Super-Senior crown in 2015. Tagert won a year ago alongside Merion Golf Club’s Carl Everett.
“He graciously is back with me this year, so I guess it all worked out,” Donatoni, 70, of Malvern, Pa., said. “I feel vindicated. Steve made the right choice. It’s always great to win. Craig and Robin played terrific, as you would expect them to. It was sort of a dogfight there for a while.”
“Robin and Craig played fantastic all day long. We were lucky enough to catch them at the end,” Tagert, 68, of Collegeville, Pa., added.
The Donatoni and Tagert team closed to within one of their playing partners thanks to respective birdies on No. 7 (par 5, 448 yards). Tagert launched a 5-wood to the back of the green and two putted. Donatoni powered a 22-degree hybrid to the front fringe and nudged a chip into tap-in territory. He birdied the next hole (par 4, 365 yards) to draw even with McCool and Scott, knocking a wedge 60 yards to eight feet.
During the sudden-death playoff (selective drive/alternate shot format), Donatoni safely played a 3-wood off the tee, giving Tagert 64 yards to a hole location on the top shelf. A two-putt turned out to be the difference.
“On the playoff hole, Craig hit a wedge in, and it was probably a foot short of the top of the hill. It rolled down the green, which was a shame,” Tagert said. McCool and Scott made 5 compared to their opponent’s 4.
Rounds together have been rare for Donatoni and Tagert, longtime friends and former colleagues at Aqua America, this season.
“We were looking forward to this. It’s great to reconnect. It’s even better to win as partners,” Donatoni said.
The Senior 27-Hole Challenge replaced the Senior Net Championship on the tournament schedule.
Golf Association of Philadelphia