Philly Cricket’s Berman bests Conners in playoff for Jock MacKenzie
ORELAND, Pa. — Love-hate best describes the relationship between Cole Berman and the Jock MacKenzie Memorial the last two years. Berman loves the scores that he’s posted in one of the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Junior Majors. Both ultimately helped the Philadelphia Cricket Club youngster secure consecutive Harry Hammond Awards. Berman hates that those scores haven’t been good enough to capture the trophy.
The relationship turned into a full-on love affair Monday. Berman, playing in his final Junior event, bested Whitford Country Club’s Kevin Conners, Jr. in a sudden-death playoff to win the tournament’s 30th edition at Sandy Run Country Club (par 72, 6,370 yards). Both players carded respective 3-under-par 69s in regulation.
“This event has been really frustrating for me in my career,” Berman, 18, of Rosemont, Pa., said. “I lost in a playoff [for the Junior-Junior Division] when I was 13. I’ve lost by one the past two years. It was win or nothing today.”
What a dramatic curtain call it was.
Berman, playing in the day’s fifth group, seized the clubhouse lead early, yet the ghosts of chasers past kept his nerves on edge. Conners, who teed off three hours after Berman, birdied three of his final four holes to jolt up the leaderboard. A two-hour weather delay kept both players waiting in the scoring area, hardware hopes intact.
“I’ve been playing well the last couple of weeks, so I was excited to come here and give it a shot,” Conners, 17, of Downingtown, Pa., said. “I knew Cole would probably be my biggest competition. We both played well. Congrats to him on the birdie in the playoff.”
On No. 1 (par 4, 351 yards), the first playoff hole, Berman lifted a gap wedge 120 yards to 10 feet. Conners found the fairway with a 4-iron and knocked his approach to 15 feet. He missed the ensuing birdie try. Berman wasted little time in addressing his putt and deposited a triumphant right-to-left breaker. He looked to the sky, pointed and smiled.
“I don’t think my eyes were open on that last putt,” Berman said. “It was awesome.”
In regulation, Berman started his title quest in titlist fashion, hitting a pitching wedge 125 yards to 15 feet for birdie on No. 1 (par 4, 351 yards). Berman went back-to-back on Nos. 7 (par 4, 319 yards) and 8 (par 5, 546 yards) — the first being a bit more conventional. He sent a 58-degree wedge 92 yards to three feet on No. 7. On the next hole, a wayward 3-wood put Berman beside a tree on the left-hand side. With a tedious lie, he smacked a sand wedge 60 yards to two feet. Berman’s birdie ways continued on the par 5, 556-yard 11th hole, where he executed a brilliant up-and-down after powering a 260-yard 3-wood shot greenside left.
Three holes heading in — Nos. 13 (par 4, 358 yards), 15 (par 5, 475 yards) and 17 (par 4, 373 yards) — represented untapped scoring opportunities. Berman missed makeable six-footers for birdies on each. A wedge from 102 yards on No. 16 (par 4, 370) painted the flagstick but landed on the back fringe. Overly cautious with the ensuing chip, Berman advanced his golf ball three feet and then failed to convert a 15-footer for par.
“Today has been my whole summer: playing well but just not scoring,” Berman said. “I won Player of the Year two years in a row, but I actually haven’t won a tournament. I haven’t won any tournament [IJGT Bridgestone Series event] since March 2012. I wanted to win, especially since it was my last GAP Junior event.”
Berman will head Georgetown University in the fall, where he plans to major in finance.
Conners, a Golf Association of Philadelphia Magazine Player to Watch in 2014, is four days removed from capturing the Christman Cup. Conservative play Monday thrust the incoming senior at Bishop Shanahan High School into contention.
“I played smart throughout the whole round,” Conners said. “I kind of laid up to specific yardages that I like around 100 yards. I put it inside 10 feet a lot; I just wasn’t converting. I just knew birdies where out on the back. I just had to stay patient.”
Knowledge was power for Conners. He drilled a 4-iron 210 yards to 15 feet and left his eagle attempt inches shy on the par 5, 475-yard 15th hole. Conners whacked a 56-degree wedge 105 yards to five feet for birdie on No. 16 (par 4, 370 yards), a 60-degree wedge 80 yards to four feet on No. 17 (par 4, 373 yards). His outward tour was less exhilarating. Conners fired a birdie on No. 5 (par 4, 384 yards) after cranking a gap wedge 110 yards to eight feet. His lone blemish occurred on No. 4 (par 4, 318 yards) courtesy of a push 3-iron that traveled into the trees.
Harry Hammond Award
After all, the Burlington Country Club member held a five shot lead over Merchantville Country Club’s Connor Goodrich heading in.
“I e-mailed Chris [Roselle, GAP Tournament Director] and luckily I was able to slide in here,” Lafferty, 18, of Marlton, N.J., said. “As far as the award goes, I knew I had a pretty nice cushion. I wasn’t hitting it as well as I wanted, but I knew if I went out there and tried to grind out pars, I could hold on.”
That he did. Lafferty, who will attend the University of Delaware in the fall, carded a 75 to Goodrich’s 74 Monday to secure his first and final Harry Hammond Award. Coaching counsel continues to boost Lafferty’s game this summer. He finished as a semifinalist in the Junior Boys’ Championship and runner-up in last week’s Christman Cup.
“I feel like my ball-striking has really been my biggest asset, but then I met up with Mike Dynda and he helped me with my putting. That took me to a whole new level,” Lafferty, a recent Cherokee High School graduate, said. “I finally got those things combined to click together during the summer. I feel pretty confident right now with where I’m at. I’m sure I’ll be playing a lot of these kids in college, and it’s good to know that I can compete.”
“It feels pretty good. I won a tournament before my brother, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Daniel, 13, of Media, Pa., said.
Daniel trailed playing partner Billy Civitella of Aronimink Golf Club by two strokes entering the par 4, 300-yard 18th hole. He pulled ahead with a textbook par, slapping a sand wedge 90 yards to 20 feet and two putting. Civitella carded a double bogey to fall back.
NOTES — Play was delayed two hours due to lightning in the area … Jock MacKenzie served as Sandy Run Country Club’s head professional for more than three decades. The Memorial tournament, which originated in 1985, is named in his honor. It is open to Junior golfers — both male and female — from GAP Member Clubs. Sandy Run hosts the event each year.
Golf Association of Philadelphia