Indian Valley’s Butler charges to victory in Jock MacKenzie playoff
ORELAND, Pa. — Thomas Butler turned his best 18-hole tournament score into hardware Monday in the 33rd Jock MacKenzie Memorial.
The Indian Valley Country Club youngster carded an even-par 72 in regulation to forge his way into a three-way playoff with a pair of 18-year-olds in Matt Chalupa and Buddy Hansen, IV. He birdied the second hole (No. 9, par 4, 324 yards) in overtime to prevail at a stormy-then-steamy Sandy Run Country Club (par 72, 6,461 yards).
“This gives me a lot confidence because I had some struggles earlier in the year but the last few competitive rounds, I’ve been playing well,” Butler, 16, of Telford, Pa., said. “I was 3 over with five holes left and thinking, ‘Maybe if I can get one or two back I’ll be lucky and maybe tie.’ I got all three back and ended up tying. I can’t complain. I wasn’t expecting to make a par and a birdie [in the playoff], especially after that first drive.”
The aforementioned tee shot on No. 1 (par 4, 347 yards), the first playoff hole, put Butler in a precarious position underneath a pine tree. He examined the lie (favorable in fluffy dirt) and determined a clear swing path to the ball. With an accelerated follow-thru accentuating a shortened backswing, Butler sent a pitching wedge from 115 yards over a guarding bunker, eight feet right of the hole location. Relatively soft conditions from saturating rains overnight and into the morning contributed to a sudden stop upon landing.
“Normally, I’d hit a gap wedge, but being that I was under a tree, there was one branch that was bugging me,” Butler, a rising junior at Souderton Area High School, said. “I didn’t want to hit it with my backswing because it might take me offline so I went up to a pitching wedge. I was pretty happy with that one.”
Butler and Hansen, however, both missed their birdie putts and carded matching 4s. Chalupa, an Inniscrone Golf Club member making his Golf Association of Philadelphia debut, failed to save par from the left greenside bunker and therefore exited the session. On No. 9, both Butler and Hansen, a Blue Bell Country Club member, found the fairway. The former then saw an identical shot to one he hit in regulation: a 56-degree wedge from 50 yards to a front right hole location. Butler landed it 15 feet left and slightly above. Hansen’s wedge approach inhaled more air than anticipated, giving the incoming senior at La Salle College High School a testy downhiller for birdie. His attempt stopped four feet shy.
Next came Butler’s heroics.
“Once Buddy missed, I really wasn’t thinking about making that putt because I knew if I hit it too hard, it was going to roll a long way past. When I hit it, I realized, ‘That might go in,’” Butler said.
Butler, who teed off almost an hour after Chalupa, inked a 2-under-par 34 on his inward nine. That number included three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16. On the first (par 4, 415 yards), Butler drilled a 9-iron 150 yards to 30 feet above the flagstick. He smoked a 4-iron from 200 yards onto the 15th green’s (par 5, 477 yards) front edge and walked away with a two-putt birdie. To cap the red stretch, Butler knocked a 52-degree wedge 100 yards to 20 feet below the hole location on No. 16 (par 4, 375 yards) and deposited a right-to-left breaker.
“Once I did that, I realized that I’ve never been at even par with two holes left,” he said.
The internal shock swelled; the bespectacled Butler quelled it with tap-in pars on the final two holes. A pleasant surprise considering he missed both fairways — a rare occurrence on this day with a replacement driver.
That’s right. Butler broke his driver during the Montgomery County Amateur yesterday. He used a Big Bertha Epic demo as a temporary substitute Monday.
When it comes to GAP events, the suave and soft-spoken Butler is now 1-for-2. His lone prior appearance? An 88 in the qualifying round of the Junior Boys’ Championship presented by PURE Insurance.
“This feels pretty good,” Butler said. “The first one wasn’t good, but this one feels just a bit better.”
A lot better.
Birdies on Nos. 16 (par 4, 350 yards) and 17 (par 4, 329 yards) allowed the incoming Abington Junior High School eighth grader to finish level. On the first, he drew a 7-iron from 142 yards to three feet. After leaving a sand wedge from 83 yards short of the 17th green, Nolan chipped in for a birdie — a highlight of the day.
Nolan teamed with Chester Valley Golf Club’s Henry Fish to win the Junior-Junior crown in the Francis X. Hussey Memorial two weeks ago. He will compete in the Association’s Junior-Junior Boys’ Championship next week.
“I’m hitting the ball at least 40 yards farther than I did last year, and my short game has improved a lot,” Nolan, 13, of Glenside, Pa., said. “I play every day and practice once a week. I enjoy pounding my drives down the middle.”
Harry Hammond Award
Robinson became only the third player since the award’s inception in 2000 to win in consecutive years Billy Stewart, 2000-01 and Cole Berman, 2012-13). Robinson carded a 73 Monday for a 299 total and a two-stroke victory over Manufacturers’ Golf & Country Club’s Matt Graeff.
“It was really important to me because it was such an honor to win last year. I knew it was going to possible again this year because I’ve improved a lot,” Robinson, 18, of Hatfield, Pa., said. “My game’s been coming around the past couple of weeks, which has been big.”
Robinson, a recent North Penn High School graduate, will attend Monmouth University in the fall.
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