Esbenshade, Hagger top Amateur Qualifier at Inniscrone
AVONDALE, Pa. â€” Bent Creek Country Clubâ€™s Chris Esbenshade and Fieldstone Golf Clubâ€™s Simon Hagger carded respective 3-over-par 73s to share medalist honors in a Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur Championship Qualifier at Inniscrone Golf Club (par 70, 6,364 yards). The two led a 77-player collective vying for one of 17 qualifying positions and ties available for the Championship proper, set for June 18-20 & 22 at Aronimink Golf Club.
The field scoring average neared 81 by dayâ€™s end. Both Esbenshade and Hagger minimized mistakes on the Gil Hanse design. Esbenshade, 37, of Lititz, Pa., cited putting as a contributing factor to his co-medalist status. He reached 10 greens in regulation and executed crucial two-putts for par throughout the day.
â€śI left myself with tricky three-footers coming back and made them, which keeps the momentum going,â€ť Esbenshade said. â€śIf you miss those, it makes it tough.â€ť
After a missed green resulted in a bogey on No. 1 (par 4, 402 yards), Esbenshade responded with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 2 (par 4, 345 yards) and 3 (par 4, 301 yards). He hit a wedge 110 yards to four feet on the first, and 80 yards to five feet on the latter. Esbenshade tugged a 4-iron right of the No. 4 (par 4, 439 yards) green, chipped on and failed to execute a 20-foot comebacker for par. He dropped back to even with a birdie on the par 3, 159-yard 11th hole, knocking a 7-iron to 15 feet. Conservative play coming in led to bogeys on Nos. 12 (par 4, 457 yards), 14 (par 3, 195 yards) and 17 (par 4, 445 yards).
Now three years removed from hip surgery, Esbenshade, a member of the 2009 GAP Compher Cup, still experiences pain because of impingement, but enjoys competing nonetheless and looks forward to Aronimink.
â€śIâ€™m just happy to be able to play,â€ť he said.
A practice round with friend Bob Bechtold lifted Hagger, 43, of Hockessin, Del., onto the medalist platform.
â€śI owe this one to Bob. He showed me where to be aggressive and where to be careful here,â€ť Hagger said. â€śI didnâ€™t get into too much trouble. I played a couple of the tough par 4s really well.â€ť
Hagger, who represented the Delaware State Golf Association in the 2012 USGA Menâ€™s State Team Championship, inked red on two of his first three holes. He drilled a 9-iron 155 yards to five feet on No. 1. After nearly driving the No. 3 green, Hagger eased a chip to six feet and cleaned up the birdie putt. Consecutive bogeys concluded an otherwise pleasant outward tour. Hagger missed the No. 8 (par 3, 185 yards) green with a hybrid and left his ensuing chip significantly short. On the par 4, 433-yard No. 9, he watched his 6-iron approach reach the putting surface, only to slide off upon contact. Hagger held onto an even-par score until the 18th hole (par 4, 305 yards), where he hooked consecutive hybrids into the hazard and registered a triple bogey.
â€śThat was a disappointing end to a pretty solid round,â€ť he said.
That end, however, doesnâ€™t hold a candle to the disappointment Hagger felt last month in a GAP Middle-Amateur Championship Qualifier at Downingtown Country Club. Inside the cut with five holes to play, Hagger signed for a 9 on the par 5, 495-yard 13th hole and failed to advance into the Championship proper, which begins this Wednesday on his home course.
â€śThat was a disappointing start to the season,â€ť Hagger, an England native, said. â€śI was really hoping to play in that [the Middle-Amateur]. I think my gameâ€™s in pretty good shape right now. Iâ€™ve been working with Jim Larkin (Fieldstoneâ€™s head professional) on a lot of things. Iâ€™m very excited to play Aronimink. Itâ€™s another great course I havenâ€™t played.â€ť
At the end of the day, the cut line fell to 77.
Mondayâ€™s qualifier was the last of three to determine the 113th Amateur field, which also includes exempt players.
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 143 Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. As Philadelphiaâ€™s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphiaâ€™s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.