The ACE Club’s Stewart finally earns elusive Open title
Billy Stewart’s eyed this prize since his college days.
The Open Championship, or what is commonly referred to as the Philadelphia Open, annually assembles the most talented tournament field – amateurs and professionals – in the Delaware Valley. It’s done so since 1903.
And its champions are a who’s who of Philadelphia golf. A fact Stewart is keenly aware of.
In Thursday’s frenetic and dramatic 114th edition at St. Davids Golf Club (par 70, 6,500 yards), Stewart outdueled Brett Melton, 44, of Coatesville, Pa., an assistant pro at Radley Run Country Club, and amateur Jeff Osberg of Huntingdon Valley Country Club in a four-hole aggregate playoff to hoist the John J. McDermott Open Trophy. All three players finished 36 holes of regulation at 5-under par (135 total). In the playoff – holes Nos. 1-4-8-9 (par 16) – Stewart totaled 14 strokes, Osberg 16 and Melton 18.
“I’ve been wanting to win this tournament for a long time, back to when I was at St. Joseph’s [University],” said Stewart, who fell in a 2013 Open playoff as a professional to amateur Brandon Matthews at Waynesborough Country Club. “All the great club pros in the Philadelphia area have gotten their names on this trophy. It’s a tournament that you just want to be part of the history of.”
Stewart also earned the low professional top prize of $6,000.
“I’ve been knocking on the door,” said Stewart, who has finished in the Top 5 the last five times he’s played in the Open. “It felt great to get a couple of putts to drop [in the playoff] and get my name on the trophy.”
In the four-hole aggregate playoff, all three players found the fairway on No. 1 (par 4, 385 yards), but Stewart hit his pitching wedge from 129 yards long and over the back of the green. A delicate short-side chip stopped a foot from the cup. Two longish birdie tries by Osberg and Melton didn’t drop and the trio registered all pars.
Stewart’s putter was the difference from there.
On No. 4 (par 4, 359 yards), he hit a pitching wedge from 137 yards to 20 feet above the hole. Osberg, too had a birdie look from 30 feet right of the cup. Melton found the front left greenside bunker with his approach. Melton went on to make bogey, Osberg two-putted for par and Stewart jammed his birdie putt into the middle of the cup.
“I didn’t want to go above the hole but I did and I was fortunate to roll it in,” said Stewart, 34, of Manayunk, Pa. “That was going five feet past if it doesn’t go in.”
On No. 8 (par 5, 490 yards), Stewart’s tee ball found the right fairway bunker. He chipped out to 107 yards and knocked his 52-degree wedge to 10 feet. Osberg and Melton reached the green in two shots. Stewart fired another fist pump when his left to right 10-footer for birdie dropped. Osberg made birdie and Melton four-putt for bogey. Stewart, who won the 2002 Philadelphia Amateur as an 18 year old, had a one-shot lead with one hole left: 11 to 12 (on Osberg). Melton’s score was 15.
On No. 9 (par 3, 232 yards), Stewart, hitting first, knocked a 3-iron to the middle of the green. Osberg failed to respond as his 4-iron came up 10 yards short of the putting surface.
“That was the worse iron shot I hit all week,” said Osberg, 34, of Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Osberg charged the chip shot knowing he needed to hole it. The attempt stopped 15-feet past the cup.
Stewart cozied his 20-foot birdie up to a foot. A basic tap-in for par answered those longing wishes.
“You worked hard all day and you feel good about yourself and then you have the playoff and another four holes of grinding out shots,” said Stewart of needing the playoff for the win. “I just took it one shot at a time and hoped for some good luck.”
The leaderboard was filled with a gaggle of names all day.
In addition to Osberg, Stewart and Melton, who was the first-round leader, amateur Steve Dressel, the defending St. Davids’ club champion; Dave McNabb, head professional at Applebrook Golf Club; and Dave Quinn, an assistant pro at Philmont, all held the lead or a share of at some point.
Dressel appeared to be in control midway through the tournament. He built a two-shot lead after No. 11 (par 5, 545 yards) courtesy of a chip-in eagle from the back of the green. However, a cold putter resulted in a difficult late stretch. He bogeyed No. 18 (par 4, 393 yards) to miss the playoff by one stroke. McNabb, four groups ahead of Dressel, double-bogeyed 18 to fall out of contention. Quinn stood at 6 under, and with a one-shot lead on No. 17 (par 3, 184 yards), but registered back-to-back three putts to miss the playoff.
Stewart’s victory stopped the streak of eight straight amateur champions crowned in the Open.
The playoff was the first since 2016 in which Osberg, ironically enough, defeated amateur Chris Crawford of Spring Mill Country Club at The Ridge at Back Brook.
Defending Open Champion Matt Mattare of Saucon Valley Country Club tied for 17th at 1 over.