Ken Cohen | Democrat
David Powers tees off on the 13th hole at Grossinger Country Club during the OCIAA golf championship Tuesday. The Eldred freshman would birdie the hole en route to shooting 76 and winning the tournament by one shot.
Story by Ken Cohen
LIBERTY May 17, 2013 Eldred's David Powers wasn't really concerned about winning the OCIAA golf championship at Grossinger Country Club on Tuesday. In fact, after he posted a 5-over par 76 the best in his foursome of the league's top players he didn't hover around the scoreboard anxiously sweating out every score that came in. Instead, he was content to hang back, sit and talk with some other players and not worry too much about whether he would become one of the youngest champions in the tournament's history.
It wasn't until about half the scores were in that he approached the scoreboard. At that point, someone said to Powers, "it looks like you're going to win." To which Powers matter-of-factly answered, "that's cool."
Cool is how Powers handled the last hole. Clinging to a one-shot lead over Cornwall's Ryan Rodriguez, the freshman hooked his drive to the uphill par four behind a row of trees. Rodriguez, meanwhile, piped one down the middle of the fairway, just 80 yards from the green. He played his sand wedge to the back fringe.
Faced with a difficult shot between two trees and under another one, Powers pulled off one of the best shots of his blossoming career. He lined a 9-iron perfectly through the opening and under a hanging branch. The ball landed on a mound just short of the green, hopped up and bounced forward onto the putting surface, about 25 feet from the hole. Rodriguez' birdie putt rolled about a foot past the hole and Powers calmly two-putted to shoot 76, one better than Rodriguez.
"I was scared to hit that shot," said Powers of his approach to 18. "That could have turned out a lot worse."
Things could not have been better for Powers through 14 holes. On a cold and blustery day which drove scores way up, he turned in one-over par thanks to an eagle three on the par-five fourth hole. He then birdied the par-five 13th the famous island hole to get back to even par and open a six-shot advantage over Rodriguez, also a freshman. Yes, there could have been other players faring better than Rodriguez and Powers was mindful of that. But given that his group of Rodriguez, Sullivan West's Drew Billard and Family School's David Gates boasted the four best scoring averages in league play this spring, it was a good bet Powers' main competition for the title was coming from one of his playing partners.
It would be Rodriguez who mounted the challenge, parring No. 14 and 15 and birdieng No. 16 while Powers unraveled a bit, going bogey, bogey, double bogey on those same three holes. Just like that, a six-shot cushion was down to one, though Powers said he wasn't really keeping track of what was going on.
"I was not thinking about winning," said Powers, who also happens to be a high honors student at Eldred. "I knew I was playing well and had to be somewhere near the top after I birdied 13. But I was really just trying to play my game and not worry about anyone else in my group. When you worry about how others in your group are scoring, you can lose your focus."
Still, as easily as he handled the first two par fives he played, it was the par-five 16th which almost cost him the tournament. After a pushed drive, he tried to skirt his second around some trees, in going for the green in two. The ball hit timber and rattled around before coming to rest blocked by some more trees. Powers attempted to skip a 5-iron through a narrow opening, but his ball ticked a branch and splashed in the creek fronting the green. He chipped on and two-putted for double bogey while Rodriguez hit two quality shots and made birdie. The three-shot swing narrowed Powers’ lead to one-shot and, after both bogeyed the par-three 17th, the stage was set for the final hole drama.
Powers became the sixth Sullivan County player since 2003 to win the OCIAA championship and the second Eldred champion (Henry Bosch won in 2003).
Powers, who qualified for the state championship last year as an eighth grader one of the few to ever do so in New York State history, said his goal is to get back to states each year throughout his career.
He's off to a good start as the low 29 and ties from this championship advance to the 36-hole sectional tournament next Monday and Wednesday at Mansion Ridge and Casperkill. The top nine from sectionals qualify for the state tournament June 1-3 at Cornell University. Other Sullivan County players joining Powers at sectionals are Billard (81), Monticello's Angelo Niforatos (93) and Eldred teammate Matt Donnelly (93). Both Niforatos and Donnelly made the cut on the number.
Billard, who entered the tournament with the league's best scoring average, struggled with his driver all day and never really got in contention. Still, the senior finished tied for fourth and should be a strong contender at sectionals.