OLD LYME, Conn. – Last June, Harris English made a 16-foot birdie putt to defeat Kramer Hickok and win a record eight-hole playoff in the Travelers Championship.
Tuesday, Geoff Gelderman bested COVID-infected Adam D’Amario on the eighth extra hole to win the Connecticut PGA Championship at the Black Hall Club, one of the most difficult courses in Connecticut. But Gelderman, the second-year pro at H. Smith Richardson Golf Club in Trumbull, won’t be playing at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on June 23-26 because he’s only an associate member of the Connecticut Section PGA.
A stunned Gelderman didn’t know he wasn’t eligible for the Travelers Championship spot until informed by a Section official after he parred the eighth playoff, the par-4 fourth. Meanwhile, D’Amario, who impersonated Harry Houdini with countless improbable saving pars throughout the final round, flew his second shot 25 yards over the green and failed to make a 20-foot par putt to continue the exciting exhibition.
“I’m satisfied with how I played, but I’d trade my check ($4,500) for a spot in the Travelers Championship,” said Gelderman, 37, who shot a second 2-over-par 73 for a 36-hole total of 146. “Being a Connecticut guy from Trumbull, all I’ve ever thought about was playing in the Travelers Championship. And that’s all I was thinking about the whole time today. I didn’t even care what the money was, just playing in my first PGA Tour event.”
Gelderman will have to wait a few years for that to happen, as he has to earn Class A status in the PGA of America to be eligible for the qualifying event.
Meanwhile, D’Amario, from Indian Hill Country Club in Newington, will get to play in Connecticut’s biggest sports for a second time without winning the qualifying tournament. In 2018, he lost a playoff to Corey Harris but advanced to Cromwell because Harris wasn’t a PGA of America member.
“It’s a little bittersweet because I’d like to win the tournament and put myself on the trophy,” said D’Amario, who also shot a second 73 despite missing 14 of 18 greens in regulation, including 10 in a row at one point. “I can’t be upset with the way the playoff went with all of the back-and-forth.”
D’Amario’s longest playoff was nine holes in a Massachusetts Open qualifying, but this obviously had far more significance. And he had a magically saving touch and came within two feet of a hole-in-one at No. 17 with a 7-iron. He had missed the previous 10 greens, including at the par-3 ninth hole, where his tee shot hit at the back of the green and careened down an embankment and into the edge of a parking lot, leading to a double bogey.
The playoff wasn’t much different as D’Amario missed five of eight greens but stayed alive with a sand-saving par on the sixth extra hole, the par-5 second, despite his second shot ricocheting off a tree and 20 yards backwards. He also made a 10-foot putt for par at the seventh extra hole, the par-4 third, but couldn’t save himself on the next hole, earning $2,800 and the coveted Travelers Championship berth that he knew he had secured before the playoff began.
Meanwhile, Gelderman made a downhill 25-foot putt on the fourth playoff, the par-4 fifth, after dumping his approach shot into a bunker. He got up-and-down for par from a bunker at the seventh extra hole, making a 4-foot putt to extend the playoff to what became the decisive hole.
D’Amario played “way better than I expected” after going into COVID-19 protocol a week earlier and locking his clubs in the Indian Hill pro shop until he received clearance to play according to CDC guidelines before the first round Monday. He rode solo in a cart but donned a mask whenever he approached anyone.
“A smooth swing tempo is something that I haven’t had for a while,” D’Amario said. “I kind of ran out of gas (Monday) when I bogeyed five of six holes on the back nine, but I managed to really scramble well today.”
D’Amario, who shot 74-78 to miss the cut in his Travelers Championship debut, won the Section Championship in 2011 and has qualified for the national PGA Assistants Championship four times and the national Club Pro Championship twice.
Three-time winner Adam Rinaud, a former assistant at Black Hall and four-time Section Player of the Year, was tied for the lead until he made a bogey and double bogey at the 14th and 15th hole. He sank a 10-foot putt for birdie 2 at the 17th but narrowly missed another birdie bid at No. 18 that would have got him into the playoff. He also wasn’t eligible for the Travelers Championship because he’s the pro at the Country Club of New Canaan, which is in the Metropolitan (N.Y.) Section PGA.
Rinaud tied for third with Jason Gobleck, 52, a teaching pro at Lyman Orchards CC in Middlefield, and former winner Chris Tallman, the PGA general manager at the Orchards Golf Club in Southwick, Mass., both of whom had a share of the lead on the back nine. Gobleck bogeyed the 14th and 18th holes, missing a 20-foot putt for par on the final green that would have got him into the playoff. Tallman, the three-time reigning Section Player of the Year, bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes in shooting 75.
The championship was open to all PGA members in good standing regardless of PGA section affiliations, as well as all Connecticut Section employed PGA Associates, and drew 54 PGA Professionals from Connecticut and seven from Massachusetts.