We’ve heard it thousands of times from pros and amateurs alike and it rarely gets debated. Fairways and greens.
It might sound cliché-ish and border on the mundane, but fairways and greens rarely lose a tournament. That was the plan Perrysburg’s Mike Stone plotted for himself at the start of the week and it paid off Wednesday when his steady, final-round 3-under 67 gave him the Northern Ohio PGA Section Professional Championship at stoic Portage Country Club in Akron.
“I took a conservative approach all week and that was the plan today,” said Stone, whose 54-hole total of 5-under 205 was two shots better than runnerup Jim Troy, of Mount Vernon. “I just wanted to keep the ball in front of me, make pars and avoid making mistakes.”
Mission accomplished.Stone, who played in the 1999 U.S. Open, said he did not use his driver once this week.
“I have a pretty strong 3-wood in the bag and I just felt more comfortable with it,” he said.
In addition to the first-place check of $3,200, Stone advances to the 53d PGA Professional Championship, to be held in April at the Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin, Texas. It will be Stone’s second trip to the National Championship as he finished in a tie for second place in last year’s Section Championship.
Stone, lead instructor at Belmont Country Club, was the only player in the starting 60-man field – trimmed to 26 after 36 holes — to equal or better par-70 all three rounds with scores of 68-70-67.
Stone will not be alone when he travels to Texas next year as the top five finishers in the Section Championship move on, with four alternates waiting in the wings.
“That was the main objective, to get back to the Nationals,” he said. “Sure, you want to win the Championship but a strong focus is on making the top five and getting back to the Nationals. You kind of keep your eye on the scoreboard to see what is going on with the top five spots.”
The NOPGA had live scoring for the final round with moveable scoreboards in the final groups. Stone knew where he stood throughout the day. Stone will be joined by Troy (Mount Vernon Country Club), Randy Dietz (Windmill Golf Center), Mark Sierak (Barrington Golf Club) and David Champagne (Firestone Country Club).
Troy, paired with Stone in the final group, battled head-to-head until a bogey on the demanding, 179-yard 14th hole set him one stroke back.Troy finished at 3-under 207 with a final-round 68. Dietz, the former NOPGA Apprentice of the Year, equaled Stone’s final-round 67 – the lowest rounds of the tournament – to finish in third place at 208. Sierak came in at 210 and Champagne at 211 as both shot 68 in the final round.
Eagle Creek’s David Morgan (212) and Mayfield Sand Ridge pro Mark Evans (213) will serve as alternates, as will Canton Brookside’s Director of Golf Gary Robison and Assistant Golf Professional Cory Kumpf, who survived a 3-man playoff for the final two alternate spots.
A key moment in the Stone-Troy pairing came on the 396-yard 15th hole when Stone made a 10-foot putt to save par after experiencing some difficulty from tee to green. Stone, 47, was holding on to his one-shot advantage when his 3-wood off the tee found the fairway bunker on the right side, while Troy was at least 50 yards longer in prime position. Stone hit his second shot into a bunker to the right of the green and Troy hit his second shot to within 15 feet, seemingly gaining an advantage. Troy missed his birdie attempt after Stone blasted out of the bunker to 10 feet and made the putt to save par . . . and perhaps the championship.
“That putt was huge,” said Stone. “A 10-footer for par? That was a little bit of excitement there.”
In a rare display of emotion, Stone gave a feisty fist-punch when his putt dropped.
The 2019 season has been a good one for the Stone family and the month of August has been terrific. Stone’s older brother, Steve, won the NOPGA Senior Professional Section Championship at Oberlin Golf Club on August 9th and his mother, Karen Stone, was inducted into the Toledo Golf Hall of Fame earlier this week.
“Steve texted me this morning and said it would be cool if both of us could win Section Championships,” he said.
Cool, indeed. Just as cool as fairways and greens.