By Tim Rogers, NOPGA Contributor
During the final round of the Northern Ohio Professional Championship in August Northern Ohio PGA Executive Director David Griffith watched as Anthony Panepento made his way around Tippecanoe Country Club. “Anthony is a player,” Griffith offered as he watched the 24-year-old compete against a very deep and talented field. “He is a very good player. Don’t be surprised if we hear from him sooner or later.” Panepento, a Wooster native in his first year as an assistant to Jason Carbone at Canterbury Golf Club, did not win that day. He finished in a tie for seventh, a finish he would repeat two weeks later in the NOPGA Assistants Championship at Avon Oaks.
However, later became sooner this week at Portage Country Club. It culminated Thursday during the final day of the 49th Denny Shute Match Play Championship.
On a chilly and windy day that called for extra layers, hand warmers and stocking caps, Panepento turned the future into the present. He defeated four-time NOPGA Player-of-the-Year Jim Troy, 6-and-5 in the 36-hole Shute finals for his first professional victory.
“This really means a lot,” said Panepento, a Wooster native and graduate of Methodist University, a Division III school in Fayettville, N.C. that has a strong record of turning out golf professionals through its PGA Golf Management program. “This was my first professional win and I think it gives me confidence that I can do this. Sometimes golf can be a lonely game and you can doubt yourself all the time. But to come out here and compete against the caliber of players in this field gives me an unbelievable amount of confidence.”
Panepento didn’t say if they taught Giant Slaying 101 at Methodist but he did exactly that this week.
* In beating Troy in the finals, he beat one of the NOPGA’s best, a player that has twice won the prestigious Mitchell-Haskell Tournament, the equally as prestigious NOPGA Professional Championship and the 2018 Shute champion.
* In Wednesday’s semifinals he eliminated Pepper Pike assistant Sean McGuire, 5-and-4. McGuire won the aforementioned Assistants Championship and is regarded as one of the NOPGA’s up-and-coming stars.
* A 3-and-2 victory in the quarterfinals eliminated Westwood Country Club head professional and defending Shute champion Mark Scott Jr. Scott had not lost a match at Portage Country Club since 2021 as he won the Associate Division of the Shute there in 2021 before winning his Regular Division title last year.
* In Tuesday’s quarterfinals he defeated NOPGA Hall-of-Famer and 2009 Senior Division winner, Tom Waitrovich, 2-and-1.
* He opened the match play portion with a 3-and-2 victory over with a 3-and-2 victory over Windmill Lakes Golf Center instructor Trent Maxwell.
Quite a list of giants, no?
“I’m aware,” he said. “I played solid Tuesday and got two wins against Trent and Waitro. I knew that I had to play well to beat Mark and whoever came out of the other match (McGuire) and I shot a front-nine 30 against Sean. That’s what I needed to do. Then I knew I would have to play really well against Jim (Troy) a recent Section champ. He wasn’t going to just give the match to me. I knew I had to play well.”
Panepento was one of six players to shoot even-par 70 in the stroke-play portion of the event on Monday to determine seeding purposes for the match play.
Panepento, who qualified for the high school state tournament as a senior at Wooster High, took control early of his match against Troy, a teacher and club fitter at the Golf Dome in Chagrin Falls. He was 2-up after the front nine of the first 18 holes and never relinquished the lead for the rest of the day, thanks in part to a hot putter.
A birdie on the final hole of the morning round put Panepento 3-up and he increased his margin to 4-up with a birdie on the 525-yard second hole, thanks to a marvelous approach to two feet to start the final 18 holes. He maintained that 4-hole lead through the turn and birdie putts of 66 feet on the 487-yard 11th and 22 feet on the 366-yard 13th closed out the match. “Basically, I made everything I looked at,” he said.
He pointed to a par-saving putt on the first hole of the second 18 as being key. It maintained his 4-shot lead and led him to a place of serenity. Troy had chipped to kick-in distance for par while Panepento chipped to 10 feet and faced a treacherous double-breaker for par. He made it.
“That putt settled me into the second 18,” he said.
If that putt was settling the 66-footer from the back of the green on the 11th that lifted him to 5-up had to be the equivalent of golf nirvana. It’s the state of perfect happiness and that’s what winning an event like the Shute Match Play can do for a burgeoning career.