WESTFIELD CENTER: He contended with multiple weather-related and frustrating suspensions that can derail a man’s momentum faster than a double-bogey.
He bested a talented and deep field — the largest in the century-old event — and dissolved the enigma of never having won as a professional.
He dealt with changing course conditions that can alter a game plan from one lie to the next.
He stared down the make-or-break challenge of a sudden-death playoff and put together two pressure-packed, back-to-back strokes when he needed them most.
He kept his composure throughout, relying on a newly-found patience, and rebounded from two late-in-the-game misses that could have led to disappointment.
And, in the end, it could be said that Jake McBride overcame himself. Or, maybe the old Jake McBride.
McBride, 26, rolled in a 15-foot putt for birdie on the first playoff hole to win the rain-plagued 100th Ohio Open at Westfield Country Club on Thursday.
He defeated two-time champion Justin Lower after both had tied for the lead at the end of regulation play at 11-under 129 in the Open’s return to Westfield for the first time since 2016.
The tournament was shortened to 36 holes from its customary 54 because rain storms, sporadically accompanied by high winds and lightning, took up residence over Westfield’s magnificent new layout and hung around like a groupie at a rock concert.
Lower, a former NAIA national champion for Malone University, was forced to wait all day before getting to play as he had completed his 36 holes on Wednesday before play was suspended. The Open champion in 2012 and 2015, shot rounds of 65-64 with his 6-under 64 being his personal best in three Open appearances.
McBride, 26, went 62-67 with his opening 8-under 62 being the second-lowest round played during any Open held at Westfield.
McBride earned $10,000 for his first professional victory while Lower, 32, won $6,000 and will return to the Korn Ferry Tour.
Kent State sophomore Cade Breitenstine (69-64), former Golden Flash Nick Montes (66-67) and Wright State grad Bryce Haney (68-65) shared third place, four shots behind the medalists.
Breitenstine, who won the prestigious Bob Kepler Invitational at Ohio State during the college season, closed with a 6-under 64, the lowest score of the second round.
The playoff took place on the South’s 447-yard ninth hole. Both were in prime position off the tee, Lower along the right and McBride on the left, equidistant from the sloping green. Lower’s second shot flew over the flag and spun back to about 20 feet below the hole. He missed his uphill birdie attempt and tapped in for par.
McBride’s 9-iron from 144 yards came to a stop pin-high to the left. He surveyed the putt from every angle and rolled it dead-center.
“It was pretty flat, a left-to-right slider,” said McBride, who had bogeyed the hole at the end of regulation to fall into the tie with Lower.
McBride, a 2017 North Carolina State graduate, credited his victory to a newly-adopted mindset, which he shared with his father/caddie, Tom, the head basketball coach at Uniontown Lake High.
“I told my dad before the tournament began that I was going to play with a different approach,” he said. “I didn’t care if I played great and didn’t care if I didn’t win. I just wanted to stay calm, stay in my routine and process. I wanted to play relaxed. Patience was the key, something I might not have had before.”
The new approach worked and ended a trying 18 months for McBride.
“It’s been a rough year-and-a-half,” he said. “It’s been tough for everyone. It’s been a roller-coaster, tough, emotional year-and-a-half. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Am I good enough? Should I get a job? I had a sponsor and Covid took that away. So, to get my first professional win here and play the way I did validates what I am doing.”
One or two shots rarely make or break a tournament but there certainly are shots that go a long way in determining success or failure.
McBride can point to four shots coming down the stretch that played a huge part in the 100th Ohio Open.
The first came with McBride tied with Lower at 11-under when his tee shot on the South’s 186-yard fifth hole – McBride’s 14th of the final round – found the water to the left of the green. He took a drop then hit a delicate chip to about 12 inches and made the putt for bogey.
“That was a big up-and-down,” he said. “If I didn’t get it close maybe it’s a double. That would have killed me.”
Now behind by a shot McBride split the fairway on the 526-yard sixth and had 204 yards to the pin. His 5-iron rolled to a stop 10 feet below the hole and he cashed in for eagle and the lead.
On the par-5 eighth he was 255 yards out when thunder rolled and the siren sounded stopping play for what seemed like the 50th time this week.
When he returned his approach landed in the thick rough just off the left side. Facing another delicate shot – this time downhill – he chipped four feet past the hole but made the putt to salvage par.
McBride had a chance to win the championship in regulation but missed about a 4-foot putt for par on the final hole to fall back into a tie with Lower.
“I thought I hit a good putt but it missed on the right side,” he said. “I feel like I hit a pretty good putt and I looked up and it was right of where I thought it would be.”
He retired to the locker room and gathered his thoughts.
“I was disappointed at first but I kind of took a few deep breaths and then I was kind of good to go.”
When it was over McBride dutifully thanked his mother, Melissa, and girlfriend, Ashley, who walked with him throughout the tournament. He also thanked his dad/caddie for his guidance and support, saying, “This is the best we have ever clicked.”
He also graciously thanked everyone he could think of, from the Northern Ohio PGA, to the Westfield Country Club and its marvelous grounds crew, to his fellow competitors.
But, it might have been his newly-found demeanor that deserved the greatest thanks of all.
Tim is a Contributing Writer for the Northern Ohio PGA. Award-winning golf writer and sports reporter for the Plain Dealer, now retired. Contributor to the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, AP, other national publications.