A CONTRAST IN METHODS
Jim Troy holds on and Gary Rusnak finishes strong
in demanding Mitchell-Haskell Tour Championship
Pepper Pike: It doesn’t matter how you get it done as long as you get it done. Jim Troy can attest to that. One near-disastrous hole early in a round is not nearly as decisive as closing with three birdies over your final five holes.Gary Rusnak can confirm that.
And so it was on Tuesday when Troy and Rusnak closed in different fashions but prevailed in the NOPGA’s Mitchell-Haskell Tour Championship at The Country Club, which proved as testy as any course the Section has played this season.
How testy was Country’s 7,129 yards, complicated by soft fairways and greens as firm as your kitchen table? Only three players in the combined 51-player field – Troy, Rusnak and Tyler McHugh — were able to break par over the 36 holes.
Troy, who finished in a tie for second behind Jaysen Hansen in the Section Championship in late August in Mansfield, opened with an event-best 4-under 68 on Monday and closed with a precarious 75 on Tuesday for a one-under 143 and a four-shot victory over McHugh (77-70) and Jake Scott (73-74) in the Regular Division.
Rusnak had an opposite finish as he birdied three of his final five holes to win the Senior Division by four shots.
It was precarious finish for Troy, who began the day with a five-shot lead over Scott and a 6-shot bulge over Hansen and Mark Evans. He was on his way to a stress-free victory until he bogeyed the final four holes.
What had been a six-shot lead through 29 holes over Scott and a seven-shot edge on McHugh, eventually turned semi-interesting.
“Made some bad decisions and some bad swings coming down the stretch,” said Troy, the former assistant at Mt. Vernon Country Club and now associated with Honma Golf, USA. Still, Troy played superbly — given the conditions — over his first 14 holes on Tuesday to give himself a cushion to soften the blow of any collapse.
“For 30 of the 36 holes I felt I played really, really well,” he said. “I was really solid on Monday. Maybe not quite as sharp today. So, I was glad to get out with a W. This is by far my favorite course in the Cleveland area. Every time I come here I feel I’m in a good, mental spot.”
Troy, who led from wire-to-wire, began with the first of his three birdies on the day, making an 8-foot putt on the opening hole. He added another birdie on the dangerous 189-yard ninth, negotiating a 3-foot break from about 15 feet.
“That really put me in a good place,” he said. “From there I just wanted to make pars.”
His last birdie came two holes later when he chipped in from about 40 feet on the 183-yard 11th.
Chip-ins and near-disasters also were part of Rusnak’s wire-to-wire win in the Senior Division.
Rusnak, who has two top-15 finishes in Section events this season, began the day with a 3-shot lead over Section President and Portage Head Golf Professional Steve Parker and Salem Golf Club’s Tom Atchison, a four-time winner of this event.
His lead grew to six shots as he birdied the first two holes and Parker (73-76) and Atchison (73-77) opened with bogeys.
Then the near-disaster struck as Rusnak took a quadruple-8 from 115 yards on the 338-yard third. He left one shot in a bunker, hit two shots over the green in pin-ball fashion, chunked another and two-putted from 20 feet.
“It was a shock to the system after a good start, to be honest,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better start. So, I said you just have to regroup. Just try to make some pars, play smart and think out some shots and I did that.”
His recovery might have begun on the 587-yard, par-5 12th. His second shot landed in deep rough, about 40 yards short of the green. Instead of trying a heroic shot over a green-side bunker and risk having his ball roll off the green, he chipped to the front edge and two-putted for par from 70 feet.
“I showed some patience there,” he said. “I think I kind of recovered mentally right there and made some good decisions the rest of the way.”
A successful 15-foot putt gave him a birdie on the 541-yard 16th and he nearly drained a putt from about 40 feet when his ball hit the pin on 17.
“I think if the flag had not been in that might have gone in,” he said. “The greens were treacherous. They’re smooth and not overly-sloped and not unfair. But they are tough and they are fast.”
There was no such misfortune on the last as he closed with a perfect chip-in from about 60 feet for birdie as the ball died picturesquely in the hole with two or three rotations remaining.
“Great way to finish,” he said. “To win here is great, especially the way I did it. I mean, to overcome the disaster at three and then play pretty well the rest of the way, I feel good about that.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.