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Garden City Member, Best Friends Advance to Semifinals of 100th Travis Invitational
It was a glorious day at Garden City, N.Y., a deep-blue sky and golden light as Da Vinci or Michelangelo would have painted. Yet for all the joyous sunshine and azure skies of verdant spring, tomorrow may see another more magnificent masterpiece as Jed Raynor tries to become the first Garden City Golf Club member in 40 years to win the Walter J. Travis Invitational.
Not since Billy Edwards won in 1970 has a Garden City member claimed the title. And though the members are overwhelmingly supportive of all the players - "We root for golf here!" affirmed one member, and he's right, they do - the massive gallery that followed Raynor all afternoon certainly buoyed his spirits.
"They were right there for me from the first tee, and then another wave showed up around 13, explained Raynor. "No question having all the guys out there helped me out. It was absolutely great."
The 14th-seeded Raynor, who survived a seven-men-for-three-spots playoff just to make the 16-player bracket, defeated Scott Mackesy 3&1 in the morning match, then edged Chuck Del Priore 1-up in the afternoon to advance to the semifinals. He'll face 10th-seeded Jay Crowley Sunday morning.
A victory by Raynor in the 100th anniversary of the Travis would be a monumental achievement, a feel-good story that would echo through the centuries. He has grown up at the club, playing at Garden City since he was 15. "I played my first round here in 1976," Raynor recalls.
Raynor became a member in 1984, and has played in over 20 Travis Invitationals, but this is his first time playing in the championship flight.
"I haven't won anything in my life," he admits candidly. "Although I have lost twice in the finals of the club championship," he added, laughing. Indeed, Raynor's run thus far has been a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. Unlike many of the Travis competitors, Raynor is not a fixture on the amateur golf circuit, neither nationally nor locally. He only plays in one amateur event all year - the Travis.
"The tournament has international, national, regional, and local players in the field," explained member Pat Mucci. "With all those talented golfers, to have a member win here would be really special, and Jed's a wonderfully nice fellow and a great golfer."
"I've known Jed since he was a young lad and from then until this day he's been the same down-to-earth, easy-going guy," echoed Garden City head golf professional emeritus Gil McNally. "It would be something special."
That phlegmatic ease will suit Raynor well in the crucible of the semifinals of one of the nation's major amateur events. "I could go out and shoot 100 tomorrow and it would still be all right," he says casually. "But if I were to win the Travis tomorrow on the 100th anniversary, it would be so great for the club. I want to win for the club. It's been my home course all my life."
Raynor jumped out to a 3-up lead after the first three holes in his morning match against Mackesy. He led 4-up at the turn, but saw the lead dwindle to 2-up after 11. "He had a 4-footer on 12 to make it 1-up, and I would have been in big trouble." Mackesy missed, however, and Raynor steadied the round, halving every subsequent hole until a birdie at 17 closed out the match.
The afternoon match was a seesaw battle that saw several lead changes, until Del Priore seemed to take control at No. 15 by sinking a twisting 25-foot putt on the course's most dangerous green, surging to a 2-up lead.
"I said I had to get some birdies right then," said Raynor, and he did, making a 25-foot birdie putt of his own on 16 and then winning 17 with a two-putt birdie to tie the match. When Del Priore failed to get up and down out of the back bunker on the par-3 home hole, Raynor's par completed a stunning late comeback.
He'll face Jay Crowley, who played his way to the final by defeating Irish golfer Eoin O'Connor in 20 holes, and then T.J. Brudzinski 2-up in the afternoon.
"I missed two 3-footers early and was 3-down after six to T.J.," Crowley explains. "It was a tough start."
Crowley stayed calm and focused, and rallied. He won the ninth hole with a par, and then birdied the difficult 10th, hitting a 135-yard 9-iron to 15 feet, getting the shot to stick on a green that slopes severely away from the player. When Brudzinsky hit his approach on 16 in the water, the match was even.
Then the golf gods decided to have a laugh, and the 17th hole had more twists and turns than a Six Flags rollercoaster. "I drove in the right rough on 17 and tried to punch it down the fairway, but I hit a tree branch," said Crowley.
But fate smiled and the ball ricocheted into the middle of the fairway, about 100 yards from the green. Meanwhile, after a gargantuan drive, Brudzinski's second shot landed in the front-right bunker. Crowley hit a gap wedge to 15 feet, while Brudzinski blasted to 6 feet.
"I played my putt two cups right and it went in," Crowley said, and after Brudzinski left his birdie putt short, and then hit into the bunker on 18, Crowley's closing par won the match.
The other semifinal pits two first-time Travis competitors who are also best friends, college roommates at USC and former golf teammates. Fifth-seeded Ben Hayes (who was No. 1 at USC) will face 16th-seed Brad Shaw (No. 2) as each vies to become the first first-time competitor to win the Travis since Tim Schmitt.
The two have been inseparable for years. They even sat for their media interviews together, trading stories back and forth with the smooth ease of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. You half expected to hear a chorus of "Fight On!" and we still may.
Shaw survived a bracket that looked like what soccer fans call a "Group of Death." He had to face the No. 1 seed David Reneker, who had tied the competitive course record the day before with a blistering 6-under 67. As an interesting aside, Reneker is a UCLA Bruin, adding further intrigue to the match. The other match featured 2006 Travis champion Eoghan O'Connell squaring off against perennial threat Kevin Hammer.
"All of these guys are great players, so you have to come out and play well or you're not going to win," Shaw explained. "David and I are friends, we've known each other for a while, and we sort of played like each other today. We started out well, then started riding the bogey train."
The turning point of the match was the 10th. After hitting over the green, Shaw made a 15-foot putt to stay even and build some momentum when it looked like he might fall behind. He then won Nos. 11 and 13 and took a two-up lead to s17eventeen, where a two-putt birdie won the match. Reneker missed a 3-footer to extend the match.
Shaw then survived a back-and-forth affair with O'Connell. Neither player led by more than one hole. Things looked bleak for Shaw after he missed three short putts in a row on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to go 1-up. "I didn't feel good with my stroke at all, and once you miss a couple you start doubting yourself."
However Shaw's putter didn't get the chance to betray him again. O'Connor bogeyed 18 after hitting his tee shot on the par-3 into the front-right bunker. A two-putt from 25-feet put Shaw in the semifinal.
Meanwhile, Hayes dispatched last year's semifinalist Roger Hoit 2&1 in the morning match, then defeated Tom Yellin 3&2 in the afternoon.
"I'm really excited to get a chance to play with my best friend in a big amateur golf tournament on a course with as much history as this," said Hayes. "We both have a profound appreciation of amateur golf and we both love to compete, and to play against each other at the 100th Travis and get to know all the great members of Garden City has been beyond anything we ever could have expected."
"We know each other as well as two guys can know each other," agreed Shaw. "We've played hundreds of rounds with each other, but this will be fun because it's the only time we've ever had to really play against each other. We competed on the golf team, and we've played in fun four-balls, but nothing like this. It'll be a terrific match because Ben drives the ball great, hits his irons well and doesn't make any mistakes."
"Well Brad is an exceptional chipper and a phenomenal putter. It's going to be so much fun, but it'll also be competitive," countered Hayes. "What's best is one of us is going to have a chance to win this wonderful tournament, where there is so much history, where the members are so kind, and where the golf course is one of the greatest on the world. It's unbelievable that we're playing each other, and if I can't win it, maybe my best friend can."
"To win the 100th would be tremendous," admitted Shaw. "I'm trying not to think about that right now, but I know Ben and I are gonna laugh about this for 50 years. We get to tell our wives kids and grandchildren we played against each other in the semifinals of the 100th Travis, and that's so cool."
Brad Shaw (16) vs. Ben Hayes (5)
Jay Crowley (10) vs. Jed Raynor (14)
1st Flight (Devereux Emmet)
Albert Oh (1) vs. Greg Rolff (13)
Hal Berman (10) vs. Jerry Chang (6)
Seniors (Eisenhower Cup)
Chick Wagner (8) vs. Kevin Foster (13)
Patrick Tallent (2) vs. Jim Graham (6)
2d Flight (C.B. Macdonald)
Kevin Gai (8) vs. Greg Stebbins (5)
Daniel Macdonald (2) vs. Dan Goldstein (3)
3d Flight (Robert Trent Jones)
Albert Rabil, III (8) vs. Kirk Kashevaroff (5)
Steven White (2) vs. Jim Gentile (6)
4th Flight (William H. Taft)
Jonathan Doppelt (1) vs. Patrick Pierson (5)
Michael Deo (2) vs. Casey Alexander (3)
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.
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