Only one thought went through Dennis Dolci’s mind when he bogeyed to fall out of the lead with two holes remaining in the Tri-State PGA Championship.
“Honestly, I just told myself to relax because I had two holes to make birdie coming in,” Dolci said. “I just thought of taking it one shot at a time and getting good drives in and see what I could do, and that’s what I tried to focus on.”
His technique worked, as the Tam O’ Shanter club pro birdied the final two holes Tuesday to finish 7-under 137 to win his first TSPGA championship, beating Wheeling Country Club’s Jason Martin by one stroke at St. Clair Country Club.
“It’s our section championship, to me it’s our most important [event] and I’m very excited, believe me,” Dolci said. “St. Clair, it’s such a great venue, and to win it here is really exciting.”
Dolci, who shot an opening-round 4-under 68, came out of the pack on a day in which five golfers owned or shared the lead. First-round leader John Aber from Allegheny Country Club shot even par and finished tied for third with Jason Robinson at 5 under.
Robinson was the first to take the lead from Aber when he birdied three of the first four holes to move 6 under. But his time at the top was brief, as he bogeyed the next two holes and fell off the pace.
“I hit a three-putt on No. 5 and missed a short par putt on the next one and just kind of hung in there for a while,” Robinson said. “I made a couple mistakes here and there. … but you just have to hang in there, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
That was certainly true for Valley Brook Country Club’s Bob Meyer. He opened the day at 1 over, then shot a blistering 7-under 29 on the front nine that vaulted him to a two-shot lead on Aber and Robinson at the turn. But a couple bogeys and missed chances erased any opportunity at completely overcoming the six-shot deficit he faced coming into the final round.
“I made a lot of putts on the front and then I three-putted 11 and missed a short birdie putt on 13 after I hit it right where I wanted to,” Meyer said. “I made two bogeys on the back, but I’m ecstatic. I played great.”
As Meyer faltered, Martin made his run on the back nine. He was 2 under in the front and closed with a 4-under 32 on the back to give him the lead in the clubhouse at 6 under with three groups still on the course.
“It’s certainly nerve-wracking, especially when you know you’ve got a player like Dolci right behind you that has the ability to hit fairways and knock it on the green,” Martin said. “I had an eagle putt on 18 and I felt like I had to make it and, unfortunately, I didn’t.”
Martin took the lead at 5 under just before Dolci took off. He birdied four of the final five holes with the only exception being the near-disastrous bogey on No. 16.
“I just tried to stay in the moment and I knew I needed to get 14 and I was in that iffy zone whether to go for [the green in two] or not,” Dolci said. “I hit a good 3-wood up in there just short of the green and got it up and down.
“Then on [par-3] 15, I hit a chip 5-iron in there to 4 or 5 feet and made the putt, and that got me going.”
All five players who had a share of the lead in the final round, as well as sixth-place finisher Bob Ford of Oakmont, qualified for the PGA Professional National Championship, June 28-July 1, 2015 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
“The goal was to get in and get to nationals again and that was achieved,” Martin said. “The second part of the goal was to win, and I didn’t lose. Someone else beat me and that’s good for him.”