FLOURTOWN, Pa.–There will be a first-time winner of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship.
Orlando, the last remaining of 13 home-club hopefuls to start the week, upended defending champion Michael McDermott of Merion Golf Club, 2&1, in a dramatic afternoon semifinal match. In his morning quarterfinal contest, Orlando stopped Sam Soeth of White Manor Country Club, a Temple University junior, 3&1.
Skyllas, battling an extreme case of foot blisters, slipped past recent La Salle University graduate P.J. Acierno of Lu Country Club, 2&1, in the semis. His other Thursday match was a 3&2 victory over Conrad Von Borsig of Philadelphia Cricket Club, the 2009 Philly Amateur Champion, in the quarters.
“It’s really special to be in this situation,” said Orlando, 26, Philadelphia, Pa. “GAP golfers are some of the best in the country and knowing my game is holding up against some of the best makes me feel pretty good. I knew Michael was the guy you wanted to beat. It’s a good feeling knowing I was able to take down one of GAP’s best.”
Said Skyllas, 30, of Reading, Pa., “This is a marathon. My feet look like I walked through hot lava. I couldn’t even feel my legs down the stretch. I tried to stay positive out there. I’m real glad I was able to take down four really good players [the last two days] and two former champions.”
Skyllas defeated 2001 Amateur Champion Brian Gillespie of St. Davids Golf Club in Wednesday’s opening round.
McDermott, 42, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., was looking to become the first repeat winner of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur since Chris Lange, Sr. in 1993-94. McDermott, who won titles in 2008, 2013 and 2016, was also hoping to join Harold McFarland (four titles) and J. Wood Platt (seven) as the only other player with more than three Amateur crowns.
“I’m happy about the week. Yesterday was a battle to get to today,” said McDermott. “I knew Gregor was going to be a real test. I’ve never played with him but I know all about him. I got off to a bad start with the short stick. Today I was driving it like I was 25 again. Unfortunately, the good short game of the last few years left.”
The McDermott-Orlando contest was a tale of two sides.
Orlando built a commanding 4-up lead through nine holes on the back of timely putting. He won Nos. 3-5, including a fantastic up-and-down on the par-3, 215-yard 5th that included a 12-foot par save and then after dropping No. 6 (par 4, 475 yards) earned victories on Nos. 8-9. Orlando’s game had him on the fast pass to Saturday’s 36-hole Final.
McDermott, in search of a spark, found it on No. 10 (par 3, 173 yards) in the form of a par. He knocked a short iron onto the green and two putted after Orlando landed in the front bunker off the tee and made bogey.
McDermott then won No. 12 (par 5, 540 yards) with a birdie to get to 2-down and then almost holed out on No. 16 (par 4, 388 yards) to move one back. In between, Orlando held McDermott at bay, in particular on Nos. 14 and 15, with bogey putts for halves. Both holes played extremely hard and difficult. McDermott had mid-range looks on both greens for wins but failed to convert.
“My charge was interrupted by my putter,” said McDermott. “It was one of those things. I don’t have a great reason why. I just didn’t putt well. I didn’t feel confident over it.”
On No. 17 (par 4, 421 yards), Orlando, before a sizeable home crowd, sealed his fate in style. He ripped a drive long and down the middle of the left turning hole. Orlando then lifted a flip wedge from 90 yards to 15 feet and drained the putt.
“That was icing on the cake,” said Orlando, a native of Erie, Pa.
Wissahickon and Orlando apparently go together like Mickey and Mouse.
In a U.S. Mid-Amateur Qualifier at the site last year, Orlando notched a hole-in-one on his final hole, No. 10, en route to medalist honors.
“It really suits my game. It’s a bomber’s golf course,” said Orlando, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2013. “There’s not much trouble even if you come off the tee poorly. It’s really a ball strikers course and suits me to a tee.”
Skyllas battled blisters on his big toes and heels, but his arches remained golden.
The McDonalds owner-operator (Berks County) limped the first few holes of the semifinal, struggling to put weight on his feet. His game, however, wasn’t wounded. He grabbed an early 2-up advantage with a birdie on No. 2 (par 4, 425 yards), followed by a routine par on No. 3 (par 3, 107 yards) that bettered Acierno’s bogey blemish.
Then, the three pain relievers kicked in. Pain subdued just in time, as Acierno had managed to bring the match back to even with a jarred birdie on the 553-yard, par-5 7th. The dueling duo made the turn All Square.
It became a battle of endurance after flipping sides. As temperatures began to rise in midst of the afternoon sun, so did the numbers on the card. An Acierno double on No. 11 (par 4, 418 yards) gave the advantage back to Skyllas, but was immediately given back with a bogey of his own on the next hole. On No. 13 (par 4, 449 yards), the turning point surfaced, where Acierno missed a short winner on the 13th green that had him staring at the cup in disbelief.
“I missed a short putt to win that one and we halved,” said Acierno. “On No. 14, I blew my drive into fescue I didn’t know existed on the course and only lost by one stroke with a triple-bogey seven. But the three-putt on No. 15 (par 3, 217 yards) was the ultimate dagger.”
In the end, it was. Acierno and Skyllas matched pars on 16 and 17, giving Skyllas the 2&1 result he needed to secure a spot in Saturday’s showdown.
Skyllas is the first Berks County golfer to reach the Final since the highly-regarded Chip Lutz in 1977.
“Just to be in any category with Chip is great,” said Skyllas. “It makes you have a lot of confidence about yourself.”
Golf Association of Philadelphia
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 153 Full Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
13. Gregor Orlando, Philadelphia Cricket Club, d. 17. Michael McDermott, Merion Golf Club, 2&1
14. Grant Skyllas, LedgeRock Golf Club, d. 18. P.J. Acierno, Lu Lu Country Club, 2&1
17. McDermott d. 24. Jay Whitby, Wild Quail Golf & Country Club, 4&3
13. Orlando d. 21. Sam Soeth, White Manor Country Club, 3&1
18. Acierno d. 7. Michael R. Brown, Jr., Lu Lu Country Club, 5&4
14. Skyllas d. 6. Conrad Von Borsig, Philadelphia Cricket Club, 3&2