LANCASTER, Pa. — A pair of college upstarts can immediately cement their GAP legacy with one more victory in the 120th BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship.
Zach Barbin, a Liberty University senior, and Michael O’Brien, who is heading to Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall, advanced to the 36-hole Final on Saturday at Lancaster Country Club (par 70, 6,634). The title tilt, the first for both, begins at 7:50 a.m. Spectators are not allowed due to the Association’s COVID-19 policy.
Barbin, a Loch Nairn Golf Club member, and O’Brien, a Makefield Highlands Golf Club member, each won two matches on Wednesday to set up a showdown for the J. Wood Platt Trophy, presented to the Amateur Champion. It is the first time that two players representing public facilities will meet in the Final.
The last non-private club member to become a finalist was Greg Jarmas in 2012. He represented Philadelphia Publinks GA.
Barbin eliminated Lukas Clark of Galloway National Golf Club in the quarterfinals, 3&2, before ending Brian Gillespie’s dream run at a second Amateur title, 4&3, in the semifinals. Gillespie won the 2001 Amateur. O’Brien cruised past former St. Joseph’s University teammate and friend Richard Riva of Bent Creek Country Club, 7&6, in the quarters. He then survived a taunt, well-played contest against Matt Mattare of Saucon Valley Country Club, 1-up, in the semifinals.
O’Brien graduated from St. Joseph’s University with a sports marketing degree a month ago. He won two tournaments and lost another in a playoff. Barbin is still winless at the collegiate level yet presents a handful of Top-15 finishes to his credit.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, O’Brien has one more year of NCAA eligibility and is heading to FCGU. Barbin has two years of eligibility left.
Ironically, both Liberty and Florida Gulf Coast are members of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“I said yesterday I was playing with house money. I wasn’t playing great coming in. To play competitive golf again and to make it this far and have 36 holes on Saturday is a blast,” said O’Brien, 22, of Philadelphia, Pa. “You have to learn that tournament golf is tournament golf but it’s still golf. You go out and have fun and do your best. Bad things are going to happen. You are going to have putts that don’t go in and you are going to hit bad shots. You just try to have fun and not worry about what happens at the end of the day.”
“I’m a little overwhelmed honestly,” Barbin, 21, of Elkton, Md., said. “I kind of took each hole one at a time and each opponent one at a time. Coming into this tournament, I was playing really well. Playing at [Chesapeake Bay Golf Club] with my brothers, I had a lot of rounds in the 60s. I thought my game was trending in the right direction. I had a good confidence coming into here.”
In the quarterfinal battle of Hawks, O’Brien was hot, Riva was not. The former took the first two holes and made the turn 4-up. O’Brien then won the first three holes of the back nine to close the contest.
O’Brien didn’t miss a shot or putt against Mattare, either. He finished, with concessions, the equivalent of 3-under par. He opened a 2-up lead on Mattare with wins on Nos. 2 (par 4, 376 yards) and 3 (par 4, 369 yards). On No. 2, he holed a pitching wedge from 140 yards for an eagle two and then on No. 3, hooked his tee ball, with a 4-iron, but knocked a 60-degree wedge from 60 yards to three feet for a birdie. Mattare reduced the deficit to one on No. 8 (par 3, 197 yards) with a sensational chip-in from the left bunker fringe. Each registered two victories apiece on Nos. 12 through 15, though O’Brien always led.
The 16th hole, a par 4 measuring 355 yards, afforded Mattare his best chance at drawing even down the stretch. Mattare stared down a 40-foot birdie try that looked destined for the bottom of the cup.
“I had a beat on it. I thought I had it three feet off the clubface, I thought I had it 15 feet off the clubface, I thought I had it one inch from the hole. I don’t know how it didn’t go in,” said Mattare, 34, of Jersey City, N.J.
The ball turned left at the very end.
Two pars on No. 17 (par 3, 181 yards), including a Mattare 10-foot save to extend the match, sent the contest to the final hole. On No. 18 (par 4, 445 yards), both players crushed drives and landed in the fairway. Both players also found the putting surface, Mattare from 155 yards and O’Brien from 145 yards, respectively. On pretty much the same line, O’Brien played first from 30 feet. He rolled his birdie try to a foot and par was conceded. Mattare faced a must make now from 25 feet. A little too much pace saw the try roll past the high side.
“I shot 68 in the afternoon and lost. Any day this week if you would have said, ‘You want to sign up for 68 and see what happens,’ I would have taken it,’” said Mattare, whose semifinal appearance is his deepest run in a GAP Amateur. “Mike played great. He was rock solid. It’s one of those moments where you didn’t lose it, he won it. That makes you sleep better. It still stings. He kept the pressure on all day.”
“I’ve never been able to get over the hump about worrying just about myself,” said O’Brien, who is staying at the Rivas house in Lancaster, Pa. “I’m always worried about what the other guy is doing. This week I was like, ‘Worry about your swing. Worry about getting yourself in the right spots. Play smart. If he beats you, he beats you. Don’t let myself let him beat me.’”
Like O’Brien, Barbin displayed methodical shotmaking and proficient putting throughout his victories Wednesday. In the morning against Clark, he holed an 84-yard wedge shot for eagle on No. 7 (par 5, 529 yards) to move to 2-up. Barbin added another birdie on the par 4, 450-yard 12th hole, where he hit a 7-iron 160 yards to 14 feet. Taming fast Flynn greens while preventing any push from Clark, a Penn State University senior.
“Against Lukas, I did a great job positioning myself,” Barbin said. “I had a lot of uphill putts throughout the day. When you get past these pins or on certain sides of these greens, putting is really hard. For the most part, I was putting uphill, which really helped with lag putting. I’m not used to this type of green speed, so I’ve been spending time in between matches on the practice green.”
Those sessions again seemed apparent in the semifinals. Barbin birdied two of the first three holes to grab a 2-up advantage. On No. 1 (par 4, 413 yards), he leaked a drive into the right fairway bunker. He then hit a 9-iron 150 yards to 40 feet.
“I was just trying to make par. It was on a perfect line and I started walking after it,” Barbin, a marketing major at Liberty, said. “As I was walking, it started turning more. I thought, ‘This looks pretty good.’ It snuck in at the end. I was not expecting [to make birdie].”
Wedge shots to six feet on No. 3 (par 4, 369 yards), three feet on No. 5 (par 4, 360 yards) also resulted in birdies and a Barbin buffer. Gillespie poked and prodded, but failed to find a chink in his opponent’s armor.
“It’s early, but you know you have some work to do [when you’re 3-down through five holes]. He’s putting well, and putting is huge out here this week,” Gillespie, 45, of Newtown Square, Pa., said. “Zach putted beautifully. He never blinked or wavered. Congrats to him.”
For his part, Gillespie assembled a collection of Amateur conquests worth commendation. He dispatched two-time defending champion Jeremy Wall in the Round of 32; co-medalist Jalen Griffin in the Round of 16 and reigning William Hyndman, III Player of the Year Jeff Osberg in the quarterfinals. Gillespie drained an improbable 50-footer on No. 17 (par 3, 182 yards) to ultimately edge the latter, 1-up.
Osberg, a Pine Valley Golf Club member, was looking to reach the Amateur Final in consecutive years.
“From the second he hit the putt I knew it was going to be good. From a few feet out, you could tell it was definitely going in,” Osberg, 35, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., said. “It was a really big point in the match.”
“It’s one of those putts that you hit and feel that it has a chance from the get-go. It rolled in beautifully,” Gillespie, a St. Davids Golf Club member, said. “I was fortunate enough to beat three players who are better than me and finally lost to one. The Philly Am has a sweet spot for me because of my history in this event. [The 2001 Amateur] is probably the biggest win of my career. I always thought I’d have another shot at it. This year set up nicely for me. It all kind of came together for me this week.”
Barbin is a win away from joining Gillespie and Osberg (2014) on the Amateur Champions list. But the Barbin name isn’t foreign to GAP annals altogether. Barbin’s brother Austin stormed the Junior circuit a year ago en route to Junior Player of the Year honors.
“He motivates me. Not just because he had a great summer last year. More that he’s a great player and I get to learn from him,” Zach said. “I see Austin win. I see my teammates at Liberty win. I’m kind of always in the mix. I’m playing solid golf but I haven’t won anything yet. Now I finally have a good opportunity.”
9. Michael O’Brien, Makefield Highlands GC, d. 12. Matt Mattare, Saucon Valley CC, 1-up
3. Zach Barbin, Loch Nairn GC, d. 18. Brian Gillespie, St. Davids GC, 4&3.
9. O’Brien d. 32. Richard Riva, Bent Creek CC, 7&6.
12. Mattare d. 4. Peter Barron, III, Galloway National GC, 2&1.
18. Gillespie d. 7. Jeff Osberg, Pine Valley GC, 1-up.
3. Barbin d. 6. Lukas Clark, Galloway National GC, 3&2.
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