LANCASTER, Pa. — Barbin brothers beware.
Zach is walking through the front door at home after winning the most prestigious prize in Philadelphia golf. And Andrew, Austin and Evan, get ready to hear about it.
Zach Barbin, a senior at Liberty University, won the 120th BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship Saturday at Lancaster Country Club (par 70, 6,694 yards). He defeated fellow collegiate Michael O’Brien, who is heading to Florida Gulf Coast University for a grad year, 5&3, in the 36-hole Final.
Barbin, a Loch Nairn Golf Club member, is the first player representing a public facility to win in the event’s history. Public courses were officially welcomed into GAP in 1996.
“If I could take the trophy home with me I’d put it on the table and tell Austin this is bigger than the GAP Junior [trophy] he won,” said a smiling Barbin. “No. Seriously. We support each other and we encourage each other. I know they are so happy for me like I was for Austin last year [Austin won multiple events en route to the GAP Junior Player of the Year in 2019]. My older brother [Andrew] already sent me a nice text. We all love each other. I’m not going to brag or anything.”
O’Brien, a Makefield Highland Golf Club member, was also looking to become the first player to represent a public facility and win. The 22-year-old recently graduated from St. Joseph’s University with a degree in sports marketing.
“It was an awesome week. I didn’t pack [enough clothes] to be here until Saturday,” said O’Brien, a Cincinnati, Ohio resident. “It was more than I expected. My game was there coming into today. [Today], it didn’t show up. If I had my best stuff, I still don’t know if I could’ve beaten Zach. He played awesome, especially on the front nine of the second 18.”
The opening 18 holes seesawed with only three holes halved. Barbin led 1-up after the first round. O’Brien, however, appeared to grab the momentum when he capped the morning session with a 22-foot birdie on No. 18 (par 4, 466 yards). He ripped a 7-iron from 175 yards.
The first lap at Lancaster took the players only two hours and 50 minutes. Players, once again, were allowed to use motorized carts per the Association’s COVID-19 policy. With inclement weather in the forecast, the finalists returned to the course just 10 minutes later.
Barbin returned red hot.
He and O’Brien halved No. 19 (No. 1, par 4, 413 yards) with short birdies, before Barbin, 21, of Elkton, Md., blitzed his opponent.
Barbin won Nos. 20-22 and Nos. 25-26 to balloon his advantage to 6-up after 27 holes. Barbin’s wedges were blistering. On No. 20 (No. 2, par 4, 378 yards), he knocked a pitching wedge from 131 yards to 50 feet and two putted for par; on No. 21 (No. 3, par 4, 399 yards), he lofted a 58-degree wedge 84 yards to five feet and on No. 22 (No. 4, par 4, 343 yards) had the identical yardage and yes, identical result, as the previous hole. The next two holes were halved with pars before Barbin gained full command of the contest. On No 25 (No. 7, par 5, 530 yards), Barbin found the fairway twice, his tee ball courtesy of a crisp 2-iron. O’Brien found the water twice, once off the tee and another with his fourth shot, and eventually conceded the hole.
“That’s when I knew my swing wasn’t there off the tee. I kind of dug myself into a hole that was too deep to come out of,” said a bespectacled O’Brien.
On the difficult No. 8 (par 3, 197 yards), the 26th hole, O’Brien flailed a 5-iron left. Barbin’s 5-iron caught the right greenside bunker. O’Brien’s chip ran through the green and he eventually made bogey. Barbin splashed out to six feet and sank what he called “one of his better putts of the match.”
“It was straight downhill. I barely started it,” said Barbin.
Barbin stood dormie with six holes to go. O’Brien stood true to his alma mater’s motto: “The Hawk Will Never Die.” He won Nos. 31-32. Not with a bird of prey, but a pair of birdies. On No. 31 (No. 13, par 5, 548 yards), he dazzled with a spectacular pitch after a wayward 5-wood approach that landed near the 11th tee. He dropped a wedge from 77 yards to an inch. O’Brien’s “best drive of the week” came next (No. 14, par 4, 404 yards). Another sparkling approach, a 58-degree wedge from 96 yards, stopped 15 feet above the hole. O’Brien’s back-to-back birdies sliced the deficit to 4-down.
Barbin maintained his calm demeanor — a characteristic displayed all week at Lancaster. He found the fairway on No. 33 (No. 15, par 4, 441 yards). He rocketed a 166-yard 6-iron up the hill to 15 feet left of the flag. O’Brien’s tee shot landed in the right rough. He skied a pitching wedge over a tree, but Lancaster’s demanding putting surfaces tend to escort golf shots to unintended destinations. O’Brien was 50 feet away above the hole. His birdie try never threatened and stopped in the fairway, yes, fairway, after sliding the whole way down the slope. He chipped back up to five feet staring at bogey.
Barbin made certain O’Brien’s wings were clipped. Needing two putts for the win, Barbin did one better. He buried the treacherous left-to-right curling 15-footer. A Champion was crowned.
“I figured the higher I played it, the better chance I had at stopping it by the hole. I was not trying to make that putt. I was just trying to make par. When you are in the moment, things go the right way,” said Barbin.
In relation to par, Barbin, with usual match play concessions, played the last 15 holes in 4 under. He never trailed in a match prior to the Final all week. In the Final, he was 1-down after No. 6 (par 3, 175 yards), but immediately responding by winning No. 7.
In his other four BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship appearances, Barbin made match play only once. That a year ago at Stonewall, where he lost in the Round of 32 to Kyle Deisher. In the 2019 Joseph H. Patterson Cup at Applebrook Golf Club, Barbin register his top GAP finish with a tie for ninth place.
“I’ve been in the mix here and there. I haven’t really won anything this big in my career,” said Barbin. “To be able to break the ice and win something like this is just an honor. Especially being one of the oldest tournaments in golf. There are no words to describe how I’m feeling. I worked really hard on my game so the fact I’ve put myself in this position and the fact I got it done and my game held up under pressure. I’m proud of myself.”
3. Zach Barbin, Loch Nairn GC, d. 9. Michael O’Brien, Makefield Highlands GC, 5&3
Celebrating Amateur Golf since 1897, GAP, also known as the Golf Association of Philadelphia, is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 288 Member Clubs and 75,000 individual members are spread across the Eastern half of Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey and Delaware. The GAP’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
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