HAVERTOWN, Pa.–Childhood buddies Cole Berman and Michael Davis have competed against each other since they were 7 years old. Saturday, the two rising college sophomores vie for the ultimate prize in Philadelphia golf, the Amateur Championship.
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Best friends, Berman and Davis, both 19, won two matches apiece on Thursday at a wet Llanerch Country Club to advance to the 115th BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship 36-hole Final. The title match, likely the youngest in the long, illustrious history of the event, begins at 7:30 a.m.
Berman, of Rosemont, Pa., defeated Chris Fuga of Overbrook Golf Club, 2&1, in his semifinal contest after a resounding 6&5 victory over newcomer Justin Hare of Five Ponds Golf Club in the quarterfinals. Davis, a Newtown Square, Pa., resident, upended Benjamin Smith of Huntingdon Valley Country Club, 1-up, in his semi match after a thrilling 20-hole quarterfinal win over two-time BMW Philadelphia Amateur Champion Michael McDermott.
“Michael’s (Davis) my best friend. We are close. Our families are close,” said Berman, who just completed his freshman year at Georgetown University. “We both said coming in what if we play each other in the Finals. And sure enough, we both made match play and slowly but surely won the matches. Now we are head to head on Saturday. It’s going to be really fun. [No] matter who comes out on top, it’s going to be great.”
Added Davis, a Princeton University sophomore-to-be, “I don’t think it will really affect us. We’ve had matches in the past and we’ve played against each other for so long. We’ve had tough matches that we’ve had to deal with. It might even make it easier because we can go out there and really enjoy it.”
Both traveled the AJGA, IJGT and U.S. Kids Golf circuits. They attended rival Inter-Ac League high schools. Malvern Prep’s Davis winning the League title his freshman and senior years; Haverford School’s Berman doing so in his sophomore and junior seasons.
“It’s different [playing against your best friend]. It’s more relaxed,” said Berman, seeded No. 2 after qualifying. “We are definitely going to have some fun but at the same time we are both going to try and definitely win. We are both competitive. We had a little rivalry [in high school], and we still have it. We both want the best [for each other].”
Berman’s date in the last Amateur pairing of the year looked questionable through the first 12 holes of his semifinal match. He trailed the third-seeded Fuga, 1-down, and was searching for answers. What he found was a pep talk from caddie and dad Peter, and a renewed focus.
He knocked a wedge on No.13 (par 4, 301 yards) from 87 yards to five feet for birdie to even the match. Berman then grabbed the lead for good on No. 14 (par 4, 453 yards), when his approach landed a few paces short of the green before a smooth up-and-down followed. Fuga found the right greenside bunker and missed his par try. On No. 15 (par 4, 317 yards), Berman, and his intent stare, moved 2-up. He knocked a 92-yard sand wedge to six feet and converted the birdie try. Pars on Nos. 16 (par 5, 540 yards) and 17 (par 3, 144 yards) sealed the win.
“I needed it. I was self destructing and letting it get away,” said Berman of the fatherly pep talk. “He definitely helped out. I picked my head up and moved forward. His advice isn’t as much golf related as it is just mental. It’s more fatherly advice. He’s watching from a different perspective than I see. He knows me better than anyone, so he knows what works for me and what doesn’t. So when he says something I listen … sometimes.”
In the mean time, Davis found himself in a roller-coaster match versus the five-seeded Smith. A match that started with a bang when Davis holed out from 194 yards for eagle with his treasured hybrid.
“It was an uphill, into-the-wind shot. I put it about 20 feet right of the pin, and it curled right in,” Davis recalled.
After losing No. 2 (par 4, 429 yards) to Smith, Davis bounced back with wins on Nos. 3 (par 4, 457 yards) and 5 (par 5, 554 yards) thanks to saving pars where Smith carded bogeys.
The back nine of the duos’ match was jam-packed with back-and-forth play. While Smith birdied both Nos. 10 (par 4, 436 yards) and 12 (par 3, 167 yards), Davis won the 11th (par 4, 457 yards) with a successful two putt.
Davis, seeded No. 8, headed to the 17th (par 3, 144 yards) tee dormie. His lead was cut in half when Smith jarred a clutch birdie putt from distance, one of his many on the day, to extend the match to Llanerch’s finishing hole.
“I knew he was putting well, and he had an uphill, left-to-right putt there. Under the pressure, I didn’t think that ball was going to go in, but Ben hit a great putt,” said Davis.
No. 18 (par 4, 318 yards) ultimately proved to be the stage for Davis’ semifinal victory. Both players reached the green in two, missed the proceeding birdie putts, and settled for par 4s.
“I was fortunate enough to put up some good shots when I needed them. Ben played great today. He may not of had his best stuff. He lost his driver later in the match, but he made a ton of clutch putts,” said Davis. “There were a lot of good shots during that match between the both of us.”
In his quarterfinal match, Davis faced a true test when he went up against McDermott, the No. 16 seed.
“It was a good match but neither of us really had our good stuff early. After the 12th (hole is really where I turned around and started playing better,” said Davis. “It was really cool to play against Michael and come out on top. He’s been a mentor to me for the past 5 to 10 years.”
The back-and-forth match extended to 20 holes, where Davis ultimately knocked Merion Golf Club’s McDermott after sticking a pitching wedge to three feet from 148 yards out and sinking the birdie putt.
NOTES–Berman is looking to become the ninth Cricketeer to win the Amateur trophy. The last was John Hendrickson in 1963 … Davis would be the fourth Aronimink member to triumph in the Association’s oldest event. R. Jay Sigel, in 1987, was the last … the youngest Amateur Champion ever was Lincoln Roden, III of Huntingdon Valley Country Club, in 1949 at age 18. He was just days younger than Billy Stewart of Llanerch Country Club, who also won the championship at age 18, at Riverton Country Club in 2002 … Berman is the reigning Joseph H. Patterson Cup champion, after a victory last year at Tavistock Country Club. If Berman was to win the Amateur, he would be the first to hold both trophies since McDermott. McDermott won the 2007 Patterson Cup followed by the 2008 Amateur. In fact, McDermott also held the 2008 Middle-Amateur title at the time.
BMW Philadelphia Amateur
The BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship is the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s premier event. Participants must first advance through a one day, 36-hole stroke play qualifier to gain one of 32 available match play positions. Those who qualify for match play must advance through four matches in two days to reach the Amateur Final, which is typically held on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend. The winner receives the J. Wood Platt Trophy; its namesake holds a record-seven Amateur Championship titles.
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 151 Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. 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.
8. Michael Davis, Aronimink GC, d. 5. Benjamin Smith, Huntingdon Valley CC, 1-up.
2. Cole Berman, Philadelphia Cricket Club, d. 3. Christopher Fuga, Overbrook GC, 2&1.
8. Davis d. 16. Michael McDermott, Merion GC, 20 holes.
5. Smith d. 4. Christopher Crawford, Spring Mill CC, 1-up.
2. Berman d. 23. Justin Hare, Five Ponds GC, 6&5.
3. Fuga d. 6. Chris Lange, Jr., Overbrook GC, 6&5.