LANCASTER, Pa.–Richard Riva arrived at Lancaster Country Club (par 70, 6,588 yards)Tuesday morning looking to survive a 9-for-4 playoff to make match play. He exited the William Flynn gem hours later a BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship Quarterfinalist. In between, he drained an incredible 35-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to grab the final match play spot; defeated No. 1 seed Will Davenport in a first-round match and carded perhaps his “best round of golf” ever to eliminate Round of 16 opponent Chris Cerminaro of Elkview Country Club.
The lone Lancaster, Pa. area resident remaining in the field still may face his greatest challenge yet come 8 a.m. Wednesday when the 120th BMW Philadelphia Amateur resumes. His next opponent is Michael O’Brien. The St. Joseph’s University teammates and friends graduated just weeks ago. In fact, the two were freshman roommates.
“It’s crazy. He’s stayed at my house for the last six days. We were joking what are the odds of playing against either and now it’s happening,” said Riva, 22, of Bent Creek Country Club, who graduated with a degree in risk management and insurance. “I think it’ll be pretty relaxed. We’ve played more than 100 rounds together. It’ll be the most fun tournament I’ve even been in.”
O’Brien did his part to keep the house party reunion possible with a Round-of-16 thriller against Dawson Anders of Indian Valley Country Club. O’Brien edged Anders, a Temple University senior, with a par on the 20th hole (No. 2, par 4, 374 yards) to advance. St. Joe’s taking the Big 5 battle. Earlier, in a Round of 32 contest, O’Brien defeated No. 24 seed Patrick Knott of Merion GC, 3&2.
O’Brien, a two-time winner in college, is going to extend his career for one more season with the NCAA waiver for eligibility due to COVID-19. He is headed to Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla., next season.
This is O’Brien’s deepest Amateur push in three tries.
“Honestly right now, we are sitting in the pool together enjoying a beer before dinner,” said O’Brien, 22, of Philadelphia, Pa., and Makefield Highlands Golf Club early in the evening. “[Richard’s] been playing amazing and I keep telling him to give golf a shot after school but we’ll see where that goes. Tomorrow is just going to be pure fun. Either way, I’ll be happy because I just want one of us to win. It would be so cool. But for 18 holes tomorrow morning, it’ll just be another fun day on the course with my buddy.”
Riva is competing in his first BMW Philadelphia Amateur. He cited prior Junior (before college) and family commitments (during college) as reasons he hasn’t teed it up in GAP’s oldest, and most prestigious, championship.
A Lancaster Catholic High School graduate, Riva entered the day knowing he “couldn’t make any bad swings. I had to be mentally sharp with the way the golf course is playing.” Lancaster is playing fast, firm and in championship condition.
In Riva’s match with Whitemarsh Valley Country Club’s Davenport, who shared medalist honors with Jalen Griffin after a 1-under 69 in Stroke-Play Qualifying Monday, he evened the match with a birdie on No. 6 (par 3, 152 yards) before eventually moving 2-up with a par on No. 12 (par 3, 182 yards). At the par 3, he knocked an 8-iron to eight feet. Davenport’s tee ball landed in the greenside creek. He moved 2-up at the time before eventually defeating Davenport, 2&1.
Against Cerminaro in the Round of 16, Riva was a buzz saw. He won three of the first four holes and never looked back.
“That was maybe the best round of golf in my life,” said Riva. He was the equivalent of 2-under par through 15 holes before closing out the match. Again, the difficulty in which Lancaster is playing is a story onto itself. Any round under par is borderline spectacular. Riva reflected on only one other time his game showed this well. It was when he advanced through U.S. Open Local Qualifying at Moselem Springs Golf Club a few years back.
On the other side of the bracket, 2001 Amateur Champion Brian Gillespie of St. Davids Golf Club remains alive after facing a daunting gauntlet.
Gillespie, the No. 18 seed, drew two-time reigning BMW Philadelphia Amateur Champion Jeremy Wall of Manasquan River Golf Club in the Round of 32. Saying he had nothing to lose, Gillespie played from in front all day. He led Wall 1-up through nine holes and then swept Nos. 10-12 to gain control. He won 4&3. Facing co-medalist Griffin next, Gillespie again made his opponent do the chasing. He was 2-up at the turn and 4-up after 14. He defeated Griffin by the same 4&3 score.
“It almost took the pressure to have a draw like that,” said Gillespie, 45, of Newtown Square, Pa. “They are fantastic players. No one was expecting me to do much. I’m just out there trying to hit golf shots.”
Wall, 24, of Brielle, N.J., was looking to become the first player in the event’s 120-year history to win three straight titles.
“I didn’t start off well, and Brian started off well. He had a couple of birdies early on, and that was kind of the tale of the match. He just played a little bit better,” Wall said. “He made all of the putts he had to make. I just didn’t make any putts or hit many decent shots. There isn’t any kind of shock that I lost.”
Gillespie hasn’t played a competitive tournament since the Crump Cup in September. However, he does have a familiarity with Lancaster, competing regularly in the Philadelphia PGA Section’s A.B. Thorn Memorial Pro-Am. hosted annually at the club.
Gillespie is hoping his game is getting to a good place.
He worked with noted instructor Bradley Hughes in South Carolina a few years ago to retool his swing in hopes of more consistent ball striking.
“I’ve been working on a couple things the last couple of years. I’ve been sticking with it. It comes and goes but it’s better than it was for me. I’m just going to continue to work and whatever happens, happens,” said Gillespie. “That was 2½ years ago and I’m still working on body to make those positions happen. I was very fortunate to spend some time with him. I’m not going to light it up but I’m definitely better than I was. It certainly is great to play good golf in the biggest event of the year. That’s a bonus.”
How does the Gillespie now compare to the one who won the 2001 title?
“I remember [winning it] but golf to me was different back then,” said Gillespie. “I didn’t know anything about the golf swing, nothing. I just saw a shot and tried to hit it. The last 15 years I’ve been trying to figure it out. I feel like I’m trending in the right.”
And maybe toward a second title.
NOTES: Anders advanced to the Round of 16 with a 1-up victory on Brian Isztwan of Huntingdon Valley Country Club. That was a rematch of the 2017 Junior Boys’ Championship Final at Spring Ford Country Club in which Anders won 6&4.
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.
Round of 16
32. Richard Riva, Bent Creek CC, d. 16. Chris Cerminaro, Elkview CC, 5&3.
9. Michael O’Brien, Makefield Highlands GC, d. 8. Dawson Anders, Indian Valley CC, 20 holes.
4. Peter Barron, III, Galloway National GC, d. 20. Matt Finger, DuPont CC, 3&2.
12. Matt Mattare, Saucon Valley CC, d. 28. Nate Menon, LedgeRock GC, 1-up.
18. Brian Gillespie, St. Davids GC, d. 2. Jalen Griffin, Five Ponds GC, 4&3.
7. Jeff Osberg, Pine Valley GC, d. 10. Patrick Sheehan, Talamore CC, 1-up.
3. Zachary Barbin, Loch Nairn GC, d 19. P.J. Acierno, LuLu CC, 6&4.
6. Lukas Clark, Galloway National GC, d. 22. Cory Siegfried, Aronimink GC, 5&4.
Round of 32
32. Riva d. 1. Will Davenport, Whitemarsh Valley CC, 2&1.
16. Cerminaro d. 17. Michael R. Brown, Jr., LuLu CC, 1-up.
8. Anders d. 25. Brian Isztwan, Huntingdon Valley CC, 1-up.
9. O’Brien d. 24. Patrick Knott, Merion GC, 3&2.
4. Barron, III d. 29. Nicholas Vecellio, Moselem Springs GC, 5&4.
20. Finger d. 13. Ryan Tall, Spring Ford CC, 2-up.
28. Menon d. 5. Michael Davis, Aronimink GC, 3&2.
12. Mattare d. 21. Andrew Mason, Huntingdon Valley CC, 1-up.
2. Griffin d. 31. Jack Irons, Little Mill CC, 8&7.
18. Gillespie d. 15. Jeremy Wall, Manasquan River GC, 4&3.
7. Osberg d. 26. Oscar Mestre, Overbrook GC, 4&2.
10. Sheehan d. 23. Conor McGrath, Huntingdon Valley CC, 4&3.
3. Barbin d. 30. Calen Sanderson, Jericho National GC, 2&1.
19. Acierno d. 14. Campbell Wolf, Carlisle CC, 19 holes.
6. Clark d. 27. Grant Skyllas, LedgeRock GC, 4&3.
22. Siegfried d. 11. J.T. Spina, Spring Ford CC, 2&1.