RIVERTON, N.J.-Billy Stewart of Llanerch CC combined a superb greenside touch with a lethal putting stroke to stop John Robinson of Commonwealth National GC, 8&7, in the 36-hole match play final of the 102nd Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur Championship on Saturday at Riverton CC (par 71, 6,490 yards).
Stewart, 18, joins Lincoln Roden, III of Huntingdon Valley CC as the youngest competitor to earn the J. Wood Platt Trophy. Roden was 18 when he took the Amateur in 1949.
“It’s an honor to have my name ozxn the trophy with so many other great players from this area,” said Stewart, a resident of Devon. “To be one of the youngest … is kind of a surprise.”
Past champions of the Amateur include O. Gordon Brewer, William Hyndman, III, George Marucci, Jr. and Jay Sigel. Both Robinson and Stewart were in their first Amateur final.
“If you want a term for him, Billy the Buzzsaw would be appropriate,” said Robinson, 44 of North Wales. “[But] being in this spot makes all the work and dedication to the game worthwhile.”
It as Stewart’s match from the get go.
A wayward drive on the day’s initial shot by Robinson (No. 1, par 4, 464 yards), allowed a par by Stewart to win the hole.
A birdie by the St. Joseph’s University-bound Stewart on No. 4 (par 4, 364 yards) bumped his advantage to 2-up.
Nerves gone, Stewart secured his fortunes in the next two shots. With both players staring at eight footers for birdie, Robinson had honors on No. 5 (par 4, 356 yards).
Below the hole, Robinson’s putt scraped the edge and he tapped in for four. Stewart, above the hole, displayed the fearlessness he’s shown all week with the flat stick, and drained the left to right breaker for birdie.
Now 3-up, Stewart, a recent graduate of Malvern Prep, followed with a rocket 3-iron on No. 6 (par 3, 208 yards) that came to rest 2 1/2 feet from the hole. Robinson had no counter, and in a span of two shots, Stewart had extended his lead to 4-up.
“This morning if you look at the fifth hole we both had it about eight feet and I misread [my putt],” said Robinson, who finished in the top 10 at this year’s GAP Middle-Amateur. “I thought it broke two balls right to left and I hit it out there perfectly. If I made it I would have been first in, and that beautiful iron shot on the sixth hole isn’t as impactful. And maybe he doesn’t even hit to two feet if I make it. He showed [there] that the door wasn’t going to be open at all.”
Said Stewart, “Once I got a couple up, that relaxed me. [That iron on No. 6] was my caddie [J.J. Bernato]. I wanted to hit a little 2-iron and he told me to hit a 3-iron. I hit a pure 3-iron and he was right. That was a big momentum push, it showed I was there to play.”
Stewart made the turn 4-up, and extended his advantage to 7-up after 16, before a birdie, birdie finish by the gritty Robinson earned a halve and a win on the final two holes.
Stewart entered the afternoon session 6-up.
“I still felt I could have done something,” said Robinson of heading into the afternoon 18 holes. “I had the momentum [after a birdie-birdie finish] and was trying to come after him. The final factor was on No. 4. I needed to make those [birdie] putts on No. 3 and 4 and I just didn’t make them. He wanted to shut the door and he did.”
Up five, Stewart’s drive on No. 4 (par 4, 364 yards) caught the left fairway bunker. His recovery shot carried past the hole and spun back, leaving him with 10 feet for birdie. As he displayed all week, 10 feet was nothing more 10 inches. He sank the uphill birdie to reclaim a 6-up edge.
Birdies on No. 8 (par 4, 331 yards) and No. 9 (par 5, 491 yards) lengthen his advantage before the match ended on No. 11 with a pair of pars.
“This course sets up for me,” said Stewart, who shot an incredible 3-under-par 69 in the morning round and was 3 under after 11 holes in the afternoon. “The greens are real nice and it’s kind of tight.”
Stewart, the two-time Junior Player of the Year, is the first Amateur Champion from Llanerch since George Rowbotham turned the trick in 1948. Robinson would have been the first Commonwealth National GC member to earn the title.
Stewart’s match play record over the last two plus year is remarkable. He swept through the 2000 and 2001 Junior Boys’ Championship en route back-to-back titles. In fact, his last match play defeat came in the only other Amateur Championship he’s played in. That was in 2000 at Stonewall in the first round to Francis Downey.
“I’ve done very well in match play,” said Stewart in the understatement of the week. “This week, once I got to match play, I thought I had a chance to beat anybody.”
And he did.
22. Billy Stewart, Llanerch CC, d. 25. John Robinson, Commonwealth National GC, 8&7.