BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Pressure may indeed be a privilege, and history might not remember runners-up. But Jim Gardner and Cody Kersey aren’t sad they lost, they’re glad the whole thing happened.
On a cloudy Sunday at the 6,562-yard, par-72 Lebanon Country Club, Kersey and Gardner didn’t lose the championship of the 77th annual W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners golf tournament, presented by Hoaster-Gebhard Insurance Company, Jeff Castle and Bill Wingerd won it, or more accurately defended it. In a final match of the championship flight that was tight throughout, Wingerd-Castle edged Kersey-Gardner 1-up to garner the coveted title.
For all practical purposes, Castle-Wingerd captured the crown with a calculated strike at the 300-yard, par-four 17th hole. With the title match all square, Castle drove the green and calmly two-putted for the birdie that would ultimately be decisive.
Earlier in the day, Wingerd-Castle had advanced to the final match with a 3&2 victory over Brady Goodling and Steve Goodley in the semifinals. The feat matched the Sullivan title that the Baltimore-area duo had won in 2021.
In the other Sunday morning semifinal, Gardner-Kersey edged Brixton Albert-Tony Parkhurst 1-up to qualify for their first Sullivan final as a team. Of the four matches that Gardner-Kersey were involved in over the weekend, the largest margin of victory was 2&1.
Gardner has won three previous Sullivan titles, with two different partners, neither of whom was Kersey.
“I told Jeff (Castle) at one point during the match, ‘(Darn), this is fun,'” said Gardner. “It’s exciting. It stinks being on the losing end. But Cody and I played very well.
“It’s difficult getting into match play (championship flight),” continued Gardner. “And finding our way into the final was equally difficult. Then you start thinking, ‘Boy, if we’d win one more match, we’d be champions.’ We’re not members, but we’re local guys and this (the Lebanon Country Club) is our Augusta. This tournament is really special to us.”
With the match all square, Gardner rolled in a four-foot birdie putt at the par-four 11th hole. But that would proved to be Kersey-Gardner’s last lead of the final match, thanks in part to some missed opportunities and the play of Castle-Wingerd.
Following a big drive and an outstanding approach shot, Castle birdied the par-five 15th hole to set up his dramatics at Number 17.
“That was a quality shot from Jeff,” said Gardner of Castle’s tee shot at Number 17. “Then he made a good two-putt. I think Cody would say that Number 13 was a key hole too. He had a 12-13-footer (for birdie) and left it a little short. That would’ve gotten us up two holes with five to play, and would’ve really put the pressure on them. But I’m not sure that was a turning point or just a hole we didn’t get.
“At 18, we both just left it a little short,” added Gardner. “We just didn’t hit them hard enough. Those were as good of looks as you’re going to get. That one I’m really going to think about.”
“Yeah, it certainly made it difficult for them,” said Castle of his birdie at Number 17. “Billy and I have played a lot of golf here, and on the tee we decided I’d go for it and he’d lay up. It was a risky shot, but it was also one of the best drives I hit all day. It was just a great match.”
Gardner-Kersey got off to a fast start, as Gardner rolled in a short birdie at the 382-yard, par-four opening hole then drained a 20-foot birdie putt at the 507-yard, par-five second hole to put his team two-up. But over the final 16 holes Kersey-Gardner would only win one more hole.
“I was thrilled when we got two-up after two holes,” said Gardner. “We held on as long as we could. We played fine. We didn’t make a bogey, so we couldn’t have played that bad. But with how good the guys are in match play, you’ve got to make birdies. That’s what we didn’t do after (Number) 11.
“They’re (Wingerd-Castle) phenomenal players,” Gardner continued. “I told Cody, ‘They’re the defending champions for a reason. They’re so good. No one is expecting us to win. Dude, let’s have fun and really wheel it.'”
“It means a lot to us,” said Castle. “I think this one means a little more because we were the defending champions. It’s a really good field. There are a lot of good guys here.
“All of our matches were really close,” Castle added. “We went to the 17th hole in every single match. When you’re the defending champ, everyone wants to beat you bad. We did a really good job of staying in the match when we weren’t playing well. We were still figuring out how to stay in holes.”
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(at Lebanon Country Club)
2010 – Dan Brown-Brian Auman
2009 – Darren Zendt-Jim Rattigan
2008 — Ben Rowe-Robby Gilbert
2007 — Brian Golembiewski-Chris Schultz
2006 — Michael Tydings-Jeff Castle
2005 — Ira Cohen-David Kaplan
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1947 — George Robotham-Leo Heller
1946 — Buddy Lutz-Billy Eben
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