OTTAWA – Golf is a sport that relies heavily on sportsmanship and etiquette, and it was never more evident than during Sunday’s final round of the 75th annual Pine Hills Invitational.
Ottawa’s own Baley Lehr capped a crazy, back-and-forth four-man race to the finish by sinking a tough 12-foot downhill putt on the final hole to edge Jason Buffone of New Lenox by one stroke for the championship.
But it was an act of sportsmanship by Buffone that gave Lehr the chance at the winning putt.
Lehr’s second shot on No. 18 appeared to the foursome to have gone into the water. However, Buffone took the time to look for the ball, found it and pointed it out to Lehr just in time to prevent him from having to take a penalty stroke.
Lehr hit the shot from there to the high side of the sloping green, but cooly drilled the putt straight in to claim his second PHI crown. He had previously won the event in 2018 by making a birdie on the final hole to win by one stroke.
“I thought (the putt) might be for the championship, but I wasn’t sure. I knew it might be among our group, but I wasn’t sure of anyone in front of us,” Lehr said. “The whole tournament, I’d over-read every single putt, trying to read a break into it when there wasn’t one, so this time I decided to try and hit it straight and it went straight, right into the hole … It was a lucky par.
“There was a lot of difficulty on that last hole. I hit a good tee shot, but I overdrew it and got into the long rough. I was sitting down, tried a shot that I shouldn’t have and thought I was in the water. Fortunately, Jason went down there and found it just as I was about to hit a third shot, so not having to take that pretty much saved me right there.
“There are some people who wouldn’t have done that. He’s a good dude. I’m very thankful for him.”
Buffone, who shook off a rocky start to climb back to even and contention with Lehr (-1) and Streator’s Austin Gass (E) by the middle of the 18-hole day, knew to look because just the day before, his father, Aldo Buffone of Schererville, Ind., had done the same thing on the same hole.
His son found it then and repeated the act on Sunday to give the one man he was chasing entering No. 18, Lehr, the chance at the title.
“Because it happened to my dad, I knew to look and we found it,” Buffone said. “Today we found it about a foot (away from the water). I asked him what ball he was playing and told him, ‘Hey, it’s right here.’ … No one wants to win a tournament on something like that. You want to play the right way and see what happens. I should have had an up-and-down on that hole to force a playoff. That would have been nice, but he deserved it.”
Other winners on the day included J.D. Joanis of Ottawa, who won A Flight with a score of 155, three strokes better than runners-up Ron Noel of Ottawa and Jim Gulbranson of Manteca, Cal.
Lehr’s father, Brian Lehr, was the Seniors champion after shooting the best single round of the day, a 69, to finish at 145, three shots better than runner-up John Wright of Aurora.
The Super Senior champion was Mokena’s John Finnin with a 150 to edge Mt. Prospect’s Dan Caporusso by two.