Chuck Thatcher was about 30 seconds away from disaster during Sunday’s final round of the Frederick City Amateur Golf Championship.
The 38-year-old Boonsboro resident and three-time defending champion hit an errant tee shot on No. 14 at Clustered Spires Golf Course, which landed in a high rough, some 50 yards from the green.
Thatcher spent about four minutes looking for his golf ball in the high grass, time was running out.
Only five minutes are allowed to try and find a lost ball before a golfer must take a one-stroke penalty and having to go back to the ball’s previous position to take the shot again.
“I was that close from having to declare a lost ball,” Thatcher said. “Then, I looked down and found the ball.”
Thatcher was relieved. He was able to clear the rough on his second shot, but it landed on the green’s fringe, still about 15 feet away from the pin.
At the very least, Thatcher needed to par the hole to stay in the hunt.
He promptly sank the 15-footer from the fringe for a birdie. From there, Thatcher went on to birdie No. 15, then put together a string of three straight pars to finish his round.
It was a more stressful round than Thatcher was used to, but he survived, finishng with a two-round 137 for his fourth straight City Amateur crown, his fourth in the last five years.
Thatcher lost in a playoff back in 2014. This year, he scored a one-shot victory over Chris Bushey and Ryan Crabtree, who both shot 138s.
When Thatcher sank that crucial putt on No. 14, he was saying: “Hustle, hustle, hustle!” to the ball as it rolled toward the cup.
“Boy, that was close,” Thatcher admitted.
Even though he got himself out of trouble on No. 14, Thatcher could ill-afford to make any more mistakes.
His 69 in Saturday’s first round left him four shots off the pace. Crabtree shot a 65 on Saturday.
To have any chance of catching Crabtree on Sunday, Thatcher, a school psychologist for Frederick County Public Schools, needed to play near-flawless golf on Sunday, picking up any birdies within reach. Crabtree also needed to stumble along the way in his final round.
Both happened, but Thatcher struggled a little bit on the front nine on Sunday. He 3-putted for a bogey on No. 4 before making the par the rest of the way on the front nine. Thatcher made the turn on Sunday at 36.
He came out on the back nine and played with authority.
Thatcher birdied No. 10. A solid shot off the tee on 11 made for an easy par. Another strong tee shot on No. 12 led to another birdie.
Thatcher faced a long, uphill putt on the par-3, 165-yard 13th hole for birdie. He missed the birdie putt but was close enough to save par.
Then came trouble on No. 14, with a tee shot putting Thatcher in the thick rough. Had he not found his ball in the high grass, the ensuing second tee shot, along with the one-stroke penalty for a lost ball, might’ve knocked Thatcher out of contention.
Instead, the ball was located, Thatcher sank his momentum-saving birdie putt.
“I went from what could have been a 6 on that hole to a 3, whew!” he said.
Thatcher missed out on a chance for an eagle on the par-55-yard 15th hole, but his putt came up short. He sank a short birdie putt, but said later it wasn’t a big deal.
“I didn’t want to risk going past the hole and having to putt back to save par,” Thatcher said.
He went on to par the remaining three holes, but Thatcher had one final obstacle to overcome. On No. 18, his tee shot landed under a tree, so Thatcher’s second shot left him just short of the green.
Again, he chipped onto the green, making a 15-footer for par. Minutes later, Thatcher learned Crabtree and Bushey had fallen out of contention over the final three holes. His four-peat was safe.
Daniel Chen finished fourth with a 140. Evan Brown was fifth at 141. Ryan Richardson was sixth at 141. Erick Alonso finished seventh at 143. Brandon Berry was eighth (145), Nicholas Meija finished ninth (145) and Brett Inserra was 10th (145).
Aaron won the first flight (144). Tyler Fairley was the winner in the second flight (154). Kevin Johnson won the third flight (159). Paul Holt was the fourth flight winner (178).
There were 165 golfers in this year’s City Amateur Championship, 64 in the championship flight.