Birdie on 17 propels Bensel to State Open crown
By KEVIN DEVANEY JR.
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: July 22, 2005)
BETHPAGE — Frank Bensel had been so resilient, countering every impossibly long putt or miraculous par save Rick Hartmann made with a trick of his own.
So when Hartmann, the head pro at Atlantic Country Club, tapped in for birdie on the 16th hole yesterday during the final round of the New York State Open, it only made sense that Bensel would find a way to respond.
Bensel, a pro at Century Country Club, took the lead with a birdie on the 17th after Hartmann bogeyed, then parred the final hole to secure the State Open title at Bethpage State Park's Black Course. Bensel fired a final-round 2-under 69 to put him at 5-under for the tournament and give him his first State Open championship.
"This is the highlight of my career," Bensel said. "I knew no matter what happened I had to keep the pressure on. I had to keep making shots. I trusted it, and it worked out."
Bensel didn't really have to sweat it out in the end. Hartmann, the 1996 State Open champ, plugged his tee shot on 18 into a fairway bunker. He was barely able to get it out of the sand and found another bunker a few feet away.
It led to a triple bogey on the final hole for Hartmann, who played the last two holes in 4-over.
"That was not exactly what I had in mind," Hartmann said with a smile. "I'm definitely going to lose sleep over this one. I don't mind losing, but I definitely mind finishing that way. The whole idea is to be able to hit the shot when you need to hit them. Obviously, I didn't do it."
Despite the anticlimactic final hole, Bensel and Hartmann staged one of the most dramatic final-round duels in State Open history.
Leading by a stroke entering the round, Bensel started off strongly. He birdied Nos. 6 and 7 to go to 5-under, but Hartmann hung right with him, staying one stroke behind until the 11th.
That's where Bensel's round began to unravel. He hit his approach shot over the green on the par-4 11th and couldn't get up and down. Bensel recorded another bogey on No. 12, again going over the green and failing to save par.
Hartmann seized the opportunity. He hit his approach shot on 12 into the thick rough to the left of the pin, and his chip ran about 40 feet past the hole. Hartmann, however, rolled in the 40-footer for par to take a one-stroke lead.
Both players parred 13 and birdied the par-3 14th. After Hartmann bogeyed No. 15 to fall back into a tie with Bensel at 4-under, Hartmann seemed to secure the title on the following hole. He stuck his 145-yard approach shot on the par-4 to one foot and birdied the hole.
"I knew it wasn't over," Bensel said. "I know what can happen on 17 and 18 on this course."
Bensel bounced back on the next hole. After Hartmann hit his tee shot on the par-3 17th into the bunker, Bensel landed his tee shot to 15 feet. He drained the putt as Hartmann bogeyed, and took the lead for good.
"I knew that he used a 6-iron and hit it into the bunker," Bensel said. "I knew the 4-iron was the right club. It was probably the best shot I hit all day."