PUNXSUTAWNEY — Golf can be one of, if not the most, unpredictable sport there is, and that proved to be the case Saturday at the District 9 Golf Championships as Clarion-Limestone junior Hayden Siegel made a historic final round charge to become the Lions’ first-ever D-9 champ on the links.
Siegel started the final round tied for seventh place, six shots behind leader and defending champ Connor Alfieri of Smethport — who posted a 78 compared to Siegel’s 84 last Monday in the opening round of districts.
Siegel was the only competitor — in both the AA and AAA events — to break 80 Saturday as he carded a 5-over 77 to pass six golfers who were ahead if him to begin the day. His 77 tied for the best round of the two-day championship event.
Bradford’s Spencer Cornelius also recorded a 77 in Monday’s opening round of the Class AAA event. He followed that up with an 81 Saturday to win the AAA title by 21 strokes over DuBois senior Kaleb Hand, who collected the second qualifying spot for regionals in that classification with a 179 (90-89).
Siegel and Hand were two of the three area golfers to punch their ticket Saturday to the PIAA West Regional Tournament at Tom’s Run Golf Course. The duo will be joined in Blairsville by Elk County Catholic senior Wil Uberti, who garnered the sixth and final regional spot in Class AA with a two-round score of 170 (84-86).
Uberti and Hand joined in the comeback theme Saturday, as both started day outside of regional qualifying spot. Uberti opened final round play tied for seventh with Siegel with an 84, while Hand was third in Class AAA with that 90.
Siegel opened Saturday with a bang as he drained a 12 foot-plus birdie putt on the par-4 383-yard 1st hole with a light falling while playing in the next to last AA pairing.
While he didn’t know it at the time, that early birdie played a huge part in his comeback as Alfieri recorded a 7 on the opening hole after hitting his approach shot long and out of bounds in the final AA group. Those two scores alone cut the Siegel’s deficit from six down to two as he played the second hole.
Siegel also benefited from another key birdie on No. 10, as he chipped in from a green-side bunker to card a 3 on the par-4.
While Siegel played steady from there on the back nine, a key miscue by Alfieri unfortunately played a factor in the outcome.
Playing under “winter rules” where players can clean and replace balls hit within the fairway of the hole they are playing, Alfieri hit a drive into an adjacent fairway on a hole on the back nine, then marked and picked up his ball.
However, since he wasn’t in the fairway of the hole the group was playing, he was assessed the appropriate two-shot penalty — which loomed large for the Hubber when the final scores were all tallied.
Alfieri also missed a par putt on No. 18 that could have forced a playoff against Siegel for the D-9 title. Instead, it was Siegel who made history by becoming the Lions’ first district champ by a slim one-shot margin.
“It’s pretty special to be (school’s) the first champion,” said Siegel. “I played good, and could have played better obviously, but it’s a mental game and that’s where I kind of won today I guess.
“The pin locations were decent today, but the greens were lightning-fast, which is where some of (high) scores came from. My short game was good, and if I’m close to the green and can get a chip and a putt, I’ll take that.
“The birdie on the first hole was a great way to start, and on 10 I had a birdie out of the sand. That’s part of the game that might be luck right there.”
Siegel’s coach Jason Craig had nothing but praise for his junior.
“Hayden has a lot of talent, and he came into today with a number in his head that he felt he needed to shoot,” said Craig. “Coming down here, he threw a number out there in the high 70s, and he hit it.
“You also need some help from the other kids to back up a little bit. And, things worked out well for him. He had the potential to be a champion, so it’s not like this was a fluke. He hits the fairways and has a real good short game. He’s a good player.
“He was at regionals last year, so he has some experience there. I think he was a little disappointed with his round last year, but he’s going to go in this year with a lot more confidence than he did last year.”
Alfieri was also part of late drama a year ago when he won his first D-9 title, as he holed out from the fairway on No. 18 for an eagle at Pinecrest to win by one stroke over Punxsutawney’s Ryan Roberts.
He had to settle for second and a return trip to regionals this time around. Roberts (82-81—163) finished a shot behind the Hubber in third, while Kane’s Curt Barner (78-86—164) was fourth. Barner started the day tied for first with Alfieri.
Punxsy’s Zach VanLeer grabbed the final regional spot with his fifth-place finish (82-83—165), as the Top 5 golfers all finished within four shots of each other.
As for Uberti, his 86 was two shots worse than his opening round — but that scored proved to be tied for the fifth-best round of the day as he nabbed the sixth and final qualifying spot.
While Siegel and Uberti lived to fight another day at regionals, the same couldn’t be said for a pair of Ridgway golfers — Zack Zameroski and Eric Christoff — who helped the Elkers capture the D-9 Class AA team crown Monday by three shots over Punxsy.
Both Elkers entered the final round tied with each other for third place with 81.
However, Zameroski shot posted a 92 Saturday to fall to seventh place (173), three shots behind Uberti for the last regional berth. Christoff came in with a 93 to place eighth at 174.
Three other area golfers competed in the Class AA final round.
Ridgway’s Collin Porter (88-97—185) was 13th, while Brookville’s David Cable (88-98—186) and C-L’s Hayden Callen (88-99—187) were 14th and 15th, respectively.
Over in Class AAA, Cornelius dominated the event to take home the title a year after placing second.
Hand was the only other AAA golfer to break 90 on the day, with his 89 being enough to leapfrog Bradford’s Thomas Anderson (89-91—180) by a shot for second place.
The West Regional is scheduled to be played Tuesday, Oct. 15 at Tom’s Run. The Top 22 finishers in AA and Top 10 in AAA will advance from there to the state championships in York on Oct. 21-22.