Danny Balin of Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich hits from the 7th fairway during the final round of the New York State Open Championship at the Bethpage State Park Black Course July 19, 2012. (Seth Harrison / The Journal News) To view a gallery of photos from the championship, click here.
By Mike Dougherty
FARMINGDALE — Danny Balin was off in the distance most of the final round giving the leaders something to shoot for. He stepped off the 17th tee after landing the ball safely on the green, acknowledged the one clapping spectator with a nod and went about his business.
A couple of pars later, he was playing a waiting game.
The 30-year-old assistant from Burning Tree was low man in the clubhouse when Del Ponchock began to lose a three-shot lead at Bethpage State Park’s nerve-rattling Black Course on Thursday evening. Balin didn’t even want to look as the Hudson National assistant lined up a par save from nine feet away on the 18th hole. He did eventually creep down the hill and saw a putt that would’ve forced a playoff stay on the high side.
And in the blink of an eye, Balin was the New York State Open champion.
“I snuck over and took a peek,” he said after spending more than an hour scoreboard watching and hitting putts while Ponchock was losing his lead. “It’s nerve-racking, but you always have to expect he’s going to make that putt so I was getting ready for a playoff.”
Balin closed with a 5-under 66 to finish with a 2-under 211 total. It was the best round of the championship. The likelihood of sudden death seemed remote when Ponchock crossed Round Swamp Road with a three-shot lead.
“And then I made a couple of great swings on the 15th hole and just barely missed getting another birdie,” said Ponchock, who finished with a 1-over 72. “I knew it was just a matter of hanging on.”
Trouble is always lurking on this former U.S. Open course.
Ponchock was concerned about going left off the 16th tee, and wound up in the lush fescue on the right side of the downhill par 4. He was lucky to find the ball. And five strokes later, the Hudson National assistant was clinging to a one-shot advantage.
A push on the 17th left him just off the green of the scenic par 3. The chip ran up within eight feet, and the putt for par narrowly missed.
Ponchock got into the 18th fairway, but pulled his approach slightly left of the green. A delicate chip gave him a chance to force a playoff with Balin, and he was sitting below the hole. There was a breathless moment as the ball closed on the cup, but it stayed out.
“I hit it so good the first 15 holes, and so bad the last three,” he said. “Danny played a great final round. There were a couple of people I was worrying about, and he was one of them.”
Balin got everyone’s attention when he rolled in five birdies on the front nine. He was 6-under on the round after 11 holes, and did finally drop a stroke on the 15th. The only real drama came on the 18th, when his approach to the exciting par 4 came down on top of a playing partner’s ball.
“We couldn’t see it,” the reigning Met PGA player of the year said. “We heard groans from the gallery. My ball kicked right and into the rough about pin high.”
Balin got up and down with relative ease.
Half the field had to finish the second round, which had to be suspended on Wednesday due to weather. Ponchock was tied atop the leaderboard with amateurs Matthew Lowe, a 16-year-old from Long Island, and Dylan Newman, a 21-year-old from New Rochelle.
Newman, a senior at Iona, closed with a 77 and finished tied for 15th at 4-over.
“It was a lot of fun, even though I didn’t get off to a good start,” said Newman, who started the final round with a double bogey. “I gave myself a few opportunities, but I knew after nine holes that I probably didn’t have a chance to win.”
New York State Open Championship
At Bethpage State Park – Black Course
1. Danny Balin, Burning Tree 69-76-66-211
2. Del Ponchock, Hudson National 73-67-72-212
3. Jimmy Hazen, St. George’s 73-71-70-214
4. Nick Bova, Friar’s Head 79-68-68-215
4. Rob Labritz, GlenArbor 72-73-70-215
4. Abbie Valentine, Piping Rock 73-71-71-215
4. Anthony Aruta, Mill River Club 76-68-71-215
4. Jason Caron, Siwanoy 72-70-73-215
4. John Powers, Bartlett 73-69-73-215
10. Chris DeForest, Rondout 77-69-70-216
10. Greg Bisconti, Saint Andrew’s 74-70-72-216
10. Matt Dobyns, Fresh Meadow 71-77-68-216
10. Darrell Kestner, Deepdale 75-69-72-216
10. Matthew Lowe (a), Colonial Springs 72-68-76-216
15. Joseph Saladino (a), Huntington 74-72-71-217
15. Joe Christianson, Deepdale 70-77-70-217
15. Bob Rittberger, Garden City 76-70-71-217
15. Tarik Can, Hudson National 74-71-72-217
15. Joe Horowitz, Middle Bay 68-77-72-217
15. John Duthie Robert, Trent Jones 76-67-74-217
15. Dylan Newman (a), Bonnie Briar 73-67-77-217