By Mike Dougherty
SCARSDALE — Craig Thomas blew out 50 candles earlier this month and celebrated the landmark birthday this week with a trip down memory lane.
The head professional at Metropolis Country Club was back among contemporaries during the Met Senior Open and he remembered how to win Tuesday at Sunningdale Country Club, finishing at 6-under with a final-round 67 before surviving a two-hole playoff with Mark Mielke. He is the youngest player to win the championship.
Bruce Zabriski was three days older when he won in 2007.
“It’s a shock, it really is,” said Thomas, a longtime contender whose last major win came three years ago in the Westchester Open. “This really hasn’t been the best year for me playing-wise. I got off to a really slow start. I had a lot of personal, family stuff going on, so it was a trying spring. I started playing well less than a month ago.”
He started the day four shots behind Mielke, who closed with a 71 and forced the playoff with a clutch up-and-down for birdie on the 18th hole.
“I played as well yesterday, but yesterday I didn’t birdie a single par 5, and I had a three-putt bogey, and I sound like a member, but I hit the wrong club on a hole,” Thomas said. “I thought I was hitting a 56(-degree wedge). I pulled the club and hit it, airmailed the green, looked at the club and it was a 52-degree wedge. Maybe that was my first senior moment, I don’t know.”
There was just one bogey on the card Tuesday.
After trading birdies with Mielke on the first playoff hole, Thomas made a routine par while his longtime rival pushed his approach shot just right of the 10th green.
Mielke couldn’t reproduce the up-and-down magic, and was shaking hands with Thomas after his par attempt from 18 feet lost speed and skirted the right edge.
The 51-year-old head pro at Mill River Club was quick to compliment his playing partner and note the difficulty of winning senior events in the Met area, especially the first time out.
“It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said Mielke, a former Met Open champion. “You think it’s going to be easy because you’re the young guy in the field, but these guys are all still playing great at 57 and 58. You learn quickly that you have to play better than ever.”
Delroy Cambridge, a former Sunningdale assistant, was third at 137. Knickerbocker’s Ed Whitman finished in fourth, and Pelham’s Mike Diffley and Quaker Ridge’s Rick Vershure were fifth at 2-under.
17th MGA Senior Open Championship
At Sunningdale Country Club – par 71
1. Craig Thomas, Metropolis 69-67-136 *
2. Mark Mielke, Mill River 65-71-136
3. Delroy Cambridge, Performance Center 69-68-137
4. Ed Whitman, Knickerbocker 68-70-138
5. Rick Vershure, Quaker Ridge 68-72-140
5. Mike Diffley, Pelham 71-69-140
7. Tom Sutter, Dunwoodie 68-73-141
7. Mark McCormick, Suburban 71-70-141
7. Darrell Kestner, Deepdale 70-71-141
10. Jon Groveman, The Connecticut Golf Club 70-72-142
10. Ken Bakst, Friar’s Head 70-72-142
10. Jon Tingley, Stanton Ridge 70-72-142
10. Dan Levinson, Bayonne 67-75-142
10. Mike Burke, Montammy 71-71-142
10. Frank Esposito Jr., Brooklake 67-75-142
10. Don Brigham, Battleground 71-71-142
17. Bill Britton, Trump National Colts Neck 72-71-143
17. Peter Busch, Galloping Hill 72-71-143
19. John Ervasti, Sleepy Hollow 68-76-144
19. Bruce Zabriski, Westchester 69-75-144
*(won on second hole of sudden death)