By Mike Dougherty
RYE – Rob Labritz put the most important putt of a memorable week in motion with a whisper, then watched nervously as the ball caught the left edge of the hole.
Normal breathing resumed when it ducked in for a par.
Labritz claimed the MasterCard Westchester PGA Championship on Thursday with an industrious 1-up victory over Steve Scott. After making birdie after birdie in five previous rounds, both golfers struggled in the wind-blown final at The Apawamis Club.
It all came down to a downhill putt from 6 feet away.
“That ranks among the best make-it-to-win putts I’ve hit in my career,” said Labritz, the director of golf at GlenArbor, who also won this event in 2003. “I hit it left edge, thinking it would break more. There was a big sigh of relief. You don’t ever want to be 1-up on the last hole and three-putt to extend the match.”
It was a comeback of sorts for the 43-year-old from Pound Ridge, who earned Met PGA player-of-the-year honors after winning three times in 2013.
Last winter, Labritz had to deal with an overactive thyroid. He managed a string of strong finishes, but never quite found a comfort level. This winter, he broke a bone just below the knee on a family ski trip days before Christmas.
Crutches were needed over the next 12 weeks and the rehabilitation is not yet complete.
“My boot popped right out of the ski going down the hill,” Labritz said. “I knew it was broken right away, and it scared me to death. I’m never going skiing again.”
Ice fishing is a low-risk sport.
Labritz jumped ahead of Scott with a birdie on the opening hole, and was 2-up after five. He bogeyed the next two holes, and the match was square. Labritz was 1-up again after he birdied the ninth. It was back to all-square when Scott won the 11th with a par.The head professional at Paramount Country Club was having issues off the tee, but the short game and putter were keeping him close.
“I hit the ball poorly today,” said Scott, who is best known for going stride for stride with Tiger Woods in the 1996 U.S. Amateur final before losing. “The wind direction was completely different, so we had to think a lot more. I battled hard, but Rob definitely played better tee to green.”
Both competitors had a hard time keeping the ball underneath the hole, which on slippery greens led to missed opportunities.
Scott was able to get up and down on the 13th and 14th holes, but he finally missed a big putt on the 15th and went 1-down after conceding a par to Labritz.
“The up-and-downs, they don’t faze me because I always expect people to make something happen, and Steve’s got one of the best guts around,” said Labritz, who earned $4,500 for the win.
Labritz traded a par with Scott on the 16th hole, and missed a 10-footer to win on the 17th before closing out the match. He made quick work of most of his opponents this week, but had to go to overtime in the semifinals Wednesday against Saxon Woods head pro Charlie Meola.
The final round was never easy.
“I was not comfortable with my setup,” Labritz said. “My caddie, Todd Luigi, and I chatted a little bit, but I’m looking to play faster this season. I don’t want any thoughts getting in my head. There’s less talking and more hitting.”