Thirty minutes after Buddy Sass defeated Tony Dyess, 1 up, to win the Gorin Junior Golf Championship yesterday at Woodmont Country Club Sass still could not believe he had won.
"It just hasn't dawned on me yet," said the soft-spoken, 17-year-old senior who plays basketball and golf for St. John's High. He won the title when Dyess missed a 15-foot birdie putt that would have sent the match into extra holes.
"I'm usually the guy who just makes the cut, the guy who barely makes it through the qualifying rounds," Sass said. "That's why winning this is such a surprise."
His biggest surprise came in the morning semifinal match against Chuck Orrico. Sass won the first five holes on the back nine with four pars and a bogey and went on to win, 2 and 1.
"I just play to make par," Sass said. "I try to let my opponent lose the hole, I usually don't try to win it outright. If I have two birdies in the entire 18, I'm satisfied."
His defensive strategy paid off handsomely when Orrico, who was favored, began putting erratically.
"It may be a pretty good idea to be a defensive golfer on this course," Sass said, "because the greens are the fastest I've every played on. It takes awhile to get your putting stroke down on greens as fast as these are."
Dyess' strong putting put pressure on Sass in the afternoon final, Dyess, of Brook Manor, was down three holes after 15 but won 16 and 17 with birdies. His birdie putt on the 18th , which would have tied the match, missed by only an inch.
"Those were two of the most beautiful putts I've ever seen," Sass said, referring to Dyess' birdies at 16 and 17. "I really didn't expect to win after that, but I got that break on the 18th."
The 6-foot-2 player said his height is a disadvantage when teeing off, so much so that he uses a three-wood on the tee instead of a driver.
In November, he probably will wish he was two inches taller. He averaged 11 points per game for his varsity basketball team last season and has attracted the attention of Notre Dame, which has contacted him twice.
"I don't know which sport I like better," he said. "It's hard to concentrate fully on one sport when you want to play both.
"This is the first breakthrough in my golf career, though. I finally made it."