Of all the clubs in his bag, there was one that was most pivotal to Billy Wingerd in his victory Sunday at the Maryland Men's Amateur Championship at Towson Golf and Country Club.
Wingerd, a 21-year-old junior at Towson University, played his 60-degree wedge masterfully around the greens in the 36-hole championship match against Tom Winegardner of Lothian, winning 5 and 4. Winegardner won the first two holes to take a quick lead, but Wingerd squared the match on 17, took a 1-up lead at the 18th and didn't lose a hole after the 20th. The match ended when both parred the 32nd hole, Towson's daunting 213-yard par 3.
"When the greens are as good as they are here, you get such true bounces," said Wingerd, who one-putted seven greens to win holes. "Chipping is almost an extension of putting. Sometimes you feel good [standing] over a shot, sometimes you don't. I just felt good over them all and was able to hit good shots."
On several occasions, Wingerd found himself in the rough around the green and deftly chipped close to the hole with the 60-degree wedge. On the par-3 6th during the morning round, his chip within two feet allowed him to halve the hole and kept him just 1 down; on the following hole, Wingerd hit a low chip that ran within five feet. He made the birdie to square the match.
The afternoon round brought more of the same. He chipped within one foot on the 27th and made bogey to halve the hole and remain 4 up. The 28th hole brought another chip within a foot, where he saved par and maintained the four-hole advantage.
"He birdied [hole number] one on me, and I hit a bad tee shot on two, but after that I hit the ball so well that he was going to have to make a lot of birdies to beat me today," Wingerd said.
Winegardner, 43, who estimated that he has played in the Maryland Amateur about 18 times in the past 25 years but never advanced past the second round prior to this year, acknowledged that he got a little tired as the match wore on.
"My swing just kind of left me there," said Winegardner, who lives adjacent to hole No. 1 at Old South Country Club and owns a Chevrolet dealership in Fort Washington. "He kind of found his groove . . . every shot was on the flagstick. He was going forward and I was going backward."
As Winegardner's brother, Chuck, his afternoon caddie, put it late in the match: "It's a 43-year-old body versus a 20-year-old body."
Wingerd, who will attempt to qualify for his third U.S. Amateur next month, was making his second appearance in the championship match. In 2001, he lost to Kirk Lombardi.
"Losing always teaches you more," Wingerd said. "Losing that match has helped me a lot in learning match play. He showed me the ropes that day by whipping me pretty good."