Rejuvenated by a visit to his ailing aunt, Jairo Irreno put his disappointing summer behind him yesterday by winning the 13th annual Amateur at International Country Club for the second time in three years.
Irreno, a 22-year-old rising senior at James Madison University and Churchill All-Met, shot 68-71-72 -- 211 (2 under par) to win by one stroke over Dan Derisio, 41, of Springfield Golf and Country Club, and Jon Zampedro, 44, of Fort Belvoir Golf Facility. Peter Badawy, 22, of Raspberry Falls Golf Club, finished two strokes back at 213.
"I was getting kind of down [about poor play], but last week really made a difference," Irreno said. "You've got a family member struggling for her life, and now everything is fine. She's going to be great. I just said to myself, 'You're playing bad golf. It's really not that big a deal.' "
Even though he had won the tournament in 2002, ending Kirk Lombardi's streak of five victories, this win was unexpected given how Irreno had played this summer. He missed the cut at the Maryland Amateur, the Maryland Open and the U.S. Amateur qualifier. He said he was hitting the ball well, but it just wasn't going in the hole. He had little confidence in his game.
It took a visit to his aunt in Toronto last week to give him the perspective he needed. Annette Irreno is recovering from breast cancer. Her upbeat outlook was an inspiration for her nephew. Suddenly, a bad shot wasn't a big deal. A missed putt didn't mean the end of the world.
"I take my hat off to her," Irreno said. "What I'm doing, it's nothing compared to what she's doing. She has a great, positive attitude. I said, 'This week I'm going to do that.' "
Inspired by his aunt, his grandmother from Nicaragua -- who was watching him play competitively for only the second time -- and his parents, who walked all 54 holes with him, even through Saturday's steady rain, Irreno played his strongest golf of the summer.
Irreno's final round was more steady than spectacular, with one birdie, two bogeys and enough par saves. Zampedro was one shot off the lead entering the final round and began making birdies on the back nine to put the pressure on Irreno. Derisio, who was tied for ninth entering the last day, and Badawy, who was in eighth place, also made a charge. But Irreno didn't crack.
After hitting his second shot on No. 18 into the left rough beside the green, Irreno got up and down by chipping to 12 feet and then sinking the downhill putt to save par and his margin of victory.
"I felt the green," Irreno said. "I didn't think of hard, soft. I just felt it. I trusted my eyes and the feel. I hit [the ball], it went in and I felt the greatest joy."