By Dalton Balthaser
Photo Gallery: http://bit.ly/2kwi8FX
PAWTUCKET, R.I. - Tuesday night, hours after taking the #RIMidAm first-round lead, Bobby Leopold had a fantasy football draft with his friends and family. The main question wasn’t who he was going to draft next.
“When you don’t win for a while you will hear about it,” said Leopold. “It was funny, last night at my fantasy football draft they were giving me a hard time saying ‘you haven’t won in three years?'"
“It has been that long?”
Leopold, an RIGA stalwart, triumphed last in the 2016 Rhode Island Golf Association Mid-Amateur at Metacomet Golf Club.
The Wannamoisett Country Club aided by a steadfast game and attitude claimed the 26th Rhode Island Mid-Amateur Wednesday at Pawtucket Country Club (par 69, 6,420 yards) after a final-round 67.
His two-day total of 134 (4 under) was good enough for a three-shot victory over Wanumetonomy Golf & Country Club’s Seamus Fennelly. He and Fennelly dueled for 21 holes at the Rhode Island Amateur in June at Shelter Harbor Golf Club with Leopold prevailing.
“This year has been good and bad at the same time,” said Leopold, 34, of Coventry, R.I. “I’ve played well enough a few times to have chances to win and have a couple of second-place finishes. I also get reminded of it when my kids ask where my trophy is and I don’t have one. It is nice to get this one and take the monkey off my back.”
Leopold was the only person to shoot both rounds below par. He also has dominated the Mid-Amateur at Pawtucket.
He won the previous edition at the Willie Park, Jr. design in 2012.
On a day where the wind was blowing and the greens were quick, Leopold’s prodigious ball-striking remained steady.
He raced out of the gates with a birdie on No. 1 (par 4, 389 yards) after stuffing a lob wedge to three feet from 100 yards.
He made a miraculous par on No. 6 (par 4, 414 yards) after hooking his drive into the trees off the tee and leaving himself 253 yards in for his second.
A poor chip and clutch 20-footer still resulted in a par. Fennelly made a bogey. Leopold regained a one-shot advantage.
He then separated himself with an eagle on No. 8 (par 5, 542 yards). A blistered 3-iron from 240 yards in the ninth fairway to 20 feet put him three ahead.
Leopold never looked back.
A lot has changed since Leopold won his first Mid-Amateur at Carnegie Abbey (now The Aquidneck Club) in 2011.
Leopold and his wife Taylor have added three kids to their family and his ability to compete and put in the time to practice like he used has changed as well.
“When I won the 2011 Mid-Amateur I was coming off of making it to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills Golf Club,” said Leopold. “I didn’t have a kid at the time and I was playing and practicing five to six times a week. Now I have three kids and maybe get to Wannamoisett once a week.”
The only person who stands in his way for the most Mid-Amateurs is club mate Charlie Blanchard, who has seven (1999, 2001-03, 2006, 2009, 2010).
“If I didn’t play competitive golf I would have to find something else to do,” said Leopold. “Ever since I was a kid I wanted to play for something. Whether it was football or golf, there’s nothing better than having a chance to win. Having that feeling of beating someone else is what I play for.
“This event proved that I don’t need to hit a lot of balls and play a lot to compete. Golf can be a stupid game. It puts a lot of things in perspective for me. Golf is not the end all be all. You forget how hard it is to win.”
Last June, Valley Country Club’s Dr. George Pirie had a life-altering experience with vertigo.
He’s dealt with a mild version of vertigo for several years. But one day in June changed everything.
“I went to hit balls at Valley and I wasn’t feeling my best,” said Pirie, 69, of Cranston, R.I. “I decided I was going to sit in a golf cart and prepare for my round. It was then when I saw the world starting to turn. The trees and leaves were moving in circles. After vomiting uncontrollably, my friends called 9-1-1 and they thought I had a severe stroke. But it turned out to be severe vertigo.”
Pirie couldn’t drive for three weeks and couldn’t hit golf shots longer than 50 yards.
“The doctor said I would have permanent damage because of my severe vertigo,” said Pirie. “They were right. I needed to learn how to play golf again.”
After taking frequent lessons from Mike Harbour, who teaches out of Alpine Country Club, Pirie found ways to deal with his vertigo and still play solid golf. It took Pirie a while to get out of his funk.
Pirie, aided by a classy short game, carded a final-round 66 to win the Senior Division of the Rhode Island Mid-Amateur at Pawtucket (par 69, 6,175 yards).
Pirie’s 138 total was good enough for a two-shot victory over Metacomet Golf Club’s Darren Corrente, who fired a final-round 67.
Pirie carded four birdies and a bogey on the back nine after making nine pars to start his round.
Pirie, the 2000 Rhode Island Mid-Amateur champion, closed in style on No. 18 (par 4, 365 yards). A beautifully judged pitching wedge from 118 yards to three feet was the medicine the doctor ordered.
“Doc,” as his peers call him, is back in the winner’s circle, a remarkable and unexpected journey for the Rhode Island Golf Association Hall of Famer.
“It’s a small enough group of guys that we can all influence each other and impact each other,” said Pirie. “We all know what each other is doing. These events are about the only time we get together and compete. I had to put together a good round and I was happy to do it when I needed to. I love being around everyone and competing. It means a lot to win again.”