|Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - |
For full 2018 CDGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship event information, including results, pictures and video, visit CDGA.org/CDGA4Ball.
ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – A second CDGA Amateur Four-Ball Championship title was slipping away from Michael Natale (Burr Ridge / Cog Hill G&CC) and Steve Sawtell (Northfield / Merit Club) as they stood on the 17th tee Wednesday at Mistwood Golf Club, both figuratively and literally.
What was once a 4-up advantage for the 2016 champions over Brian Hickey (Burr Ridge / Edgewood Valley CC) and Ryan Neill (Downers Grove / Butterfield CC) through 13 holes had been trimmed to 1 up with two holes to play. Then, Mother Nature complicated matters even more as Sawtell stood over his tee shot on the 166-yard par 3.
“The wind starts coming in and it starts to pour,” Sawtell recalled.
Sawtell, also a two-time CDGA Amateur champion, responded by sticking his 8-iron to two feet before rolling in the birdie putt to clinch the final match for him and Natale, 2 and 1.
“The 18th hole would have been unplayable,” Sawtell said following the match as the lightning detection siren blared. “We were fortunate to end at that spot. It was pouring.
“You might think [the first championship] is lucky, but by the time you win your second one, it validates that you are a good partnership,” Sawtell added. “We’re tough to beat in this format.”
While Sawtell clinched the victory in the event’s third iteration, it was Natale who sealed the triumph in the inaugural championship at Eagle Brook Country Club with a birdie on No. 18, a fact he cites as a prime example of what makes the partnership so effective.
“First of all, it’s a friendship,” Natale said. “That’s first and foremost. We can say anything to each other and we’re never going to get upset. The other thing is, I think we know our games really, really well. We’re not scared to pull somebody off a shot or say, ‘Hey, I don’t know about that.’ I think that helps.”
For much of the match, it looked as if the outcome would be drama-free. Following a 1-up victory in the morning’s semifinal match against Michael Fastert (Des Plaines / Sanctuary GC) and Graham O’Connor-Brooks (Lake Bluff / Glen Flora CC), in which Natale struggled to the point of calling himself a “non-contributor,” both players were on their game to start the title tilt. Sawtell birdied the par-5 third before Natale sandwiched birdies on the par-4 fourth and the par-5 eighth around bogeys by Hickey and Neill on the par-3 seventh, resulting in a 4-up lead at the turn.
“We started to play well at the same time,” Natale said. “I think Brian and Ryan struggled a little bit, but we kept telling each other, ‘They’re not going to go away.’”
The mantra proved prophetic, as Neill matched Natale with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 to keep him and Hickey within striking distance. Following pars on No. 13, Hickey birdied holes No. 14 and 15 to get back to within two holes. Neill was the only player to par No. 16, trimming their deficit to 1 down before Sawtell’s heroics on No. 17 ended the match.
It was a surprise to no one seeing Sawtell come through late in a match-play championship. The 47-year-old has excelled in match play throughout his entire career, earning CDGA Amateur glory in 2004 at Ravisloe Country Club and 2009 at Olympia Fields Country Club, in addition to the two victories alongside Natale.
“I get less stressed out during match play,” Sawtell admitted. “You have a bad hole, it’s not a big deal, you move on. I just seem to play more aggressively when it’s match play versus stroke play and it’s worked out for me.”
The 2018 CDGA championship slate continues with the 26th Illinois State Mid-Amateur Championship, Aug. 27-28 at Glen Oak Country Club.