Jeb Buchanan does everything righthanded, with one exception -- he swings golf clubs lefthanded.
"I started swinging lefty on the range, mirroring my dad's swing. One day when I was about six or seven, I decided I was going to stick to lefthanded," he said.
That proved to be a wise choice. His swing led him from upstate Loudonville to a solid career at the University of Connecticut to some time on the PGA Latin American Tour and ultimately to Thursday, when he won the biggest golf prize in his life: the New York State Open championship at Bethpage Black.
Buchanan had the right stuff. He maintained his poise after having lost all of his five-shot lead by the 10th hole and made a three-foot par putt on the final hole just to get into a playoff with Brian Bartow, a minitour pro from Westchester. Buchanan made a tricky four-foot par putt -- he does that righthanded because it feels more comfortable -- on the playoff hole to win the $17,500 check.
He was unfazed about having shot 4-over-par 75 after having been 10 under through the first two days. He realized it was tougher out there Thursday, and he recognizes the value of par.
"You know, it's Bethpage Black. It's always hard work. You've just got to stay patient out here, give it the best you can, and hope for the best," he said. "Man, just one shot at a time -- the oldest rule in golf. Just ride the waves of emotion and try to stay as even keel as possible."
The turning point came after his low point, having bogeyed the par-4 10th and dropping into a tie for first with Deepdale assistant pro Ben Polland, who was in the final group with Buchanan and Michael Furci, a pro from Sayville.
"I didn't even know I was tied," said Polland, who finished third at 3 under, three strokes out of first. "I played pretty well today. I just had a loose stretch of holes."
Polland bogeyed No. 11 as Buchanan made birdie with a mere tap-in. Birdies were rare, what with the Black showing its teeth. Bartow (3-under-par 68) and Colin Dolph of North Hempstead Country Club (69) were the only ones in the field to break par yesterday. Furci, who shot 76 and finished at par, said the greens were faster, the tees were farther back, "and I think there was the pressure of trying to catch 10 under."
Buchanan was caught, but not beaten. He grabbed the trophy with both hands. "It's hard to describe. My birthday is Sunday, I'm turning 25, so this is as good a gift as I could give myself," he said. "To win in a playoff at one of the best courses in the world means a lot to me."