Just one day earlier, if someone had asked Matt Lowe how it would feel to win the low amateur crystal at the New York State Open, he would have taken it with a huge smile. Then his goals changed. Four holes into the final round at Bethpage Black, the 16-year-old from Farmingdale was leading the whole tournament.
He birdied the par-5 fourth and was on top long enough for his mom, Carol Ann, to take a picture of the leader board. "I felt really confident and great that this was going to be my day. It just wasn't," Lowe said after he finished at 3 over, tied for 10th place, five shots behind champion Danny Balin. Ultimately, he did get the low-amateur crystal and he did have a smile.
"It's all good," he said. Well, it wasn't all good. His putter failed him after that five-footer on No. 4. "My putter was worse than freezing. It was just the worst putting day I've had in a really, really long time. I hit the ball really solid. But it just wasn't my day."
It was a worse day for Del Ponchock, a teaching pro at Hudson National, who played with Lowe in the final group and held a three-stroke lead as he crossed Round Swamp Road to play the final four holes. He played the last three in 4 over par -- triggered by a double bogey form the deep fescue on 16 -- and lost to Balin by one. "He handled himself better than anybody I've ever seen. Very gentlemanly," Lowe said of the runner-up.
Balin shot a tournament-best 5-under-par 66. "I guess I'm the fortunate one to post a number and let everybody look at it. Especially out here in Bethpage, you put yourself in the situation. Once you cross the road, the tournament really starts," said Balin, an assistant pro at Burning Tree in Connecticut and a national class club pro on his way to the PGA Championship.
The winner endured one weird bad break -- he hit a solid shot into the green on 18 but his ball hit Tarik Can's ball and bounced into the rough. Balin, the reigning Met PGA champion, made one last strong par.
Had Lowe played par golf for the final 14 holes, he would have left with the big trophy.
"It's disappointing because I feel like I've been here a long time and I should start winning these big tournaments that I'm in contention in, but I haven't gotten the job done. It's all a learning experience," said the high school junior-to-be.
At 16, he's pretty sure he'll have some more chances. Not bad for an amateur.