Rob Labritz has a gift for finishing with flash, such as sinking a 35-foot putt or draining a 95-yard wedge shot to qualify for the PGA Championship. He also has a talent for making a routine two-putt par on No. 18, which he did twice yesterday to win the New York State Open.
The director of golf at GlenArbor in Westchester made 4 on the final hole at Bethpage Black in regulation, finishing at par for the week and securing a place in a playoff against Matt Dobyns, head pro at Fresh Meadow in Lake Success. In the playoff, he put his drive in the fairway, his 7-iron approach safely on the green and tapped in for the $17,500 first prize.
Labritz is now golf’s head of state for the third time, having won on the Black in 2008 and 2011. Plus, he has a head of steam heading into the PGA next week at Baltusrol, a berth he earned with an unlikely twisting putt on the last hole of the national club pro tournament last month—joining a local contingent that also includes Dobyns.
“I feel like this course is harder than Baltusrol,” Labritz said of the Black, on which none of New York’s best golfers broke par through 54 holes. “It was kind of nerve-wracking and kind of not. Knowing I’ve won a couple times before was helpful, but Bethpage is one of those golf courses that can just grab you.”
Case in point: Dobyns, having begun the final round five strokes out of first place, was leading at 2 under but double bogeyed out of the fescue on No. 16. He did recover with a five-footer for par on 17 and a solid shot par out of the left rough on No. 18 in regulation.
Another example: Labritz, playing two groups back, held the lead briefly at 1 under but fell into a tie with Dobyns by making bogey 5 on the 16th. He did not panic, though, because of his history of dramatic endings, including the YouTube sensation wedge shot that won a playoff to put him into the 2013 PGA.
His final swing in regulation Thursday, a 188-yard 6-iron, was not as routine as it looked. “I had an angel on my side because that ball was sitting down,” he said. “That was a blast of emotion there. Knowing that you’re going against Matt Dobyns, you can never tell what’s going to happen.”
Dobyns, a two-time national club pro champion, was more encouraged than disappointed, despite having started the playoff by pulling his drive into a bunker. “I came into this week trying to get ready for Baltusrol. I came into this week hitting drivers wherever I possibly could,” he said. “I was happy with the way I drove it. I got better every single day.”
Labritz was just one shot better. “He’s a difficult guy to beat, as he showed here today,” Dobyns said, adding the two probably will play a practice round together at Baltusrol. “I’ll try to win back some of the money he won today.”