Dramatic hole-out for eagle on last hole gives Central Pa. golfer the state amateur title

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
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John Peters needed a birdie to get into a playoff at the Pennsylvania Amateur and he thought he struck a good second shot at Merion Golf Club's legendary 18th hole because he saw his ball hit on the green. But when no one applauded, he figured his ball rolled off the back.

What he didn't know what that the ball was headed directly to Merion's iconic wicker basket flagstick — and in. A huge roar followed from the 50-plus people watching and Peters realized he had achieved the incredible, holing out his 8-iron from 193 yards for an eagle 2 and the victory Wednesday in the 108th state championship.

Peters, a Carlisle, Cumberland County, resident who will enter Duke as a freshman next month, jumped into the air and joyfully flipped his club following the shot that added to the lore of Merion, a club that has hosted 18 U.S. Golf Association championships including five U.S. Opens.

Peters had to worry about one more shot, an 8-foot birdie try by Penn State's Patrick Sheehan that would force a playoff with him, but the putt lipped out.

"I wasn't even thinking about it" going in, said Peters, who closed with a 70 and a 54-hole score of even-par 210. "I was just hoping it could get close and I could make a putt. There's obviously a bit of luck there and that's why I say this is such a blessing. But yeah, I had no clue that it could go in."

The final round saw plenty of players with a chance. Mark Goetz of Hannastown had the low score in the clubhouse at 1-over 211 after a 69. Sheehan, the leader after two rounds, sank an 8-foot birdie putt at the long par-3 17th to get to 1-over. Jimmy Ellis of South Hills, playing in the same group as Peters and Sheehan, was 1-over playing 18.

Peters double bogeyed the par-4 11th and birdied No. 12 to get to 1-over. At the short par-3 13th, his shot hit the flagstick and ricocheted 35 feet away in the rough, but he managed to save par. However, a bogey at 14 set him back to 2-over, where he stayed until his unforgettable final shot.

"It's just a testament to: It's never over 'til it's over," he said. "I just really tried hard to just stay in it. I didn't play the smartest, most conservative golf out there, especially on those last few holes because I felt like I needed to make a birdie or two."

Sheehan, the rising Penn State junior who suffered bogeys on his first three holes, stayed in it and had a chance at 18 after hitting his own 8-iron approach shot from 197 yards to 8 feet.

"Obviously when John holes it, what are you going to do?" Sheehan said with a rueful smile. "I hit my putt on a perfect line but I hit it too hard."

Sheehan finished with a 74 and tied Goetz at 211. Ellis, who shot a 72, shared fourth place with Joshua Ryan of the 1912 Club (71) at 212.