Armstrong wins men’s senior golf title on first try
For Mark Armstrong, the final round of the New Brunswick senior men’s golf championship couldn’t have started any worse or finished any better.
The Riverside Country Club ‘rookie’ senior had a double-bogey 6 on the first hole Wednesday to fall three shots back of Dan Coulombe of the Fredericton Golf Club. But Armstrong birdied five of the remaining eight holes on Kingswood’s front nine and led Coulombe by three at the turn. Armstrong went on to shoot a 2-under-par 70 to finish 6-under 210 for the 54-hole tournament. That was two strokes better than Aroostook Valley member Ralph Michaud, who’s from Presque Isle, Maine, and isn’t eligible to win the New Brunswick title, and five ahead of Herrick Hansen of Aroostook Valley and Mike Breen of Hampton.
“I’m ecstatic,” Armstrong said. “On the drive up from Saint John, I couldn’t feel my legs I was that nervous. But I was here an hour and a half early. I did some sand shots and a few putts, kind of the routine I have at home. I had a bad first hole, but after that, everything within five feet of the hole was in the back of the cup.
“It was my worst striking round, no question, but I made everything inside of five feet,” said Armstrong, who shot 67-73 the first two days.
Coulombe and super senior champion Marty Winslow of the host club, who rounded out the final group, entered the day tied for the lead but faded to fifth with 217 totals after shooting 6-over 78s.
“To play with Marty and Danny .. when I’m in my 30s these guys are on the Willingdon Cup [provincial] teams,” Armstrong said. “I don’t expect to play with them but I had a great three days and the course fit my eye.”
Gary Melanson of Covered Bridge had his second straight 70 to climb to seventh at 218, three better than Kevin Farmer of Herring Cove and Guy Mc-Knight of Country Meadows. Fredericton’s Phil Dixon rounded out the top 10 at 6-over 222. The title was up for grabs after defending champion Sonny Phillips didn’t enter – and the affable Armstrong went out and grabbed it, despite playing in his first provincial tournament in 13 years.
“It’s a tremendous win for Mark,” Coulombe said. “When you start out double bogey, for many players that could just derail them for the day. He just bounced back and was a birdie machine on the front nine. So he’s a great champion. To be away from the game that long and to start the day today with probably a bit of pressure, he deserves every bit of accolades he gets.”
On the first hole, Armstrong sliced his drive, then lost his ball when his second shot bounced into the fescue behind the green.
“I hit a nice 7-iron from the right rough,” Armstrong said. “I thought it was perfect when it landed on the backside of the fringe, but it took one hop and we couldn’t find it. I had to take a drop, I made a double and I said, ‘Oh, man, here we go’.”
No matter. He birdied the next three holes. Armstrong put his approach shot within two feet of the hole on No. 3 to create a three-way tie, potted a 12-footer on No. 4, then made a beautiful chip, which he turned into a tap-in birdie – his fourth in five holes – on No. 6 to lead Coulombe by one.
“I settled in after the third birdie,” Armstrong said. “I said, ‘OK, maybe I can play with these guys’ and I did.”
Armstrong dropped a five-footer on No. 9 for 33 on the front.
“Five birdies in eight holes! Five birdies for me could be a week,” said Armstrong, whose wife Karen was his caddy for the final round.
Armstrong flirted with danger on the 12th. He hit his second shot on the par-4, 371-yard hole into high grass, but found his ball and hacked it within 20 feet of the hole for a clutch up and down.
Coulombe was four back when he found trouble on unlucky 13, driving his ball between two trees.
“I was dead stymied underneath a tree. I thought I could chop it out.”
He couldn’t and eventually took a double-bogey 6 to slide six shots back.
It was just one of those days in golf where nothing seems to be going well for you,” Coulombe said. “I struggled with the putter. Yesterday seemed effortless and today I had to fight for everything I got, which wasn’t much.”
Armstrong’s lone blemish on the back nine came on No. 15, which he bogeyed after his drive landed on the adjacent 8th fairway and his second shot found the bunker.
“I didn’t want to ask my wife where I stood coming up 18, but when she said, ‘Just play your game’ I figured I was safe.”
The Canadian seniors will be held Sept. 5 to 9 in Niagara Falls, Ont., with Armstrong, Hansen, Breen and super senior Winslow representing New Brunswick.
Hansen had a final round 72, one better than Breen. Farmer had the best round of the day. His 4-under 68 was one lower than Fredericton’s Pat Garagan.
BRUCE HALLIHAN, THE DAILY GLEANER