Gillam victorious in West Penn Open playoff
By Mike Dudurich • July 19, 2018
Mike is a freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich.
OAKMONT – One of the two players involved in a playoff in the West Penn Open Wednesday afternoon started his round with three bogeys and had five in his first seven. The other finished his round by bogeying three of his last four holes.
But yet there they were, walking off the first tee at Oakmont Country Club to start what was to be the longest playoff in the storied history of the 114-year event.
The two, James Gillam of Hollidaysburg and Connor Schmidt of Venetia, ground out those five holes. Both escaped from what appeared to be disasters and both hit some sparkling shots.
In the end, Gillam drilled a seven-footer for birdie and the win on the fifth hole.
“Obviously, winning at Oakmont is very special,” Gillam said, a mini-tour player who can definitely use the $7,500 first prize. “I just gutted it out today. If you’d have told me after nine holes that I would be in a playoff, I’d have taken it.”
This was the 13th time Oakmont Country Club has hosted a West Penn Open, the most ever of any club.
While Schmidt was struggling to close out a very big win for himself on the back nine, Gillam was making three birdies on his back and would have won the title in regulation but missed a 5 1/2-footer on 18, forcing a playoff.
Schmidt had a three-shot lead in his back nine over Nathan Smith, but he and Gillam chipped away at that lead with Gillam passing Smith and then tying Schmidt with a birdie on 17.
Schmidt also made a bogey on 18 when a par would put him in a much better position.
“I thought I played pretty good,” Schmidt said. “The first 14 holes I was 3-under par and I had missed two makeable birdie putts on 11 and 12. I was in control, I just didn’t finish. I didn’t hit the fairway on 15 and 18 and it’s tough to make pars that way.”
Schmidt hit a couple clutch shots in the playoff. He drove it way on the fourth hole, eventually finding his ball in one of Oakmont’s famous ditches. The lie wasn’t good, but he was able to hack it back into play and was able make a par to extend the playoff one more hole.
On the next hole, he found the fairway bunker down the left side of No. 5. Schmidt hit a crisp shot that landed just behind the hole. But he wasn’t able to convert, and Gillam was, ending the playoff.
“The first three holes it looked like neither of us wanted to win,” Gillam said. “It was tough out there, but like I said, any time you can win here, it’s really special.”
Schmidt, who won the West Penn’s Spring Stroke Play at Bedford Springs earlier in the year, and Gillam finished at 4-over par. Brett Young and Nathan Smith tied for third at 216.
Chuck Nettles show the low round of the tournament, 67, and finished in fifth place at 217. It was a special day for he and his brother Tom, who were paired together in the final round.
A few months ago, Tim Nettles, Chuck and Tom’s father passed away suddenly. They decided to play the round for him and their mother, Diane, as well as Chuck’s wife and daughters were there to watch.
“The pairing was really the special part, it wasn’t about the score,” Chuck Nettles said. “It was Dad’s birthday earlier this week and that made it special. It was so nice to have my mom out here and I guess it was a good day to career it here.”