Mass. Open playoff winner to donate check

Evan Harmeling during the 2013 Massachusetts Open.

AUBURNDALE, Mass. – It might have taken three more holes than originally planned, but it didn’t take away from the joy that Evan Harmeling felt when he was declared the winner of the 2013 Massachusetts Open.

Under rainy conditions at Woodland Golf Club, Harmeling defeated Chris Fitzpatrick in a three-hole playoff.

As a result of his victory Wednesday, Harmeling will not only have his name placed on the Clarence G. Cochrane Memorial Trophy but he also receives a winner’s check of $15,000. It marked his first professional victory since turning pro last May.

Afterward, Harmeling also made the announcement that he will be donating his winner’s check to The One Fund Boston to support the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

“I decided last night that if I won I was going to give it to The One Fund,” said Harmeling, who said that his sister lives in the Back Bay. “I heard that James Driscoll was doing the Birdies for Boston through the PGA Tour and I wanted to do something as well. I haven’t really known what to do, but then it dawned on me that this is my chance to give back.”

Harmeling was referring to Driscoll, a Brookline native and PGA Tour member who launched Birdies for Boston in April. He donated $1,000 for every birdie he made in a two-week span.

“I wanted to help out in some way,” said Harmeling. “I definitely had a peace of mind (knowing that he would be giving the money to charity), but I was still nervous because I knew that I was playing to get more money for the victims.”

Harmeling’s generosity would no doubt make the esteemed former winners of this event proud. Past champions of the Massachusetts Open Championship include golf legends such as Donald Ross, Julius Boros, Walter Hagen, Jesse Guilford, Francis Ouimet, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Paul Harney and Dana Quigley to name just a few.

It was not the easiest path: Harmeling had to battle through 54 holes of regulation play and then a three-hole playoff, which is something that has not happened at the Massachusetts Open Championship since 2005. In fact, a playoff has been needed only 17 times during the 104-year history of this event to determine a winner.

It helped that Harmeling was going to face off against Fitzpatrick. Not only were the two golfers roommates while in Florida this winter, but Harmeling has been a guest in Fitzpatrick’s Westwood home this past week.

“We have been talking about this all week and during the winter too,” said Harmeling. “We kept telling each other that we need to be in a playoff in the Mass Open, and it was pretty awesome that it worked out like that and it was a lot of fun.”

The road to victory was not an easy one. With a one-stroke lead and one hole to go in regulation, Harmeling used 3-wood for his tee shot on the 18th hole and the ball went sailing into the right rough and into a patch of trees. He then hit his approach into the front bunker – and was unable to get up and down. It was then when he realized that what he and his roommate had talked about for months was going to come true. They would face off in a playoff at the Massachusetts Open Championship.

“It wasn’t weird at all; it was awesome,” said Harmeling.” Even after missing that putt on 18, I knew that I would be playing Fitz and that took the sting out of it right away.”

The playoff began on the 16th hole and Harmeling immediately found himself in trouble. His drive found the rough and then his approach landed in the front bunker. With Fitzpatrick safely on the green in two, Harmeling sent his bunker shot to inches and then watched as Fitzpatrick needed two putts for par.

He took hold of that momentum and went on to make birdie on the 17th hole for a 1-shot advantage.

“That was easily the shot that saved me in the playoff,” said Harmeling of his bunker shot on the 16th hole. “If I had made bogey there it would have been a lot tougher to make birdie on 17 and 18.”

Harmeling did indeed go on to conquer the hole that had forced the playoff just 40 minutes earlier. This time around, Harmeling hit a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway and then sent his approach 12 feet right of the flagstick. Fitzpatrick countered and sent his approach inside of Harmeling’s ball.

That set the stage for another pressure-filled putt for Harmeling.

“I was standing over the putt saying, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Harmeling said. “I took a tentative strike when I was last putting on 18 and I had been missing right-to-left (putts) low all week. I just committed to my line and gave it a good run.”

The putt sailed into the hole and ended a match between two good friends.

“In all of my years of officiating, I have never been a part of a match where two players seemed to be having so much fun,” said Dr. Paul Burke, the MGA president who was the walking official with the final group. “I could hear laughing between the two players behind me while walking up 18 and it was a great feeling to know that they were having a good time in such a pressure situation.

“It’s awesome,” said Harmeling. “This is such a huge tournament for me on a bunch of different levels.”

It’s his first professional win and the fruits of his labor will be felt by so many in need.

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