Conor McGrath wrapped up more than seven hours of golf Saturday by cozying up a birdie putt close enough to clinch the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship at Cedarbrook Country Club, but the celebration was just beginning.
Standing off to the side of the 16th green where McGrath’s match against Jack Irons ended with a 3-and-2 victory were a platoon of Temple golfers, present and past, ready to swarm to the current Owl senior-to-be after the trophy presentation had concluded. Hugs, handshakes and picture-taking followed.
“It was a little overwhelming,” said McGrath, 21 of Huntingdon Valley Country Club. “I’m so blessed just having everybody being here and having my back supporting me and trying to give me the push out there, especially when I got down. They didn’t care if I won or lost, but I know that they were rooting for me no matter what, and that definitely made it way better.”
“We’re such a closely knit team. Everybody gets along. We’re really good about including everybody. I know it’s cliché, but we’re a family. You see alumni coming out here and supporting all of us. I’m sure they could have done 100 different things on a Saturday, especially with their jobs and everything, and for them to spend their time out here supporting another Temple kid, it’s special.”
McGrath never trailed in his match against Irons, 19, a native of Naples, Fla., who spends his summers playing out of Little Mill Country Club in Marlton, N.J. He led 3-up after the morning 18 and maintained that margin at the turn of the afternoon round.
But Irons had one last rally in him, winning the par-5 10th with a 2-putt birdie and the 11th after McGrath 3-putted. The margin now was one approaching the 12th, also a par-5, but Irons’ drive nicked a tree branch on the right. He laid up and then his third shot rolled off the front of a sloping green opening the door for McGrath, who 2-putted to win the hole.
McGrath also took No. 13 with an 8-foot par putt to go 3-up and sank a putt of similar length for a sand save at the 14th, tying his opponent. After Irons hit a splendid approach for a conceded birdie at No. 15 to reduce the lead to 2-up, he ran into problems at the par-3 16th, and McGrath two-putted for the championship.
“Jack’s a helluva competitor and he put up a great fight, never gave up, kept making good swings, putting the pressure on,” McGrath said. “Fortunately, I was able to make a couple of good swings down the stretch and close it out.”
“It’s disappointing right now but I still had a good week,” Irons said. “I would have loved to have won but I gave it 100%, that’s all I can ask for. I can’t control what anyone else does.”
McGrath became the 16th Huntingdon Valley player to claim a Philadelphia Amateur championship. He has had a run of strong golf going back to the spring, when he led Temple in stroke average at 73.61. Last month he advanced past the first round of qualifying for the U.S. Open.
He credited Owls coach Brian Quinn and improved practice habits with his development into a better player.
“Coach will be the first one to tell you … I slacked off pretty good coming to Temple,” he said. “I kind of got caught up in the whole college life, having fun, meeting new people. But seeing all the good players around, I knew I’d have to step it up. Coach would always ride me and thank God he did. Into this summer, it’s been 1000% better with the amount of time I’m putting in and my focus as well.”
Quinn, who watched Saturday’s match, said McGrath’s commitment level “has been enhanced over the last year.”
“I always tell him, every [tournament] field he’s in, he’s usually one of the best players in the field,” he said. “If he trusts himself and believes in his work ethic and everything that he’s done to prepare, he’ll have a good week. I was so proud of him today.”