David Liotta arrived yesterday morning at his home course, Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, uncertain that he would even be competing for the championship in the Philadelphia Amateur.
But during the next eight hours, Liotta earned the final spot in the match-play bracket, knocked off the defending champion, and survived a 19-hole match to move into today's quarterfinals of the 108th competition.
"I was kind of nervous getting here," the 38-year-old Liotta said. "I was wondering if I should even show up in a sense because [Tuesday] was such an up-and-down day with all the heat. Then [tournament officials] are saying, 'You're in, you're out, you're in, you're out.' "
Eventually, he showed up and got in when he sank a three-foot birdie putt in the continuation of a playoff suspended Tuesday evening because of lightning. He went right back out in the first match of the day and stunned the 2007 champion, Phil Bartholomew of Yardley, 7 and 5, and defeated Stephen Seiden of Concord on the first extra hole in the afternoon.
The two rounds of matches yesterday in delightful playing conditions produced tight scores and few surprises. Six of the eight men advancing to this morning's quarterfinals were seeded in the top eight. All but two of the 24 matches made it to at least the 16th hole.
Liotta, a software engineer from West Chester, has the most interesting mix of factors among any contestant. Holder of the Whitemarsh Valley course record of 63, he knows the course and the nuances of the undulating greens at the Lafayette Hill layout, certainly an advantage.
But he admitted he almost blew a chance to make the match-play round in the 36 holes of qualifying because of the weight of expectations.
"Stroke play was really tough," he said. "You know the course, but there's a lot of pressure because everybody expects you to make match play. So you're nervous the entire time. You hear, 'You're going to get in' over and over, so you're like, 'Well, I'm not.' "
Once he got past stroke play and the playoff, Liotta did well with the support of several club members who followed him. He went 2 under for 13 holes in defeating Bartholomew.
Against Seiden, a 26-year-old pharmacist from Chadds Ford, he squared the match on the par-3 16th hole after coming close to an ace. He almost drove the green on the 352-yard first hole - the 19th of the match - blasted out of a greenside bunker, and two-putted for the winning par.
Medalist Mike Danner of Lu Lu had to go 19 holes in his opening-round match but defeated Eric Schmehl, then knocked off Seaview's Anthony Martire, 4 and 3, in the afternoon.
"All the putts I made [Tuesday] I didn't make today," Danner said. "I was kind of struggling out there. Hopefully, I'll get some rest and try to do tomorrow what I did" Tuesday.
Also still alive is Merion's Michael McDermott, the Golf Association of Philadelphia's four-time player of the year, who is seeking his first Philadelphia Amateur title. McDermott picked up a pair of 4 and 2 victories, over Christopher Reedman of Makefield Highlands and Jeff Griest of Waynesborough.
Notes. Besides Bartholomew, two other past champions did not make it past the first round. Three-time winner Chris Lange of Overbrook lost by 2 and 1 to Martire, and Brian Rothaus of Philmont dropped a 1-up decision to Russell Hartung of Doylestown.
(Seedings in parentheses.)
David Liotta (32), Whitemarsh Valley, def. Philip Bartholomew (1), Yardley, 7 and 5.
Stephen Seiden (17), Concord, def. Richard Marabella (16), Whitemarsh Valley, 3 and 2.
Zach Smith (8), Doylestown, def. Matthew Finger (25), Running Deer, 1 up.
Thomas Gramigna (24), Tavistock, def. Sean Leonard (9), Tavistock, 2 and 1.
Cole Willcox (4), Phila. Country, def. Robert Galbreath Jr. (29), Huntingdon Valley, 3 and 2.
Douglas Zelner (13), Spring Ford, def. Michael Brown (20), Phila. Publinks, 2 and 1.
Glenn Smeraglio (5), Yardley, def. Thomas Hyland (28), Little Mill, 1 up.
Russell Hartung (21), Doylestown, def. Brian Rothaus (12), Philmont, 1 up.
Mike Danner (2), Lu Lu, def. Eric Schmehl (31), Moorestown, 19th hole.
Anthony Martire (18), Seaview, def. Chris Lange (15), Overbrook, 2 and 1.
Michael McDermott (7), Merion, def. Christopher Reedman (26), Makefield Highlands, 4 and 2.
Jeffrey Griest (23), Waynesborough, def. Oscar Mestre Jr. (10), Overbrook, 2 and 1.
Rob Saverese (3), Sand Barrens, def. Jim Kania Jr. (30), Overbrook, 1 up.
Alan Borowsky (14), White Manor, def. David West (19), Whitford, 3 and 2.
James Donnelly (6), Merion, def. Christopher Kaspar (27), Lu Lu, 4 and 2.
Brian Creghan (11), Plymouth, def. Travis Gahman (22), Phila. Publinks, 3 and 2.
Liotta def. Seiden, 19th hole.
Smith def. Gramigna, 2 and 1.
Willcox def. Zelner, 2 and 1.
Smeraglio def. Hartung, 3 and 1.
Danner def. Martire, 4 and 3.
McDermott def. Griest, 4 and 2.
Borowsky def. Savarese, 1 up.
Donnelly def. Creghan, 2 up.