Since he became eligible to compete for the Middle-Amateur Championship of the Golf Association of Philadelphia, Glenn Smeraglio knocked on the door with a number of top-10 finishes - six in the previous nine years - but each time he left without the trophy.
However, even at 51, Smeraglio has a game that has shown no drop-off, and he finished the deal Thursday with five birdies on the last 10 holes to post a 1-shot victory in the 36-hole event at Laurel Creek Country Club in Mount Laurel.
The Newtown resident, who plays out of Mercer Oaks in West Windsor, N.J., carded a final-round 69 for a 2-under-par 140 total in the two-day tournament for players 25 years old and up. Andy Achenbach of RiverCrest shot the best round of the championship, a 5-under 66, to grab second at 141.
Smeraglio already has a place in the GAP history books, having won two Patterson Cup stroke-play titles and three Silver Cross awards. But taking another of the association's major titles fulfills a long-sought goal.
"I've been near the lead pack a bunch of years in a row, and I haven't gotten the job done," he said. "Somebody always has done better. So maybe it was my turn today. I made some putts."
The light clicked on for Smeraglio at the eighth green, where he holed a 10-footer for par. At that point, he was 2 over for the tournament and perhaps 4 or 5 shots behind the leaders.
"I thought at that point, maybe something can happen," he said.
It did. He two-putted the par-5 ninth for birdie and drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole. He ran off three birdies in a row from 13 through 15, with the longest birdie putt in that run being eight feet.
Smeraglio was 3 under and in the lead. He made clutch, par-saving putts at 16 and 17, but three-putted 18 and went to the clubhouse with 2 under secured.
"I felt if I could post something early, then it would make it tough for everybody else," he said. "Birdies are tough to come by out there on the last three holes. So I wanted to get in the house."
Smeraglio finished after Achenbach, who called his round "totally unexpected." But a bogey at No. 17 kept Achenbach from reaching the lead number.
That left two-time champion Chip Lutz of LedgeRock as the only man who could catch Smeraglio. After sinking a 15-foot par putt at 17, Lutz trailed by a stroke. But he missed the 18th green to the left.
In his desire to sink his pitch for birdie and the tie, Lutz went 30 feet past the hole, made bogey, and wound up at 142 with Michael Hyland of Little Mill.
Smeraglio breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'm 51 years old playing against younger guys," he said. "But if you're in the hunt, you can capitalize on your experience. You know how tough it is. I made the putts down the stretch."