LANCASTER – The match-play game plan for Zach Barbin the entire week of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur was to get off to fast starts and play with the lead to put the pressure on his opponent, and he followed that blueprint to near-perfection.
After taking a 1-up lead at the halfway point of the scheduled 36-hole final Saturday against St. Joseph’s graduate Michael O’Brien, Barbin sprinted away on the front nine of his afternoon drive around Lancaster Country Club, winning five of seven holes at one point and rolling to a 5-and-3 victory in the 120th Amateur.
Barbin, 21, who is entering his senior season at Liberty, played 95 holes in five matches on his way to winning the J. Wood Platt Trophy and trailed for only one of them – the par-3 sixth hole of Saturday’s morning round when O’Brien drained a birdie putt.
“It’s a really hard golf course,” said Barbin, of Elkton, Md. “If you can get up out here, and you can play really smart and in the middle of the greens, I think it’s easier to stay up because you can play conservative. When you’re behind you’ve got to start forcing shots. You’ve got to start pin-hunting, because if I’m making pars, you’ve got to make a birdie to beat me.
“That’s kind of my mentality. I want my opponent to play more aggressive because in the end that’s probably going to benefit me. So I was really just trying to play middle of the fairway, middle of the green, and I think I did a good job in the afternoon.”
The match’s opening 18 over Lancaster’s lightning-fast greens featured much give and take. The contestants halved just three holes with Barbin winning eight and O’Brien seven, including a 20-foot birdie putt at the 18th that tightened the match going into lunch. Each player birdied the opening hole of his second round.
Barbin then caught fire, winning the next three holes, two with birdies.
O’Brien, of West Chester, Ohio, was struggling with his swing, especially at the par-5 seventh, when he drove his tee ball into the water, then dunked his fourth shot into a pond guarding the green. Barbin’s sand save at the eighth gave him a 6-up lead.
“On the first couple of holes, I have a wedge in if I hit a good drive,” he said. “I know when I have a wedge out here, those are the birdie holes I can take advantage of. I was trying to get ahead in the first four holes, trying to play really aggressive, especially with those pin locations. So I guess I just was really just feeling it with the wedge.”
The pair traded wins at 10 and 12 and the margin was 6-up with six to play. O’Brien kept battling, with a tap-in birdie at 13 and a 10-footer for birdie at 14. But Barbin wrapped it up by draining a vicious side-hill 20-foot birdie putt at 15.
O’Brien, 22, who will wrap up his final year of eligibility next season at Florida Gulf Coast, said he knew he was in trouble when his favored left-to-right ball flight kept going left.
“When I found myself left of about six, seven, eight greens, that’s when I knew that it just wasn’t there,” he said. “Again, if I have my best stuff I still don’t know if I’m going to beat Zach. He played awesome, especially that front nine on the second 18.