For recent St. Joseph’s graduate Michael O’Brien, the second day of match play at the BMW Philadelphia Amateur began when he left the home of Hawks teammate Richard Riva, where he was staying, for the short drive with Riva to Lancaster Country Club.
Once they got to the course, however, the teammates became opponents for a little more than two hours on a Wednesday morning when O’Brien won five of the last six holes for a 7-and-6 victory over Riva in the quarterfinals.
O’Brien would go on in the afternoon to a 1-up semifinal victory over Matt Mattare to earn a spot in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match against Liberty junior Zach Barbin. But he admitted the pairing with Riva was “definitely weird.”
“You’re always playing on the same team,” said O’Brien, who lives in West Chester, Ohio. “We’ve played so many matches against each other in practice and stuff and this one just happened to mean a lot. It was one of those things. You’re going to be a little upset because one of us was going to lose, and you’re going to be happy because one of us was going to win.”
Barbin, of Elkton, Md., eliminated Penn State junior Lukas Clark, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals and defeated 2001 Amateur champion Brian Gillespie, 4 and 3, in the semifinals.
Both O’Brien and Barbin were successful in getting off to early leads in both rounds, giving them the opportunity to focus on hitting fairways and keeping approach shots below the hole on the fast Lancaster greens and make their opponents force the issue.
In a match when both players shot under par, O’Brien holed a 140-yard second shot for eagle at No. 2 and birdied No. 3 to get off to a 2-up lead. Mattare, winner of two Golf Association of Philadelphia majors, closed the gap to one hole on three occasions, the final time with a birdie at 15, but O’Brien parred the final three holes to win.
“It’s so tough and so hard to putt,” O’Brien said. “Birdies are hard to come by. If you try to force it, that’s what the course wants and it’ll take it away. You’ll blow up if you try to force anything. So it’s a matter of just staying patient and letting it come to you.”
Barbin birdied three of his first five holes against Gillespie for a 3-up lead. Gillespie got a hole back with a birdie at the par-5 seventh but, Barbin regained a 3-up lead after the 10th and 12th holes, and closed out the match with a par at 15.
“My mentality is, if I can get ahead quickly within the first couple of holes, then I can try to sustain that because this is a golf course that can really beat you up,” Barbin said. “There are not too many birdie opportunities out there, so you can put the pressure on by hitting fairways and hitting the middle of the greens.”
Both finalists saw almost all of their spring seasons canceled by the pandemic. O’Brien said he felt St. Joe’s could have made a strong run at the Atlantic 10 championship.
Winning the Philadelphia Amateur, though, would be a nice consolation prize, whether it was Riva or himself.