George Forster was hoping to leave the stress of competition behind as he traveled Wednesday to Sunnybrook Golf Club to continue a playoff for the title of the Haverford Philadelphia PGA Championship. But with $100,000 on the line, it wasn’t easy.
Ultimately, what began as a seven-man playoff came down to Forster, the long-time head professional at Radnor Valley Country Club, and Philadelphia Cricket Club assistant pro Rusty Harbold, and went to the seventh extra hole before Forster knocked in a 12-foot birdie putt for the victory, his second in the event.
“I actually wasn’t as nervous in the playoff as I was in regulation,” the 63-year-old Forster said after winning the largest payout for club pros in the nation’s 41 PGA of America sections. “It was weird that I wasn’t as nervous, but when it came down to the last couple of holes, I was very nervous.”
Forster, who had to make a 10-foot par putt Tuesday to join the first-place crowd at 2-under-par 70, stayed steady as the playoff field went from the original seven, to six, to five and then to two, with the players playing only the 410-yard, par-4 uphill 18th at Sunnybrook. Three holes were played Tuesday before darkness halted play.
Forster drove in the fairway all four times Wednesday, and hit a 2-hybrid to the green each time with yardages that he said ranged from 181 to 189. And he might have had one advantage.
“I’ve always been not a long hitter. I’d say I’m slightly below average,” he said. “But I look at it this way, especially in this event, hitting first is an advantage. As long as I didn’t have 210 into the green or something like that, hitting first was a big advantage.”
Two competitors were eliminated Tuesday. The five remaining players quickly were narrowed to two on Wednesday’s first playoff hole when Forster stuck his approach to 2 feet and made birdie, while Harbold almost holed out his second shot for a tap-in birdie. That eliminated Billy Stewart of ACE Club, Brett Melton of Radley Run and Chris Krueger of Kings Creek.
Forster and Harbold matched pars and bogeys the next two times they played 18. But on the fourth hole of the day and seventh overall, Harbold drove into the right rough behind a tree and had to punch out. The ball rocketed over the green and into deep rough while Forster hit his second shot 12 feet below the hole.
Harbold tried to hit a high shot but couldn’t get far enough under the ball, which rolled over the other side. His par chip wound up 8 feet short, with Forster needing two putts to win. He only required one.
Forster, who pocketed $37,500 when he won this event in 2008, said he thought he would pay off his mortgage with the winnings.
“The money is so astronomical it’s like nothing I’ve even come close to winning in the past,’ he said. “I’ve always thought, if I won it, what would I do with it?”
Harbold, 37, the 2014 champion of this event, called it “awesome” to play in the tournament, sponsored by Haverford Trust Company.
“I couldn’t be … well, it would have been great to win, but it’s fun to have a chance and fun to be in a playoff and fun to be in that position,” he said.