AUBURN, Maine — Thursday’s conclusion of the fourth-annual Maine State Golf Association Match Play Invitational served nicely as the dictionary definition of the format.
Matt Greenleaf dropped two of the best shots of his life onto the 17th and 18th greens at Fox Ridge Golf Club. Joe Walp, try as he might, couldn’t match them.
And so it was Greenleaf who walked off with the 1-up victory and his first individual title in any of the MSGA’s showcase events.
“It’s the reason I play amateur golf,” Greenleaf said. “We work for it, whether it’s the amateur, match play, mid-amateur, tri-states. There’s a group that we consider majors, and today was a major.”
After putting himself in a major bind with a 41 on the front nine, two holes in arrears at the turn, Greenleaf birdied 10, 11 and 12 in succession to seize the lead. Walp made birdies at 13 and 15 to take it back.
The staredown continued at the 543-yard 17th, where both players hit their second shot just shy of the green. Walp’s ball landed on the fringe, about 10 yards closer.
Greenleaf’s chip made a tantalizing run at eagle, rattling the pin.
“I hit it a little thin, actually,” Greenleaf said. “It probably would have gone 10 feet by if it didn’t hit the stick.”
Walp was close enough to putt and had a chance to clinch the title. He pushed that bid past the hole, however, then missed the four-foot comebacker.
“I had the read. I just hit the ball too hard,” Walp said. “Then I left it short.”
It squared the match and gave honors to Greenleaf, who landed his drive in perfect position to the right side of the fairway leading to the 397-yard finishing hole.
Walp’s response landed on the far side, in the rough, and supplied him with little more than a Hail Mary on the approach.
“I was a little quick on that one and went dead left,” he said. “I was in trouble after that.”
His second shot sailed 20 feet over the green, again to the left, leaving Greenleaf secure in the knowledge that landing his ball on the green probably would be enough to win the championship.
He stuck it eight feet from the pin.
“My best shot of the day was the last shot of the tournament,” Greenleaf said. “I absolutely flushed it. I’m a pretty quick player. No deep breath. No nothing. Just get up and hit it.”
After Walp chipped short and then putted long, Greenleaf conservatively shuffled his putt just shy of the hole. Walp conceded the tap-in, giving Greenleaf a 4-under 32 on the back nine.
The two players from Portland — Greenleaf, 31, out of Sable Oaks in South Portland and Walp, 19, from Falmouth Country Club — halved only five holes in their game of ‘can-you-top-this?’
“We both played well, and the back nine is usually the nine you look to score on,” Greenleaf said. “It’s more open. That’s where more birdies are, no question. The front nine you just try to grind out pars and lay up. And a few of those tee shots don’t sit well for me because I don’t draw the golf ball. If I can fade the ball, I’m a happy camper.”
Greenleaf began his rally by rolling in a 25-footer for birdie on No. 10.
“It gets you the momentum, gets the blood flowing, feeling a little bit better,” Greenleaf said.
Two superb wedges and six-foot putts on 11 and 12 supplied Greenleaf’s first lead.
Walp countered on 13, draining a 15-foot offering at the 126-yard par-3 after Greenleaf just missed his try from the back fringe.
It was the third of four birdies on the day for Walp, who shot 74. The last one came on 15, after he stopped his approach two feet from the pin.
“That was a lot of fun,” Walp said of the back nine. “We made a bunch of birdies. The first nine was ugly, both of us.”
Greenleaf bogeyed 5, 6 and 7 consecutively, but the one in the middle might have rescued his title hopes.
After hitting his drive into the bog and taking a one-stroke penalty, Greenleaf landed his third shot to the left of the green, chipped on and made a four-foot save.
Walp took the more direct route to the green but failed to make par and take advantage.
He did scramble to win the seventh after both players encountered disaster off the tee, then birdied nine for the only two-hole advantage of the morning.
Greenleaf was part of the Maine team that won the tri-state title in Vermont a year ago. He’ll help defend that crown across Washington Ave. at Martindale next month.
But this is the greatest solo accomplishment to date for the assistant manager of Golf & Ski Warehouse in Scarborough. Greenleaf has finished as high as fourth in the Maine Amateur. He reached the 2011 match play final at Augusta Country Club before losing to hometown favorite Ryan Gay.
“That was David versus Goliath,” Greenleaf said. “It was just me and my caddy and 30 other people following [Gay] around.”
Goliath has since turned pro, and David became the giant this time around.
But Greenleaf was reminded of his underdog roots in the clubhouse, where he picked up the emblematic crystal vase before enjoying a celebratory drink.
Non-alcoholic, that is.
“Now I’ve got to go to work,” he said with a shrug.