June 1, 2001
A week or so ago, Tyler Witman told his high school golf coach, Jerry Dorneman, that he liked playing in front of a crowd. He thought it helped him focus.
If the Cape Henlopen sophomore keeps repeating the performance he displayed in winning the Delaware High School Golf Championship on May 30, Witman might have a chance to play in front of crowds on a regular basis–on the Tour.
Witman shot a 5-over 76 on the DuPont course at DuPont Country Club Wednesday, after shooting an even-par 71 on the club’s Nemours course the day before. The two-day total of 147 put him in a tie for first place with Mike Williams of Tatnall.
Then the fun began.
Witman missed a 4-foot putt on the first playoff hole. Williams then missed a 3-foot putt for the win, with the ball rolling by “an inch from the cup,” according to Dorneman.
On the second playoff hole, both players lipped out birdie putts.
On the third playoff hole, Williams hit his second shot 20 feet above the hole, while Witman put his approach 10 feet below it. Williams snaked his putt in for birdie, only to be deflated as Witman matched him with his own birdie.
On the fourth hole, Witman, playing first, hit a self-described “three-quarter gap wedge to 2 feet or so” after driving down the middle to 108 yards. Williams pushed his drive into the rough, and then pushed his approach to a greenside bunker. Williams’ recovery shot rolled six feet by and he missed the par save, leaving Witman with two putts for par and the win.
His birdie at that point was simply an exclamation point for the round and the championship, and the crowd of approximately 100 applauded.
The playoff win in the State Championship matched Witman’s recent playoff victory in the Henlopen Conference Tournament. Playing extra holes just doesn’t faze him, apparently.
Dorneman said simply, “Tyler was pretty damn impressive, really. I followed him for the last 6 holes or so in regulation. He was playing with intensity but a bit overly cautious. In the playoff, though, he turned into a tiger, especially after missing the 4-foot putt on the first hole. After that, he hit nothing but knockdown shots. They were dead straight, dead low, and they’d bounce once and stop.”
Witman was obviously pleased with his season finale. “I was happy with how I played. The conditions were a bit more than I expected they’d be. We had winds [on Wednesday] of 20 miles per hour, and sometimes 40 mile per hour gusts.”
Tuesday’s round was a bit gentler, played in easier conditions on the relatively short Nemours course. The final round on the DuPont course, for which only the previous day’s top 4 scorers for each school qualified, presented the golfers with the kind of challenge that the LPGA Tour players will face on the same course in a few weeks in the LPGA Championship.
Witman’s only real miss-step in the second round came at the 10th hole. “I was trying to play conservatively, but I managed to hit it out of bounds into the parking lot. That led to a double, but I recovered well after that.”
J.J. Oakley led the remaining Vikings and nearly all of the other golfers on the second round with a 75. His “superb round,” as Dorneman described it, helped make up for Oakley’s opening round 80.
Oakley attributed the difference in his two rounds to simply playing more consistently. “On the first day I had to chip out of the woods 6 times, and I had trouble making putts. On the second day I hit a lot of fairways and made 8 greens in regulation on the back 9. I made a birdie putt on 18, after a 7 wood to 15 feet. That was a nice way to finish.”
Mark Johnson matched his 85 on the first day with another 85 on the second day. “I didn’t play very well, but it was exciting to watch Tyler win the tournament in the playoff. I think I wanted it too much, and I forgot how to bounce back from a bad hole or two.”
Adam Talley’s 85 also qualified him for the second round, but he was sure he blew his chances after his front nine 46 on Tuesday. “I brought it back with a 39, but on the second day I just made a whole bunch of bogeys. I finished with a 90, 1-over bogey for the round.”
Christian Donovan and Jason Ritthaler shot 88 and 89 on the first day, and didn’t qualify for the second round. Nonetheless, Dorneman said he was impressed that both boys played a couple strokes under their average in their first State tournament.
The team score of 647 was good for 5th place overall. Not the finest finish for the Vikings as a whole, but Witman’s individual triumph helped make up for it.
Dorneman said, “Certainly this was the best season I’ve ever had as a coach.”
Thanks to Bob McCurry, a former Toyota vice-chairman and current member of Rehoboth Beach Country Club, Cape Region golfers will have a chance to see Raymond Floyd tee it up on June 4.
Floyd will play a round with local golfers who plunked down some serious change for the opportunity, beginning at 8 a.m. at Rehoboth CC. The outing benefits the Delaware State Golf Association Scholarship Fund. Cape Region golfers can also make birdie pledges for the cause by signing up at the club’s pro shop. For more information, call 302-227-3616.