Orlando’s Andrew Arft completes a wire-to-wire victory at the 56th Jamaica Open Golf Championship.
For first-time Jamaica visitor Andrew Arft, it was very much a case of veni, vidi, vici: I came, I saw, I conquered.
A week ago, the 27-year-old American wasn’t even planning to come to Jamaica. Fast forward seven days, and Arft finally emerged triumphant after a tightly fought back nine to complete a wire-to-wire victory by one shot at the 56th Jamaica Open Golf Championship on Tuesday.
Arft carded a 1-under 71 for a 7-under total of 209 while
Dominic Piccirillo signed off with a 68 to finish alone in second place at 6-under. Fellow Americans Josh Anderson (70) and Blake Wagoner (69) were a further stroke back in a tie for third at Tryall Club in Hanover, just outside Montego Bay.
Arft, who had started the final round with a two-stroke lead, was twice caught at the top over the closing nine holes by Piccirillo before the tournament was effectively decided on the 18th green.
Piccirillo, playing in the next-to-last group, bogeyed the last after three-putting from 25 feet. Arft, in the final group, knew at that point that a par-4 on 18 last would be good enough to secure victory, and he delivered, striking a superb wedge approach to 20 feet and comfortably two-putted to seal the title and earn a winner’s cheque for $20,000.
“I knew that the clubhouse leader was at 6 (under), and I knew that a par on 18 would get the job done,” said Arft, who lives in Casselberry near Orlando and plays out of West Orange Country Club. “I gave the putter a chance, and four was good enough today. I was as happy as could be.
“I’ve had a couple of wins before, but nothing of this magnitude – especially with the purse and especially with some of the good players. I know in the last group and in the group in front of me, we had some guys who have either won or have had a lot of success here so I knew they were going to make a charge. There was a little bit of holding on for dear life from me but also just hitting some damn good golf shots.”
Arft only made the decision to come to Jamaica a week ago after being persuaded to do so by fellow professional Patrick Lundy while competing in a mini-tour event in Orlando.
“I had no intentions of playing this tournament at all, didn’t even think about it,” smiled Arft. “But Patrick said, ‘Hey man, you should play it.’ So, I signed up on Thursday, booked the flight on Friday, got here on Saturday morning and now it’s Tuesday and I’m champion! It feels amazing!”
On another hot day at Tryall with very little ocean breeze, Arft offset a birdie at the first with a bogey at the second before picking up another shot at the par-5 sixth to reach the turn in 1-under 36. He eagled the par-5 11th to get to 9-under but then bogeyed 12 and 13 to set up the nerve-tingling finish.
“Today was really an up-and-down day,” said Arft. “I had a couple of birdies, I had an eagle, and I had a couple of bad bogeys. I don’t know for sure but I played 14 through 18 at 1-under-par for three rounds and I would be shocked if that was not the best by far – not to belittle anyone else, but that’s good golf.”
Piccirillo was four shots off the pace heading into the final round, but he quickly closed in at the top with a birdie at the third and eagles at the par-5 sixth and eighth. After reaching the turn in 5-under 32, he sandwiched bogeys at 10 and 12 around another eagle at the par-5 11th to join Arft in a share of the lead at 7-under.
However, with a possible tournament victory in his sights, Piccirillo ran up that three-putt bogey at the last to slip back to 6-under and into solo second place.
“I always seem to have a bad finish at Tryall,” said Piccirillo, who resides in Las Vegas and plays out of Shadow Creek, where he also works as a caddie. “I played pretty well all day. I made a really good swing on 10 and got a really bad bounce. I made a bogey on that par-3. And then 12…I said it earlier in the week, 12 is the fastest green on the golf course, and I didn’t remember it, and I hit it about eight feet by, and I missed that comeback putt. So that was my fault for not remembering.
“And then I missed three or four birdie putts coming in. So, I had a chance. I thought the putt on 18 was just really fast coming down the hill. It was a good shot out of the sand and it was kind of where we wanted it but it just wasn’t very fast going down the hill. I thought I hit a pretty good putt. The next one I just played a touch too much break and too much speed, not a good combo. But that happens. All in all, the week was great. This is my best finish out here and it’s my third year doing it. So, I’m happy, just a little frustrated.”
Two very promising Jamaican amateurs had turned professional on the eve of the championship, and they both finished in the bottom half of the field. Sebert Walker Jr. carded a 9-over 81 to end up 22nd at 15-over, while Justin Burrowes returned a 74 to wind up in 25th at 18-over.
“To make my first professional start at home with my family here watching was just a perfect week for me,” said the 22-year-old Burrowes. “Even though I didn’t play my best golf, it was super-cool to have my family here. If I had to grade myself on how I thought my game was, I would probably give myself a C game for the week.”
Aqua Bay Resort returned as the presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. The tournament serves to showcase its vast potential and the beauty of Jamaica and was also sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Tourism Enhancement Fund, Digicel Business, and the Grand Palladium Hotel.
Photos Courtesy of Jamaica Golf Association