Steve Maddalena follows through on a shot during the City Golf Championship at Cascades Golf Course on Saturday. Photo by Jeff Steers, JTV Sports.
By Gary Kalahar
The importance of driving distance was made clear Saturday in the final match of the City Championship golf tournament.
It doesn’t mean a darn thing – at least for Steve Maddalena.
Regularly outdriven by 30, 40, even 50 yards, Maddalena once again used precision iron play to add to his legacy as Jackson’s greatest amateur golfer by winning a record seventh City title. Maddalena won the first five holes on the way to a 6-and-5 victory over Riley Hestwood in the 36-hole final match on an ideal day at Cascades Golf Course.
Maddalena broke a tie with Bob Zimmerman and Robert Corley, who each won the City six times. Already the tournament’s oldest winner when he took the championship in 2016 at age 56, Maddalena extended that mark out another three years and also matched Zimmerman’s mark for longevity by winning 36 years after his first City title.
It was a disappointing end to a thrilling week for Hestwood, who hasn’t even been playing golf as long as Maddalena has qualified for the senior division. Hestwood, a left-hander who will be a sophomore studying business management at Aquinas College, was in the tournament for just the second time after winning one match last year.
“I felt like I played well this whole week, and today I had a brutal start,” said Hestwood, who had his father, Mike – the County Open champion 25 years ago – as his caddy. “I didn’t really feel like myself out there. I wasn’t really nervous. I thought of it as just another match, but obviously there’s a bit of added pressure with the championship on the line, and playing Steve, he’s a Jackson golf legend, and he showed it today.”
He showed it as he has for decades, with accurate driving and pinpoint approach shots that repeatedly rendered Hestwood’s driving advantage moot. Even on the par-5s, where Hestwood would seem to have the upper hand, Maddalena won three of the eight on the day and never lost one.
“He hits the ball a lot farther than I do – but everybody does,” Maddalena said. “I’ve always been not the longest hitter. I’m happy with 265 yards. Riley’s hitting it 300 yards. All these kids are. My iron play was spotty at times, but it was good all week. For the most part, the bad ones were still within 20 feet. That’s pretty encouraging if I can keep doing that.
“And I’m driving it really straight. I’m fortunate to be playing out of the short grass most of the time. I don’t think I missed more than a handful of fairways all week.”
Perhaps no hole showed Maddalena’s prowess more than the par-5 sixth in the afternoon round. Outdriven by 50 yards, he still ended up with a closer birdie putt than Hestwood.
“You know he’s a great ball striker, so you just have to worry about yourself,” Hestwood said. “When you keep looking up and it’s 10 feet away from the pin, it can get disheartening. He’s a great player.”
Maddalena did say he is hitting his driver 20 yards longer than in the past.
“It’s probably a little bit the ball, a bit the equipment, and I definitely have a better golf swing, more consistent,” he said.
Four pars sandwiched around a birdie on No. 3 gave Maddalena a startling 5-up lead after the match’s first five holes.
“I was lucky to catch him on not his best day,” Maddalena said. “I don’t know if he was nervous or what, but he was not playing like I’ve seen him play. So I was fortunate to catch him on a day when he didn’t have his ‘A’ game.”
Hestwood, who smiled later when saying he was “just trying to halve a hole at that point” finally got on track with a birdie to win No. 7. He also birdied No. 9. Maddalena won the 10th with a par before Hestwood took the next two with a par and a birdie to cut the lead to 2 up.
Maddalena said the quick start did not change his approach to the 36-hole match.
“There’s so many holes in this,” he said. “In the back of your mind, you’re thinking if you just chip away, chip away, chip away. That’s what he did. That’s the mentality I would have. So I had to stay diligent and not give him any easy holes, and I didn’t do any of that.”
Pars on the 13th and 17th pushed Maddalena’s lead back to 4 up before Hestwood closed the opening round with a winning par. He didn’t win another hole, as Maddalena never gave him an opening in the afternoon round, firing nine pars and four birdies over the 13 holes. The only potential wobble came on No. 7, where Maddalena bunkered his approach and then faced a 23-foot par putt that he rolled in for a halve.
“You always have to think he’s going to get up and down, and sure enough, he did,” Hestwood said. “I wasn’t really shocked by it. That’s what he does. He’s a great player.”
The lead was 5 up after Hestwood three-putted the ninth, and the match ended with Maddalena’s 10-foot birdie putt on No. 13.
Maddalena advanced to the final with an unlikely victory in Friday’s semifinal match against Mark Kurzynowski. Two down with two to play, Maddalena won No. 17 with a par and curled in a 6-foot birdie putt to win No. 18 after Kurzynowski had lipped out from just outside that distance. Maddalena then took the first extra hole with a birdie.
With the victory, Maddalena wrapped up Jackson’s Player of the Year honor. Hestwood, who also finished second in a playoff in the Spring Thaw, solidified the third spot on the Honor Roll.
“I knew I was good enough to get here,” Hestwood said. “I’ve got the confidence to get to the finals or get in the last group, now I just have to get over the hump, which I feel in the future I will.”
Riley Hestwood watches his chip shot head toward the green during the City Golf Championship at Cascades Golf Course on Saturday. Photo by Jeff Steers, JTV Sports.