By Cam Huffman
Three courses and 54 holes — 55, in fact — weren’t enough to separate Bosten Miller and Brandon Reece and determine the champion of the 32nd annual Beckley Newspapers Memorial Golf Classic.
But on the second playoff hole — No. 2 at The Resort at Glade Springs’ Cobb Course — Miller, the leader after each of the first two rounds, tapped in for birdie and his first BNI championship.
The recent Marshall graduate, and co-captain of the Thundering Herd squad this past season, kept the championship in the family, following former teammate Christian Brand, who had won the last three BNI events, by claiming the top prize.
“It’s pretty great, especially winning in a playoff,” said Miller, a graduate of Charleston’s Capital High School and the 2007 West Virginia Junior Amateur champion. “I grinded it out on the back 9, Brandon played great, and it was pretty special. Christian won it the last three years, and we’ve always had a little unspoken rivalry.”
Miller, who shot 65 Saturday at Grandview Country Club and 67 Sunday at Pipestem Resort State Park, had a comfortable four-shot lead heading into Monday’s final round, but it took Reece, a Beckley native and a two-time BNI winner, just nine holes to erase that advantage.
Playing almost flawless golf, Reece shot a 1-under 35 on the front, while Miller struggled to a 3-over 39. He double bogeyed the par-3 third, after hitting his tee shot out of bounds, and picked up two more bogeys on Nos. 5 and 7.
“I didn’t really hit terrible shots, but the spots I hit them in were pretty awful,” said Miller. “I had the wrong club on No. 3 and hit the cart path and went out of bounds. I tried to get too cute with it on No. 5, and hit it out of bounds, too.
“But I was just trying to hang in there.”
Reece pulled in front for the first time on the par-4 10th, picking up a birdie while a frustrated Miller bogeyed to put Reece up two strokes.
“I rolled it pretty good on the front 9 and didn’t make any mistakes,” said Reece. “Then I got that big putt on 10.”
Nothing changed over the next five holes — both picked up pars on 11 and 12, bogeyed 13 and birdied 14 — but it was Miller’s birdie on that hole that changed the momentum.
After watching Reece put his approach right next to the pin, Miller put his second 10 feet past the pin with some spin. The ball came back toward the flag, barely missing the hole, and stopped within three feet. He tapped in for the 3.
“(Reece) made birdie as well, but it was still a confidence builder to finally hit a good shot,” said Miller.
The champion picked up a stroke on No. 15 when Reece missed a short par putt to the right and Miller used his belly putter to make par.
He got another stroke in a similar fashion on 16 when Reece sent a 13-foot birdie putt four feet past the hole and couldn’t save par, leaving the two at the top of the leaderboard all tied with two to play.
Reece nearly pulled back ahead on the par-3 17th when his tee shot landed a foot left of the pin and stopped five feet away, but he again missed the putt and had to settle for par.
On 18, a par-5, Miller thought it was over when he put his third shot two feet behind Reece, who was again only about five feet away, and left his birdie putt about six inches short.
But Reece also missed his shorter birdie putt and had to settle for par, sending the match to a playoff with both players tied with an 8-under 208 for the three rounds.
“They both played good,” said Kelly Shumate, who had a first-hand look at the action, playing in the same group. The Greenbrier golf course superintendent finished fourth with a 2-under 214. “We all kind of struggled on the back (after a short rain delay that followed a quick downpour). But those two bogeys cost Brandon a little bit.”
Beginning the sudden death playoff on No. 1, both golfers carded par on the par-4, moving the action, and the 20-plus golf carts following it, to the par-5 second.
That’s where Miller finally closed the door.
He hit his drive right down the middle and his second shot landed just short of the green, but on line with the pin.
Reece put his 50-foot eagle putt from the front-left corner of the green within about seven feet, but Miller used his putter to putt from the rough and put it within a foot.
“I hit a good driver and then a little cut 7-iron,” he said. “I thought it was perfect. It was about 196 to the flag. Then I putted out of the rough and was just a little short.”
Reece’s birdie putt missed to the left, and he had to settle for a par, allowing Miller to tap in for a birdie and claim the victory.
“It’s just frustrating,” said Reece, visibly disappointed after coming so close. “I couldn’t make any putts coming in. I had three or four opportunities.”
Miller admitted feeling the pressure of the playoff — he said he couldn’t remember playing in one since a regional at Glade Springs when he was in high school — but he enjoyed the drama.
“I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders because I had blown a lead,” he said. “But I had a lot of fun.”
He’ll play in a father-child tournament at Glade Springs next week before heading to The Greenbrier for the West Virginia Amateur the following week.
Michael Powers carded a 1-over 73 on Monday to finish at 4-under 212 for the tournament in third place. Shumate and Winston Canada were the only two other players under par. Canada took fifth with a 1-under 215.
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