| Go ahead and take your pick for which jarring stat best describes Logan Blondell’s dominating victory on Saturday in the 67th Gasparilla Invitational.
Was it shooting 10-under-par 200 to win by five strokes, commandeering the tournament scoring record from Mike Finster, who shot 8-under in 2019?
How about only making three bogeys over 54 holes – and for one stretch going 35 consecutive holes completely unscathed – at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, an ornery Donald Ross course built to punish loose shots?
Or could it be that he hit 16 of 18 greens in the final round with the entire field desperate for him to make a mistake?
Whichever one you choose, the answer is the same: Blondell put together a complete performance that will go down in the legend of a national mid-am event that traces its roots back to the 1930’s when professionals like Walter Hagen, Denny Shute and Paul Runyan first took part. Even more remarkable is that Blondell, a Lakeland, Florida, resident, was not in the field at the beginning of the week. He was one of seven Monday qualifiers out of 90 participants, shooting a 3-over 73 that barely got him into the field. Had he been one stroke worse, Blondell would have needed to get through a playoff to secure a tee time for the big tournament.
“I played professionally for five years and you come back and you don’t have any amateur resume anymore and it’s tough to get going,” Blondell told Global Golf Post moments after holing a birdie putt on the 18th hole in front of several hundred spectators and wafts of cigar smoke. “This is huge. It lets me know that I can play with these guys. If I have my game, I can win.”
Blondell did far more than just play with them.
With uncharacteristically warm weather and relatively benign winds throughout the tournament, Blondell opened with a 5-under 65 to take the lead and would never relinquish his position despite a long list of players within striking distance. His bogey-free 2-under 68 on Friday put him two strokes clear of past champion Marc Dull and Georgia mid-am Keith Guest, but this would be no two-horse race like we’ve seen in recent years. A total of 14 players finished the tournament under-par for the week – for comparison, just two players ended with red figures in both 2020 and 2021.
Blondell would be challenged immediately in Saturday’s final round. Dull made aggressive plays with his first two tee shots and it paid off as he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the first and stuffed his approach at the second for another, tying Blondell for the lead. At the same time, Devin Hernandez and Nick Maccario had come out of the gates swinging to reach 6-under, one stroke behind the leaders.
“I’m historically a very slow player. I’ve worked on it a lot. ... I grinded through that part. I’ve been on the clock since I was a kid.”
But as tight as the leaderboard remained for most of the afternoon, Blondell looked in total control at every step. He utilized a low, tight draw, almost never getting out of position or enduring stress on a course with devilish greens and more than enough out-of-bounds stakes to make players sweat. His approach came across as meticulous and analytical, which makes sense for a guy who graduated from Georgia Southern in 2011 with a finance degree and has made a living in the accounting world after a fruitless run chasing mini tours and Korn Ferry Tour Monday qualifiers.
A birdie at the par-3 fourth gave him a one-stroke advantage over Dull and Hernandez, and both of those players would slowly retreat as the day went forward. Blondell continued to rack up pars until he stood on the 12th tee with a two-stroke lead over Joseph Deraney.
That’s when he faced his toughest test of the day. With the final threesome nearly two holes behind the penultimate group, they were put on the clock. The reason was clear: Blondell was moving far slower than his playing partners, and he knew it. He did well to salvage a bogey on the difficult par-4 12th and then rebounded with an emphatic birdie on the par-3 13th, the crowd giving a roar of approval and shouting “Polk County represent.”
“I’m historically a very slow player,” Blondell said. “I’ve worked on it a lot. Thank goodness my club doesn’t allow rounds over three hours. I grinded through that part. I’ve been on the clock since I was a kid.”
With his group remaining on the clock, Blondell received a slow-play warning on the 15th hole. One more bad time and he would have incurred a two-stroke penalty. Flustered, he misplayed a 3-iron off the 16th tee that clipped a tree and barely went 150 yards. However, he hit a phenomenal recovery to 15 feet, drained the putt and gave another big fist pump.
That was it. Deraney bogeyed the 18th to give Blondell a four-stroke cushion, so it was purely a formality from there. Blondell laid up on the closing par-5, wedged it on and finished in style with his 12-foot birdie putt rolling in accompanied by a thunderous ovation.
“It feels awesome,” Blondell said. “I’ve practiced hard and to see it come out the last couple days, it’s very rewarding.”
Second place ended up being a logjam of four players as Deraney, Dull, Bobby Leopold and Jonathan Bale finished tied together. The senior division, which competes from the same tees as the mid-ams, was won by Jack Hall of Savannah, Georgia, with a 2-under 208 total.
The Amateur Golf Alliance announced that the 2022 Concession Cup will be played Nov. 14-18 at the Real Club Valderrama in Sotogrande, Spain. It will be the first overseas playing of the biennial international match, after postponements due to COVID-19.
The Walker Cup-style event brings together the world’s best mid-amateurs and senior amateurs. Previous matches in 2014, 2016 and 2018 were played in Bradenton, Florida.
Each team will be composed of six mid-amateurs and six senior amateurs. And for the first time in 2022, the Great Britain & Ireland team will expand to have five players from Europe in its competition against Team USA.
Members of the United States team will be selected through a new point system based on World Amateur Golf Ranking points from selected national tournaments. Four of the six players in each division will earn spots with points. The winners of the U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur champions also will make the team, leaving one player in each division as a captain’s selection.
“This has been a long time in the making,” said AGA president Alan Fadel. “But we are excited to bring the match back to life and to play overseas. We are also excited that when we come back to the states in 2024 the match will add a women’s side.”
Staff and Wire Reports