No one will accuse Ryan Hagger of taking an easy path to the championship of the 2012 Idylwylde Invitational.
Capturing the title in 2005 as well, the Blind River native qualified comfortably on Friday, carding a one under par 71, before eliminating locals Ryan Abresch and Matt Dumontelle on Saturday in match play.
"This year, I think, was a little tougher, especially in day two," Hagger said, moments after accepting the hardware that comes part and parcel of finishing first in the 65th edition of the prestigious northern Ontario tournament.
"I had Vinny (six-time champion Vince Palladino), I had Dave Bunker. To beat him, just to play with him, was an honour," Hagger said.
Like most tournament-winners who have come before him, Hagger dodged a bullet or two before eventually emerging victorious, most notably in his Sunday morning semifinal with Palladino.
"I had a brain-fart and three-putted 17," Hagger explained. "I knew I had to at least make a birdie on 18 to try and win the hole and extend the match. He made birdie, I had to make eagle.
"On the third playoff hole, I made a clutch par putt from 15 feet to move on."
Things didn't get a whole lot easier in the afternoon, battling Dave Bunker, the man who has become synonymous with mid-amateur golfing excellence in Canada in the final.
All even through 15 holes, Hagger caught a break on 16 when Bunker three-putted on the always fast Idylwylde greens. Hagger, a mainstay at the local event, sealed the deal one hole later with a birdie, earning the crown after not qualifying for championship flight play one year ago.
"I stayed positive, stayed with my game," Hagger said. "I was hitting the ball very well, putting well."
Despite now playing just once a week on men's night at Huron Pines, Hagger balances his natural competitiveness with a reality check as he enters the Invitational these days.
"I still want to do well, but if I don't, it's not the end of the world, I will be disappointed," he said. "Even though I'm only playing once a week, I'm still playing well."
As for Bunker, a first-time tournament participant who previously played the course at the 2010 Ontario Amateur Championships, the final ended a wonderful weekend of golf.
"I like this format," he said. "You play a lot of golf in four days — it's a test. You've got to play well the whole time."
Ironically, Bunker matched the opening round score of 71 that was carded on Friday by Hagger, the pair sitting second behind only Gianfanco Guida at 70.
Bunker, who eliminated Jay Quesnel, Larry Vander Bie and Guida en route to his head-to-head matchup with Hagger, recalled the Idylwylde playing much the same during his one and only previous visit two years ago.
"The course played similar, the greens were about the same speed," Bunker said. "Today, we got a break on the win. During the amateur, it seemed windy all four days."
Bunker had finished seventh at the Ontario Amateur Championships earlier this summer, despite being more than double the age of every single one of the six kids who placed ahead of him.
"It's not frustrating," he said with a laugh. "It's fun, because I've played with a lot of young players who have moved on."
But without a doubt, the highlight for the Woodbridge native has been a decision by the RCGA (Royal Canadian Golf Association) to grant an exemption to one of the country's premier golfing events to the standing national mid-amateur champion.
"I would say that getting a chance to play in two PGA Tour events, getting the chance to play the Canadian Open has been the highlight," Bunker said. "At this point in my career, when you get those chances that you don't expect to happen — and I got it two years in a row — that's pretty special."
Included among some of the other flight or consolation winners were the following golfers:
1st place - Jordan Bilodeau - 73
2nd place - Alex Watier - 75
Mike Roberts defeats Mark Brewer 4 & 3
Claude Thiverge defeats Paul Raycroft 3 & 2
Antony McCullogh defeats Eric Edelman
(concession- injury - McCullogh up three after 12)
Posted by Laurel Myers