Michael Hyland knew this had the potential to be a big day in an already highly regarded golf career, which is why his nerves were showing on the early holes of Thursday's final round of the Golf Association of Philadelphia's Middle-Amateur championship.
"I haven't been in this position in so long, just not playing the last couple of years," Hyland said. "If I could tell you how hard it was to get a yardage with the range finder, I was shaking so much. I tried not to make it look like that, but over the putter on the first couple of holes, I was nervous, I'll admit it."
After three early bogeys, Hyland settled himself down, played 1-under-par golf on the final 11 holes and gained a decisive 3-stroke victory in the first major of GAP's 2018 season, under bright sunshine at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown.
Hyland, 39, of Little Mill, a two-time Philadelphia Amateur champion who did not play competitive golf last year after undergoing back surgery, shot a closing 2-over-par 73 for a 36-hole score of 1-over 143.
Merion's Michael McDermott, a four-time winner of this event, shot an even-par 71 and took second at 146 while Matthew Finger of DuPont placed third at 148 following a 77.
Hyland said he had no issues with his back during the round, and credited the warm weather and the 30 minutes of stretching he did in Llanerch's workout area before he began. He said the victory left him "speechless."
"I never dreamed I'd be back in this position," he said. "I'd literally given up on competitive golf. It's all about my kids right now, work and family and all that. But when this tournament came up and it was at Llanerch, I just had to play. I love this place so much."
Hyland was tied with Finger after nine holes at 1 over par but gained momentum on the 10th hole with what he called "one of the greatest up-and-downs of my life." His second shot to the par-4 hit a sprinkler head and carried well over the green, but his pitch rolled to within six feet of the hole and he made his putt for par.
"If the tournament came down to any hole, it was 10," he said.
After a three-putt bogey at No. 13, Hyland made steady pars on the next three holes while most of his challengers were fading. He pretty much clinched the win at the par-3 17th, where he hit a wedge from 143 yards to five feet and sank the birdie putt. He concluded his round with a two-putt par at 18.
Michael Hyland, Little Mill 70-73—143
Michael McDermott, Merion 75-71—146
Eddie Johnson, Llanerch 71-77—148
Matthew Finger, DuPont 71-77—148
Peter Barron III, Greate Bay 79-70—149
Michael Brown Jr., Lu Lu 75-74—149
Jeff Osberg, Huntingdon Valley 75-74—149
Bill Jeremiah, Bidermann 73-76—149
Gregor Orlando, Phila. Cricket 74-76—150
Scott McLaughlin, Lu Lu 72-78—150
John Samaha, Old York Road 75-75—150
Ben Smith, Huntingdon Valley 76-75—151
Kevin McDermott, Llanerch 74-77—151
James Gillespie, Little Mill 77-74—151
Tom Grady, Radley Run 70-81—151
Scott McNeil, Bala 72-79—151
Stephen Dressel, St. Davids 79-73—152
Matthew Crescenzo, Philmont 79-73—152
Jarred Texter, Conestoga 77-75—152
Thomas Timby Jr., Bucks Club 72-80—152