By Mike Meiler [email protected]
Nearly everyone at Niagara Falls Country Club was rooting for Ben Reichert on Saturday. Mother Nature and the golf gods included.
The East Aurora native became the first Western New Yorker since 1965 to capture the Porter Cup, leading the 62nd edition of the tournament wire-to-wire and finishing at 11-under with a 2-under 68 in Saturday’s final round.
Playing in his sixth Porter Cup, Reichert created his own fortune most of the week. He carded only three bogeys over the entire 72 holes, going 29 straight without in one stretch after shooting a 6-under 64 to jump ahead Thursday.
He needed a bit of luck to close the deal.
Up one stroke on Elmira, Ontario’s Garrett Rank — the NHL referee and tournament favorite — heading onto the par-4 17th, Reichert crushed his tee shot right, a future souvenir in one of the many backyards lining NFCC. But the shot hit a tree and bounced back into the center of the fairway, and Reichert launched an iron onto the short side of the green for one of a handful of key pars.
Rank, playing one group ahead, bogeyed 18, meaning Reichert needed at worst a 4 on the par-3 closing hole to win. But he walloped another tee shot over the green, seemingly headed for Mountain View Drive. Instead, the ball hopped and hit a spectator’s seat, stopping in play. Reichert finessed a chip just in front of the hole and closed with par.
Rank, in his 10th Porter Cup, finished second and 9-under. New York City’s Ethan Ng and Amesbury, Massachusetts’ Chris Francoeur, tied for third at 8-under.
Ng was one stroke back until the 17th hole. While setting up his approach shot, he practice swing caught part of a tree, causing his ball to move and taking a two-stroke penalty.
Reichert’s chief competition most of the day, Norway’s Herman Senke, had a chance to tie with a 1-foot eagle putt on the par-5 11th, but it lipped out. He remained one stroke back of Reichert until the par-4 14th, when his tee shot sailed left, caught a tree and bounced out of bounds. He re-teed, and his approach from the right rough sailed over the green and into an unplayable area on the back of a hill
After another drop penalty, a chip and a two-putt, Senke carded an 8 on the hole and fell back to 6-under.