Ben Hollerbach Defends World Hickory Match Play Title

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The field at the third World Hickory Match Play Championship at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, May 23-25, 2016

It is becoming a familiar rivalry that brings to mind Jones and Sarazen, or Jones and Hagen, or Jones and just about anybody else. But Jeremy Moe, 2014 WHMP champ and Ben Hollerbach, the 2015 champ, have met for the third time in this event, and have competed against each other in several other hickory tournaments around the country… and world. Hollerbach, of Brookhaven, Ga., got the best of Moe this time, but not by much, defeating the Hardscrabble Country Club pro by the slimmest of margins to defend his title.

The third World Hickory Match Play Championship was held at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, on the historic St. Martins Course, May 23-25. Sixteen champion hickory golfers and 16 hickory golf gentlemen came to America’s oldest country club for a unique-to-hickory match play competition that would test both skill and stamina.

Format and Divisions

Each player in both the Champions Division and Players Division play five 9-hole matches, where each hole is worth a point and each hole halved is worth a ½ point.  At the end of the matches, points are tallied and the four gentlemen with the most points compete in third place and championship matches in traditional elimination match play.

The Champions Division had 16 of the finest hickory golfers in the world, including winners from the following hickory tournaments: Canadian Hickory Open; World Hickory Match Play Championship; U.S. Hickory Open; World Hickory Open Low Amateur; U.S. Amateur Hickory Championship; Southern Hickory 4-Ball; Belvedere Hickory Open; Mid Pines Hickory Open; C.B. MacDonald; Onion Creek Hickory Classic; Mountain Valley Hickory Open; Michigan Hickory Open; Vermont Hickory Open, and the National Hickory Championship.

The Players Division also had 16 hickory golfers from various regional hickory groups around the United States, including: the Philadelphia Hickory Golf Society; Northwest Hickory Players; Michigan Hickory Tour; New England Hickory Society; Carolina Hickory Golf Association; Hickory Golfers of Massachusetts; Metropolitan Hickory Society, and the Vermont Hickory Golf Association.

The Philadelphia Cricket Club, as it has proved in the past, was the perfect venue for this championship. The St. Martins course was the site of the 1907 and 1910 U.S. Open Championships, and is now a wonderful 9-hole course. It also served as the site of the 2013 National Hickory Championship. The Club treated us like members and who is to say that they were not responsible for the lovely late spring weather that blessed both days of competition.

The Competition

Monday was a practice day of final tune-ups, friendly challenge matches, and simply enjoying the historic and relaxing setting of the Cricket Club. Competitors were resplendent in handsome attire for the evening’s Champions Dinner which left no appetite wanting.

w-old-tom-awardBrian Schuman, WHMP chairman, presented Tad Moore with the prestigious Old Tom Morris award (shown at right). Previous recipients were Lionel Freedman (2014) and Mike Just (2015). The award is presented to an individual who shows an appreciation and passion for the game of hickory golf. Moore was unable to attend in person, but sent a very nice video message, thanking us for the honor.

The permanent Championship Trophy was then formally presented to last year’s champion, Ben Hollerbach, with his name now engraved just below the 2014 champion, Jeremy Moe.

Tuesday morning was bright and beautiful in Philadelphia. The competition requires a certain decorum with regard to attire, but this rule is as nothing to this experienced field of competitors who turned out on a cool morning in their best dress shirts, ties, and either plus-fours, -twos, or long trousers. The WHMP also requires walking, either carrying or with caddies, in keeping with the traditions of the hickory golf era, where motorized golf cars did not exist.

The ceremonial opening tee shot was provided by Tony Dorboba, head professional at the St. Martins course. Will Peterson, winner of the U.S. Amateur Hickory Championship in February this year in Temple Terrace, Fla., started the matches off with his first tee shot against Rick Woeckener, winner of the 2014 Mid Pines Hickory Open.

The competition was spirited, and most matches were closely contested. Holes were won and halved, stymies were played, and everyone enjoyed the unique experience of match play competition. At the end of Day 1 and the first three matches, Ben Hollerbach, the 2015 Match Play Champion; and Cliff Martin, the 2015 World Hickory Open Low Amateur, led the Champions Division with 17 ½ points. Jeremy Moe, Will Peterson, and Rick Woeckener were close behind with 17, 16, and 16 points each.

In the Players Division, Bill Conant of Massachusetts led the way with a very impressive 19 points, followed closely by Karl Nagy of South Carolina with 18 ½ points, and David Atkinson of Philadelphia with 17 points.

After play, the competitors enjoyed a relaxed barbeque dinner, libations and cigars on the veranda of the club house, which overlooks the cricket pitch/grass tennis courts.

On Wednesday the final two-point matches commenced with players bearing down for every point, those lovely white and blue trophies now on everyone’s mind. As before, tight matches were the norm. All were quite exhausted by lunch, but excited for the announcement of the finals contestants.

The Finals

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In the Champions Division, Jeff Smith of Arkansas with 25½ points and Cliff Martin of California with 27½ points, would square off in the third place match.  The Championship match would be decided by Ben Hollerbach of Georgia with 28 points, and Jeremy Moe of Arkansas with 29½ points. These two are no strangers, having battled head-to-head in many hickory golf competitions. Hollerbach defeated Moe for the 2015 WHMP title, while Moe won the inaugural title in 2014 over Hollerbach.

Ben Hollerbach, left, and Jeremy Moe shake hands at the conclusion of their WHMP championship match.  

The third place match was close from the start, but Martin closed out his tough opponent by 5 and 4 for the victory.

The Championship match, too, was hotly contested, with Hollerbach getting off to a fast start by winning the first hole. Moe, a veteran champion with a couple of USHO titles, is not easily, if ever, unnerved. He would eventually square the match and there it would hold, Hollerbach managing several precarious up and downs to keep it that way. Lady Luck eventually smiles on one or another of even the most deserving of gentlemen, and midway through the second nine, Hollerbach, who had a slim 1-up lead, took control of the match with a stymie of Moe on the 15th. Moe gamely attempted the stymie chip, but just nipped his opponent’s ball, giving Hollerbach the hole, and a 2-up lead with 3 to play.

The match ended on the next hole when Moe’s par putt to extend the match failed by the width of gnat’s waist to drop. This match was a treat from the beginning as both players hit memorable shots, no quarter given until that last heart-breaking putt.

Hollerbach was simply on top of his game and would not be denied the opportunity to defend his World Hickory Match Play Champion title.

In the Players Division, it was Jeff Blomstedt with 26 points, and Karl Nagy with 27½ points, who would square off in the third place match. The title match would be between Bill Conant with 28 points, and David Atkinson, of Philadelphia, with a new tournament point record of 31½ points.

Blomstedt won by 3 and 2; while the title match was taken by Atkinson, with 4 and 3.  Mr. Atkinson, by winning the Players Division, now qualifies for the Champions Division in next year’s championship. All four players who achieve the finals in each division earn automatic invitations to next year’s championship.

The Championship Committee congratulates the champions of each division, and thanks all the competitors for accepting the invitation to compete in this unique hickory golf championship.  A special thanks to the Philadelphia Cricket Club for its warm hospitality and for providing us with a spectacular venue for this championship.  We look forward to another great event next year in May.

Charity has a big day at the WHMP

As it is on the big modern golf tours, charity fundraising had a nice day at the WHMP. Tournament host Schuman says that a silent and live auction raised more than $3,000 at the Champions Dinner for the Jordan Schuman Foundation for Kindness. That amount, in conjunction with an estimated $5,000 raised during the “Hickory Hike” promotion on the recent National Hickory Golf Day, will be used to provide food and basic items to the homeless in West Palm Beach, Fla. Schuman says that his late daughter, Jordan, spent a lot of time there over the past 13 years or so. Jordan Schuman passed away this past December from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

 

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Champions Division. Posing with event host Brian Schuman are, from left: 2016 World Hickory Match Play Champion Ben Hollerbach, runner-up Jeremy Moe, and third place finisher Cliff Martin.

 

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Players Division. From left: 2016 Champion David Atkinson, runner-up Bill Conant, and third place finisher Jeff Blomstedt.

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Championship Division results.

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Players Division results.