Eckstein tops Robinson in Championship Flight
Jeff Robinson still remembers the joy of winning the Herald-Sun Golf Classic at age 20 even though it was 32 years ago.
Those thoughts crossed his mind while battling 20-year-old Todd Eckstein in Sunday’s Championship Flight final.
“I was him,” Robinson said, with a slight pause, “in 1981.”
The 52-year-old Robinson nearly turned back the clock on Sunday, only to fall a shot or two short of his goal.
Eckstein, a rising junior on Davidson’s golf team, tied the match with a birdie putt on No. 15 and won it 1-up by sinking a par putt on the second playoff hole at Hillandale Golf Course.
“He’s a college player, and he is going to go and try and play the tour,” Robinson said, “and he has all the tools to do it. I can’t say enough about how talented he is. As disappointed as I am to lose, I’m pretty proud that I took him 20 holes.”
Though he is nearly three decades younger that Robinson, Eckstein said winning the Herald-Sun Classic, with its seven-day format that includes stroke-play qualifying and five days of match play, took all his energy.
“Right now, I’m exhausted to be honest,” Eckstein said. “This is great. To win a tournament that lasts seven day means that you have to play really good golf for a week and to have your best golf at the end of the week, which is really what happened today.”
Eckstein wasn’t the only player from the younger crowd to leave with a big trophy. Newt Barringer, a recent Riverside High School graduate who is heading to N.C. State to study electrical engineering, beat Kevin Cheek 2 and 1 to win the President’s Fight.
Cheek, the 2012 President’s Flight winner, led Barringer 1-up through 12 holes. But the match turned when Barringer birdied Nos. 13 and 14 to take the lead for good.
“I wasn’t hitting great shots, but I was playing my game and I was able to go up and down when I needed to,” Barringer said.
Cheek missed a par putt on No. 15 to give Barringer a two-hole lead. Another missed putt by Cheek, for par on No. 16, meant the golfers split the hole even though Barringer topped his tee shot and had to scramble for bogey.
The match ended on No. 17 when Cheek’s putt for par missed.
“After a long round (Saturday), I just got tired and my swing was off,” Cheek said. “He played great though. He played absolutely awesome. I did what I could do, and he played great.”
Barringer's win came after his father, Russ Barringer, and grandfather, Russell Barringer, had been previous President's Flight runners-up.
"They said I broke the curse," Newt Barringer said.
Eckstein battled Robinson in a tight match where he never could pull away.
Eckstein was 1-up through seven holes only to see Robinson birdie No. 8 to pull even. Eckstein regained the lead on No. 11, but Robinson’s 5-foot birdie putt on No. 12 knotted the match again.
On the par-5 No. 14, Eckstein’s second shot sailed past the green, his chip sailed past the hole and he missed a birdie putt that allowed Robinson to win the hole and go 1-up.
But on the par-3 No. 15, Eckstein’s tee shot landed 10 feet from the pin, and he sank a birdie putt to once again pull even.
“Having hit an iffy iron shot on 14, I knew I had to respond after Jeff won that hole,” Eckstein said. “I really liked the line when I got over the putt. I had some chances on 13 and 10 to make a birdie and win a hole. I was just so happy that a putt went in.”
Both golfers two-putted on No. 16 for pars before Eckstein’s tee shot on the par-3 No. 17 went right.
Robinson allowed himself a momentary thought about winning another championship. But Eckstein’s second shot was a perfectly placed chip within 2 feet of the hole.
Both players scored par which sent the match to the par-5, No. 18 even.
There Eckstein found the green in two but left a 25-foot eagle putt short. Robinson’s third shot came from off the green, but his chip shot landed 8 feet from the hole. The twin birdies sent the match to a playoff.
“I hit a pretty good iron in there to where I had a pretty routine two-putt to make birdie,” Eckstein said. “I forced him into having to make two pretty good shots around the green, and he did it. I wasn’t surprised because Jeff’s chipping and putting was pretty good most of the day.”
Robinson and Eckstein missed birdie putts on the first playoff hole, with Eckstein’s coming from the closer distance of the two.
“It went a little right on me,” Eckstein said. “I hit it on a good line. I made solid contact with the putt, but it just didn’t go in. After I walked off the green, I said to myself, 'No matter how long this playoff goes, you’re going to have another one of those putts.’”
That second opportunity came on the match’s 20th hole, the par-4 No. 2. Eckstein’s fairway shot sailed over the green, but his chip placed him 5 feet from the hole.
Robinson second shot left him short of the green. He cleared a steep bunker on his third shot but the ball sailed past the hole. His long par putt missed by 2 feet.
That left Eckstein with a 5-foot par putt that he sank for the championship.
“He earned it,” Robinson said. “He really did. He played well.”