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Rolling Road's six-time club champion has marathon golf week to remember

Six-time Rolling Road Golf club champion Matt Bassler has been the program director for The First Tee of Baltimore for the past five years.

That’s his day job and it keeps the Catonsville native busy.

So busy that the amateur hasn’t even tried to qualify for the United States Open, which begins on Thursday, June 12 at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, in nine years.

When he last attempted to qualify was 2005, when it was also held at Pinehurst no. 2, and won by New Zealand's Michael Campbell.

That was the last year Bassler played in a local qualifier in hopes of advancing to a sectional qualifier, which is one step closer to making one of the coveted spots in the U.S. Open field.

“I hadn’t even tried to qualify in nine years,” said Bassler, who did qualify for the sectional in 2005.

This spring, at the urging of one of his students to go to a local qualifying tournament at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., on May 5, he tried again.

That was five days before Bassler, 28, got married.

At Hidden Creek, he shot 2-over-par 73 and one of six golfers out of 120 entered to advance to the sectional qualifier at Woodmont.

“I hadn’t really been playing much because of the wedding, but I just had a good round that day,” Bassler said.

On June 2, he played 36 holes at Woodmont, in Rockville, and, although he wasn’t one of the four qualifiers (out of 59 golfers) to earn a coveted U.S. Open spot, Bassler did gain some confidence from a pair of 3-over-par 75’s that day.

That tied him for 34th in the field, which included him among 13 amateurs.

With his brother, Mike, caddying for him and keeping him loose, he nearly got to even par on the 24th hole of the day.

He had a 10-foot eagle putt that he just missed and he settled for birdie.

“If I would have made eagle, that would have given me more momentum,” Bassler said.

The two solid rounds did give him momentum, because later in the week he turned in his finest performance in the 93rd Maryland State Amateur Championship at the Baltimore Country Club East Course in Lutherville.

The first day of the Maryland Amateur is stroke play, with the top 32 scores, among the 140 players, advancing to match play.

His round of 72 qualified him for match play for the second time in his 10th Maryland Amateur tournament.

“I really didn’t have high expectations,” said Bassler, who had gained some confidence while intensifying his training for the U.S. Open qualifier at Woodmont and the fact that he was playing on a Maryland County Club course where he was comfortable.

He proved it by advancing all the way to the final four.

Bassler, the 26th seed, defeated 7th-seeded Chris Hickman on the first extra playoff hole in the opening round match on June 6.

He won the match on the long uphill par four first hole when he parred it and Hickman made bogey.

Twenty minutes later, Bassler teed it up against Peter DeTemple and led most of the way before closing him out (1-up) with a birdie on 18.

The third match against Ralph Blasey IV was the toughest of the first three.

Bassler was losing until the 16th hole, but tied it there, then he stuck his tee shot on the par three 17th and made par.

Blasey sent his tee shot over the green, but salvaged par with an up-and-down to remain even with one to play.

Bassler two-putted for par on 18 and Blasey three-putted for bogey and Bassler advanced to the semifinals.

“It was an exciting match,” said Bassler, who noted First Tee student Mark Filler caddied for him during the tournament.

The win over Blasey earned him a spot in the semifinals against his friend and current Loyola University golf coach Chris Baloga.

The dream for a title ended there when Baloga defeated him 5 and 3.

“I just ran out of gas,” said Bassler, who played golf at Loyola University and led them to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title in 2008 under coach Charlie Toomey.

“He’s a good friend and it was a fun match,” Bassler said of Baloga.

In the four match-play rounds, that included 67 holes, Bassler tied for fifth with the most birdies (8) and was fourth best in pars (40).

Bassler, a 2004 Mount St. Joseph High graduate, who led the Gaels to the Maryland Interscholastic of Maryland A Conference title, also had the second best scoring average per nine holes, trailing only Baloga.

Bassler, who has been in the finals for the Rolling Road Golf Club championship for nine straight years, won the title for the sixth time on Labor Day weekend last year.

He has also claimed a Maryland Open championship which he won in 2009.

Although his job at First Tee will keep him occupied, as they plan to open a brand new kids facility at Forest Park Golf Course near Woodlawn in 2015, he still has some competition left this summer.

Bassler plans to play in U.S Amateur qualifier at Woodholme Country Club on July 7 and at the Maryland Open at Lakewood Country Club, July 14-16.

After playing 123 highly-competitive holes in six days, he said, ‘I was so tired I couldn’t even think straight.’

Fortunately, he was hitting ‘em straight.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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