Marriotts Ridge's Bennett Buch knew that at some point during the final round of this year's state tournament a gut check was coming.
When you're a freshman chasing down the biggest victory of your career, a little bit of adversity is to be expected. So, as he watched a once three-stroke lead disappear on the back nine at the University of Maryland Oct. 24, Buch didn't panic.
Instead, as he walked off the green of the par 3 14th hole following a bogey that put him behind Pikesville's Matt Oshrine by a shot, he simply refocused himself.
"I just told myself, "Alright, there's four holes left … you better kick it into gear right now,' " Buch said. "The other guys weren't going to give it to me, I had to go out and get it."
Sure enough, showcasing maturity well beyond his years, Buch came out on the very next hole and stuck his approach shot to within a foot of the hole. He went on to tap in for the first of back-to-back birdies to retake the lead and give himself the one-stroke cushion he ultimately needed to secure the championship.
Buch finished with a two-day total of 138, parring his final two holes to finish at four-under overall and break the all-time state tournament scoring mark by one. Oshrine and Centennial's Connor Flach ended up a shot back of Buch at 139, while Wilde Lake's Tyler Silberberg, the defending state champion, was four back at 141.
The victory for Buch, on the heels of capturing the District V title two weeks earlier, makes him the first county golfer to ever win both tournaments in the same season.
"It's going to take awhile to really sink in, but it's definitely been an exciting couple days," Buch said.
Buch had opened the state tournament with a three-under-par round of 68, putting him alone in second and two behind first-round leader Oshrine.
It took him just one hole in the final round, though, to pull back even. Buch kicked off his day by chipping in for birdie, while Oshrine made a bogey.
Another bogey by Oshrine on the second hole, combined with a Buch par, gave the Mustang freshman his first lead of the tournament. Three holes later, following another chip in for birdie by Buch, that lead was up to three.
"When you chip in twice in a matter of five holes, you naturally start thinking maybe this is going to be your day," Buch said. "That second one on (hole) five was big too because Matt made a bogey, so I picked up two and suddenly had a three-shot lead."
Silberberg and Flach, who each opened with 71s, found themselves down by six and seven shots, respectively, at that point.
But, just as Buch expected, the trio of seniors behind him weren't about to go away quietly. Following the 12th hole, where an unplayable lie in the woods led to a double bogey for Buch, Oshrine had pulled all the way back into a tie for the lead at 3-under and Flach and Silberberg were both within four shots.
A hole later, a birdie by Flach and an eagle by Silberberg suddenly made it four players separated by two shots.
"The eagle was really nice … I crushed my drive and only had a 7-iron into the green on the par 5," said Silberberg, who had also eagled that same hole the first day. "I needed something like that to give myself a chance."
Considering the tightening at the top, Buch's bogey on No. 14 couldn't have come at a worse time. He made sure, however, that he didn't let that be the defining moment of his first state tournament.
His two birdies in a row gave him five on the day, putting him back in the top spot. And, considering Flach was continuing his charge toward the top with back-to-back birdies of his own on Nos. 15 and 16, Buch ended up needing every single stroke he could get.
"The whole day, I really just wanted to play against the golf course and try to put up a number. And, on the back nine, I definitely got it going a little bit with three birdies in four holes starting on 13," Flach said. "My goal was to make Bennett have to win the tournament and, you know what, that's exactly what he did.
"He's an awesome player and he deserved it."
Buch, Oshrine and Flach all ended up making pars on holes 17 and 18. Silberberg also parred those final two holes, but because of a bogey on No. 15 he was forced to settle for fourth place.
Buch, who two-putted the final green to secure the win, says he couldn't have drawn up a better finish to a dream freshman year.
"You know I've had a lot of good finishes before, but until Districts I just hadn't necessarily won," he said. "So to win like this now two times in a row, it's a pretty unbelievable feeling."