Ellicott City's Connor Flach put together one of the top performances of his golfing career this weekend on his way to finishing as runner-up at this year's Maryland Amateur Championship Tournament at the Elkridge Club in Baltimore.
The 2012 Centennial High School graduate made his way through the match play bracket into a 36-hole championship showdown against Tyler Herriott in the 95th annual event. After leading on several occasions in the head-to-head showdown, Flach ultimately fell a little short (losing 2&1) when Herriott made a birdie on the second-to-last hole to close things out.
"I think this was the best four-day stretch of golf that I've played my entire life. I had my back against the wall numerous times and I came through with so many big shots," Flach said. "I had a couple loose shots today, which was probably me being a little physically tired after so many holes, but it was some great golf overall. I wish I got the title, but this was still a great week."
Flach, a rising senior at Loyola University Maryland, had lost in the opening round of match play last year. This year he entered match play seeded 24th out of 32 players following a qualifying score of 73 (2-over-par) on Thursday.
But once the head-to-head matches started on Friday, Flach found another gear.
He won his first-round match against Will Koras (1 up) thanks to a birdie on the 17th hole to draw even and then a par on 18 to win. Later in the day, he outlasted Justin Feldman in 19 holes thanks to a birdie on his first extra hole.
"To be honest, I felt very comfortable out there and match play is my favorite format. I think I thrive in these kind of tournaments," Flach said. "I've had match-play experience in junior golf, so it was nice to get back into that. I hit it straight and I hit a lot of greens, which I think really plays to my advantage in that I can put pressure on my opponents."
On Saturday, Flach found himself in a couple matches against familiar opponents and prevailed both times. First up was a quarterfinal match-up against Loyola head golf coach Chris Baloga and Flach played his first 16 holes in 3-under-par to win 3&2.
Then he faced Loyola assistant golf coach Bart George in the semifinals and again fired a 3-under-par round to win (1 up) in a match that came down to the final hole.
"It was really neat to play against Chris because he's been the one who has really helped me with my game the last couple years," Flach said. "So that was a fun match to be on the other side of it and play against him. Then against Bart, he's such a great player that I knew I was going to have to be at my best. I made 15 pars and 3 birdies against him, so that was huge in some tough conditions."
The final against Herriott was a match that featured plenty of swings of momentum. Both guys led for multi-hole stretches over the course of the 36 holes, with Flach even holding a 2-up advantage on several occasions.
Both guys made plenty of birdies — combining for 13 on the day — but the match was just as much about who could limit the mistakes as the round wore on and the temperatures continued to rise.
Flach was ahead by one through 30 holes, but back-to-back bogeys on consecutive holes helped Herriott take a lead that he ultimately never lost the rest of the way. He then closed things out with the birdie on 17.
"It was a crazy back-and-forth match and there were more holes I think that were won or lost than halved, which you don't see very often," Flach said. "It was hot and it was as windy of conditions as I've ever played in, along with extremely fast greens, so it was just a really tough combination. I made some birdies, but just had too many holes that I was a little bit out of position and I couldn't quite make up for it."
Still, despite falling just a little short, Flach was able to put things in perspective afterward.
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"It would have been an amazing honor to put my name on the trophy, but up against the best amateurs in the entire state, I was proud of the way I was able to hang in there until the final putt," he said. "It was a great experience."