It came down to a putting contest between two unblinking competitors.
Ryan Earl hit the chips and sand wedges — the shots that lead to putts — closer than Tom Herrick did, and the short-game mastery earned Earl a last-hole victory Sunday at the Capitol City Amateur at Capitol City Golf Club.
Earl earned his second Capitol City championship in three years by sinking a five-foot par putt on the 18th hole, just after Herrick missed his par attempt from 12 feet. One hole earlier, both men made pressure birdie putts to keep them even at 9-under par heading to the final hole.
“Tom was making quite a few putts all day,” said Earl, 36. “I knew I had to make some to keep up.”
Earl shot a 67 on Saturday and closed with a 68 for a two-day total of 135. Herrick, a Lacey dentist, had Sunday’s low round of 67 after a 69 on Saturday to finish one shot back.
Ryan Kelly, who shot a 65 on Saturday for the first-round lead, bogeyed two of his first three holes on the way to a Sunday 73, which left him alone in third place and mostly out of the back-nine drama generated by Earl and Herrick.
On the par-4 18th, Earl hit his tee shot down the middle, while Herrick’s drive came to rest under the canopy of a big fir tree to the right of the fairway.
Herrick hit a low punch shot that landed left of the pin, perilously close to a deep greenside bunker. Earl sent his second shot over the green, but safe. He almost won the tournament outright with a chip-in from there, but it just slid past the hole on the right.
“That was fun to come down the stretch playing good,” said Herrick, whose dental practice is close by his home course, Indian Summer Golf and Country Club.
Herrick, 48, played with his 11-year-old son, Aiden, on his bag.
“That makes it a special day,” said the elder Herrick.
Herrick made the most noise on the front nine, dropping a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and claiming birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 before draining a 20-footer for birdie on 9 to take the outright lead at 6-under.
Meanwhile, the steady Earl was riding his short game to a front-side 36 to stand one stroke behind Herrick. A poor tee ball on No. 1 cost him a shot, but on the par-3 third hole, he blasted out of the left greenside bunker to within 18 inches and salvaged par.
“It was good to get that save there,” Earl said. “It would have been two bogeys in the first three holes.”
Herrick and Earl both birdied No. 10, before Earl stuck his tee shot on the par-3 11th to 4 feet and sank the putt for birdie to pull into a tie at 7-under.
On No. 13, another Earl chip landed a foot from the hole, leading to a tap-in par. Herrick missed a 16-foot birdie putt that would have let him reclaim the lead. Instead, it was yet another chip to within 2 feet by Earl on 14 that got him to 8-under for his first outright lead of the day.
In 2012, Earl won this tournament in a playoff. It looked like this year’s edition might be heading the same way after Herrick birdied No. 15 to pull even with Earl. Both men parred No. 16 to set up a test of nerves on the 17th green.
Herrick’s second shot on 17 landed on the green below the hole, 18 feet away, where he made his birdie putt. Earl put his approach 16 feet above the hole on the back-to-front sloping green, a shorter but more twisty putt than his competitor. He rolled it in.
“The last 16 holes were pretty solid,” Earl said. “I felt a lot more nerves out there today (than 2012).”
No fun for defending champ: Jon McCaslin won the Capitol City Amateur in 2009-11 and in 2012. This year, it wasn’t to be. McCaslin battled severe flulike symptoms Saturday night into Sunday after his opening-round 72, and he struggled to a second-day 74.
Low-net postscript: Francisco Flores, 34, posted a lifetime-best 80 on Sunday after a Saturday 86 to claim the low-net championship with a two-day total of net 132.
“Every day, man, I’m here hitting balls,” said Flores, a bartender at Pints and Quarts on Olympia’s west side. “It’s about time it paid off.”
The day could have been even better by breaking 80, but Flores triple-bogeyed No. 18.
Postscript II: Denny Bolton was a lot happier Sunday after he shot a 98, 14 strokes better than the Saturday score he didn’t want to read in the paper.