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Posted April 30, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Surviving the elements: O'Leary outlasts rain-soaked field to claim tourney
By Chuck McGill -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Some golfers were decked out in rain gear from head to toe, while others toted an umbrella in one hand and their trusty club in the other as steady rain fell at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club on Wednesday.
"It was kinda hard to hold on to the club," said Ryan Rettberg, a star golfer for Skyline High School.
"I was freezing, my hands were numb all day," added Zach Henry, Rettberg's prep teammate and regular playing partner.
Sure, the conditions were less than ideal, especially compared to the days leading up to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Pro-Am, when skies were sunny and temperatures sailed above 90 degrees.
But for John O'Leary, a pro who has his own golf academy at Pleasant Valley Golf Club in Chantilly, the rain and the cold and the long day on the course represented only small hazards. And in shooting a 4-under 103 in the 27-hole event, O'Leary and hazards didn't cross paths very often.
"I drove the ball great all day," said O'Leary, who bested Tim Hagarty and Jerry Wampler to win the top professional prize at the Pro-Am. "I maybe missed two or three fairways all day. My short game was good. I putted good. Just steady."
It was O'Leary's third time participating in the Pro-Am, which had a record-setting 248 players enter. However, O'Leary claimed he had previously struggled at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club in the 2006 and 2007 tournaments, calling his performances "nothing spectacular."
And Wednesday wasn't conducive to players performing their best.
The strong turnout for the tournament resulted in a clogged golf course, with long waits at tees and greens. The temperature dropped throughout the day, and O'Leary said the cold stifled big hitters and forced him to adjust his club selection.
"I felt it was two clubs almost every time," he said, "just based on the cold and how heavy the air was."
But on the eighth hole on the Red Nine, O'Leary made his move. He birdied a 368-yard par 4 to jumpstart his day, using a strong drive, wedge shot and five-foot putt to cap the hole. On No. 9, a 467-yard par 5, O'Leary hit a long drive and a six-iron to the green before sinking a 20-footer for eagle.
"It calms you down a bit," O'Leary said of the birdie and eagle on back-to-back holes. "It makes you feel more comfortable."
As the scores were being posted at the end of the day, O'Leary wasn't sure where his 103 would stand. He figured the rain would bring his 4-under into play for the title, which likely wouldn't be the case in other years in better conditions. But ultimately, only seven players shot under par, rounded out by the 1-under performances of Jim Estes, Bryan Jackson, Tim White and Dirk Schultz.
Richard Runyon, head golf pro at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club, wasn't surprised by O'Leary's nearly flawless performance on a cold, damp day.
"John O'Leary's a first-class individual," he said. "He's a great PGA professional. He's a past winner of many Mid-Atlantic events. When John's on, he's hard to beat."
Runyon said the large turnout allowed the tournament purse to be enhanced considerably. There was more than $6,000 in the pro purse and approximately $5,500 for the amateurs. In this economy, Runyon considered the overwhelming turnout from players and sponsors "over-succeeding."
The inclement weather caused a few teams to withdraw, but the rain never fell too heavily to consider a delay in play. It never ceased, either. As players entered the snack bar when making the turn after nine holes, the bills of their hats were saturated to the point that water dripped consistently from the brims.
"A very rough day weather-wise," Runyon said. "I think the day went great, it's just the weather. Anytime it rains, it's going to slow it down. Anytime you have 62 teams on a 27-hole course, it's definitely going to slow down. But it was a good time."
Especially for O'Leary, who finished with one eagle, six birdies, four bogeys and a two-stroke victory.
"I've never played particularly well here," he said. "It's a nice change."
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