By Brian Eller - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Several years ago, Jerry Wampler had an opportunity to get into the golf business.
After competing as a tennis professional for more than 25 years, Wampler had a chance to move his athletic skills from the hard court to the fairways. He liked the idea of solitude on the course and not having to have someone to practice with when he wanted to play. Over time, Wampler developed his skills and eventually that opportunity turned into a passion.
On Wednesday, that passion was on display as Wampler shot a 67, winning the Apple Blossom Open golf tournament at Shenandoah Valley Golf Club. His three-under par score was one stroke ahead of second-place finisher Jason Toryk, who shot 68.
"I putted and chipped very well, I thought," Wampler said. "That probably saved me a lot today, but I kept the ball in play and with that wind just howling around I just tried to figure out the distances as I went along."
Those swirling winds were a constant factor on the course, as both the morning and afternoon groups had to adjust their rounds to the conditions. For Wampler, that meant shortening up his swing, which ironically, ended up helping him keep his shots more accurate.
"Well, I was sort of kidding somebody else," he said. "It was so cold I couldn't swing hard, so that probably helped me get the ball in play better today. The yardages, you don't know whether you're going to have to add another club or go up another 10 yards to what you're thinking on a hole. So it was tough, but fortunately I didn't make a lot of mistakes and that helps."
Wampler's 67 was two shots better than eventual third-place finisher Dirk Schultz. Schultz, the three-time Apple Blossom champion, has been familiar with this course since his days as a teenager, when he would spend $12 with his friends to play the 27-hole course. His familiarity with the course could only carry him so far, however, as his game seemed to follow the opposite path as Wampler's.
"I thought I hit the ball good," he said. "I was terrible with chipping and putting today, though. I three-putted twice, one for bogey and one for par. On Red [No. 1], I had the ball almost on the fringe but I didn't make birdie, so I hit the ball really well but had trouble putting and chipping."
With Wampler and Schultz finishing under par in the morning session, the two had to wait for the afternoon round to see if their scores would hold up. As temperatures dropped with the sun and the conditions remained blustery, golfers struggled on the course. Just one golfer returned with an under-par score, as Toryk's 68 was good enough to slide him into second place for the tournament.
"It was a tough day out there," Toryk said. "The wind's howling and you've just got to keep it right in between the tree lines. I cleaned up my round, made a lot of up and downs to save par and I hit a couple of wedges close. It wasn't a very eventful round. I just had it going and played pretty solid."
Despite being the professional at the nearby Winchester Country Club, Toryk made just his third trip to Shenandoah Valley on Wednesday, but early on he looked as if he'd been playing on the course for years. On the White No. 1 hole, Toryk drove the ball on onto the front of the fringe, setting up an up and down chance to save par. Toryk converted, then hit two birdies through the next five holes. On White No. 9, he ran into trouble as his first shot on the Par 3 went over the green and into some trees. Toryk was able to escape, however, as the 35-year-old hit a pitch shot up onto the green, then sank a 10-foot putt to par the hole.
"I'm right down the road; you'd think I would get out more," Toryk joked. "But I know what kind of course this is. Small targets off the tee, small targets on the greens. I just had to keep it below the hole when I could."
While Toryk's 68 was the lowest score in the second session, the afternoon round also produced the lowest team score. The foursome of Steve Wempetren, Moses Gittens, Gary Pulino and Vinnie Khera recorded a 124 while Zach Lese won the amateur level with a 71.
"This is such a neat tournament they put on here," Toryk said. "It's kind of my first tournament of the year, so It's something I look forward to. It's fun but it's also something you can grind a little bit with, get ready for the rest of the tournament year. It's always good to get a good, under-par round under your belt, too."