Wing Point celebrates the fourth

Wing Point head pro Dave Tunkkari led his team to its fourth straight win in the Fred Schaffer Memorial tourney. The team finished 8 under par.   - RYAN SCHIERLING photo
Wing Point head pro Dave Tunkkari led his team to its fourth straight win in the Fred Schaffer Memorial tourney. The team finished 8 under par.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING photo

“We dodged a bullet, partner,” said Meadowmeer head pro Tom Mueller to his assistant, Drew Azure, as Wing Point pro Dave Tunkkari and playing partner Joe Lanza narrowly missed birdie putts on Wing Point’s 12th hole in Sunday’s 11th annual Fred Schaffer Helpline House Memorial Golf Tournament.

But the respite – which kept Meadowmeer within two strokes in the 36-hole gross best-ball format – proved to be short-lived. Azure’s tee shot on 13 landed behind a heavy stand of trees, and after an excellent drive, Mueller caught a tree limb as he tried to reach the green on the par-5 13th in two strokes and his ball fell into the hazard for a one-stroke penalty. Both golfers carded bogeys, while Lanza – on the green in two – birdied the hole.

For all practical purposes that two-stroke swing ended the match, putting Wing Point four up with five holes remaining. They went on to win 134-141, their fourth consecutive victory in the charity event which raised several thousand dollars to benefit Helpline House.

‘Putt for oh-no’

In numerous instances throughout the day, it was a case of “drive for show, putt for oh-no.” Four of Azure’s putts were a collective three inches away from falling. Mueller also came agonizingly close on several occasions, and Tunkkari and Lanza each had their share of very near misses.

It was a sign of things to come when Wing Point took a one-stroke lead on Meadowmeer’s first hole in the morning round. Lanza’s birdie putt halted an inch short of the hole, while Mueller, putting for a par, watched his ball lip out.

But Azure, at that point blissfully unaware of what lay in store for him, sank an eight-foot putt for a birdie three on the third to even the match.

On six, Lanza drained an 18-footer to put Wing Point back into the lead, but Azure drove the green on the 266-yard par-4 seventh and after narrowly missing his eagle putt, re-tied the match.

No one came close to the pin on the 8th, which carried a $10,000 prize for a hole-in-one. Tunkkari hit out of a trap to within four feet of the cup – “He’s the best sand player in the state,” Mueller commented – and gave his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with his par putt. Mueller chipped to within four feet but for the second time watched in disbelief as his par putt rimmed out.

Much the same thing happened to Azure on nine. His seemingly dead-on birdie putt curled around the edge of the hole and came to rest so close to tumbling in that he waited for nearly a minute before tapping the ball in, hoping that a resident in one of the homes bordering the green would slam a door and generate a shock wave that would do the trick without his help.

That left Wing Point up by a stroke at the turn, 36-37.

Azure’s 15-foot birdie putt on 10 missed by another inch, and the teams matched each other stroke for stroke until 15, when Tunkkari dropped his approach to within two feet of the pin and extended the Wing Point lead to two.

Mueller came oh-so-close to sinking long birdie putts on the next two holes, and Azure nearly got a stroke back on 18. But his putt curved away at the last moment and stopped beside the hole less than an inch away. As the foursome made a quick exit for the Wing Point course, Tunkkari/Lanza were two under at 69 with Mueller/Azure even at 71.

Afternoon tee

Mueller began the afternoon by driving into a fairway trap on the first hole. His second shot to just off the green set up the shot of the match, as his chip shot rolled straight into the hole for an eagle. But Lanza minimized the damage to his side with a birdie.

Wing Point regained the two-stroke edge on the par-three fifth. None of the golfers hit the green, but Lanza chipped to within three feet and sank his putt for par.

Tunkkari nearly did a bit of Mueller Magic on 8, as his 60-foot chip shot rolled straight at the cup. But it caught the back edge and came out.

Azure’s 30-foot putt on nine caught the back of the hole, flew up into the air and came to rest within three inches of the hole.

Both sides made the turn in two-under 33, with Wing Point now four under for the day and Meadowmeer two.

Azure finally caught a break on the par-5 10th, rolling in a 12-footer for a birdie. But Lanza’s seven-footer, also a birdie, maintained the two-stroke edge.

Both teams parred 11 and 12 before the 13th proved unlucky indeed for Meadowmeer.

Mueller actually got a stroke back on 14, sinking a 6-footer for a birdie as a rain squall pelted the players. But after both sides had par-3s on 15, Lanza’s 12-foot putt on the par-four 16th put the lead back at four.

Final hopes

Meadowmeer’s final faint hope dissipated on the water-protected 296-yard par-four 17th hole. Trying to drive the green, Azure splashed. Mueller, whose drive on this hole last year in a somewhat similar situation had actually gone beyond the green, hit a long drive again. But it faded slightly and his ball never turned up despite an intensive search, costing him a stroke.

In the meantime, Tunkkari, playing it safe by laying up in front of the water hazard, dropped his second shot on the green 20 feet away from the hole and calmly rolled it in for a birdie three.

Already lying three, Mueller quipped, “Now you know how Washington felt against Miami last year,” as he lined up his 12-footer-which rolled to a stop two inches away from falling. That put Wing Point up by six.

And after Tunkkari rolled in a par-four on 18, Azure’s 15-foot putt for a matching par stopped an inch short of the hole.

“Story of our day,” Mueller noted before the golfers shook hands all around.

“It was fun and we had our moments,” he said afterward. “But we just couldn’t get any balls to drop. And we had trouble with our tee shots. It always seemed like only one of us was in a position to attack.

“But that’s golf. If I had a nickel for every edge I’ve burned in my career, I’d be a rich man.

Lanza, the 2001 BHS grad who’s the reigning Wing Point club champion, shook his head when asked if he felt any pressure.

“I’ve had a lot of experience in tournaments, and I’ve played really well this spring,” he responded

A member of the St. Mary’s College team that narrowly missed qualifying for this year’s NCAA tournament, Lanza said that he’d had “three or four” top-three finishes in tournaments this spring and consistently was the Gaels’ number-two player.

“My distance off the tee has improved by about 30 yards this year,” he said. “Now I’d like to add another 30.”

“Our strategy was just to be consistent,” said Tunkkari. “We just wanted to keep the ball in play. Joe’s a straight hitter off the tee, so that kept the pressure off me.

“We didn’t have any bogeys here (at Wing Point). That was the real key.”

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