MIDDLE TOWNSHIP - Home-course advantage paid off for Middle Township High School sophomore golfer David Hicks on Monday.
Hicks, a junior member of Wildwood Golf & Country Club, defeated St. Augustine Prep sophomore Mark Benevento on the third playoff hole there to win the Cape-Atlantic League individual championship tournament.
"I live about 10 minutes from here (in Cape May Court House) and play here a lot," Hicks said. "The course is relatively straightforward, but the greens are very quick. Being familiar with them definitely helped me today."
That knowledge came in handy during the playoff.
Both players made pars on the first two playoff holes, Nos. 1 and 7, while approximately 50 teammates and fellow competitors watched. When they returned to the first hole, errant drives into the wind left them with tough third shots. The gallery included Hicks' brother Alex, a Middle Township graduate and two-time CAL champion who just completed his sophomore year at The College of William & Mary.
David Hicks aimed for the front of the green from 50 yards out and then watched his ball slide past the hole and settle 2 feet away.
Benevento's flop shot from the right greenside rough was a just a tad too strong and wound up on the far fringe.
Before Hicks could tap in for the win, however, Benevento nearly extended the playoff, but his 30-foot putt lipped out.
"At first I didn't think it had a chance, but then it started curving," Benevento said. "I had a good shot at winning on the hole before that because I had about a 15-footer, but I couldn't close it out. It was still fun being in the playoffs with David. We play a lot of tournaments together and we're good friends.
Hicks and Benevento, a Somers Point resident and member at Greate Bay Country Club, both shot 5-over par 76 in chilly, damp and windy conditions to top a field of 32 golfers. Players qualified for the tournament by shooting five 9-hole rounds of 6-over par or better. Wildwood hosted the CAL tournament for the first time.
Defending champion Cody Dazen, a senior at St. Augustine, fell one shot short of joining Hicks and Benevento in the playoff. Absegami senior Chris Filling and Blake Vodges of Wildwood Catholic were the only other players to break 80, each shooting a 79.
"My only goal today was to win, so to lose out on the playoff by one shot was really disappointing," Dazen said. "The wind and the conditions were so bad out there. It was brutal. I drove the ball phenomenal today and only mishit one shot the entire round and still had a 77. My putting really let me down today. I must have had five or six three-putts."
Only two girls competed Monday. Hammonton senior Erin DiDonato shot a 91 to edge Buena Regional sophomore Janice Shpadier by three shots.
Because Hammonton does not have a golf team, DiDonato qualified by shooting the requisite scores on her home course, Greate Bay, and in various tournaments.
"I've been playing golf since I was 2 or 2 years old," DiDonato said. "Both of my parents (Tracey and Dominic) play, so it's kind of a fun family thing for us."
Conversely, Shpadier is a newcomer to the sport.
She was strictly a soccer player before her uncle, Aldo DiFilippo, convinced her to try golf 14 months ago. She had never even picked up a golf club until March 2012 and remembers shooting a 61 for 9 holes at Buena Vista Country Club a few weeks later.
"I had no interest in golf, but my uncle is really into it and he was pretty adamant about me trying it," Shpadier said with a laugh. "I finally did and I really liked it a lot, so I gave up soccer and decided to stick with golf."
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