Controversy clouds Hollidaysburg at districts again

HOLLIDAYSBURG – For the second time in two years, a penalty has cost Hollidaysburg a District 6 championship in golf.

The Golden Tigers’ Hunter Shields, who led by three after Tuesday’s first round, lost the high school boys individual Class AAA title to State College’s Ben Gelenberg in a playoff hole Wednesday. Shields was given a two-stroke penalty during his final round that forced the playoff.

Almost two years ago to the day, the Hollidaysburg girls golf team lost out to State College in the District 6 AAA finals on Oct. 13, 2011 when Quincy Gildea was disqualified due to a violation of rule 8-2.

Shields broke rule 13-2 Wednesday. The rule states that a golfer must play the ball where it lies and not improve the lie, area of intended stance or line of play.

On Scotch Valley Country Club’s par-3 eighth hole, Shields hit his drive just short of the green, making a ball mark on the fringe. His ball spun backward a few inches after landing. Phil Gelenberg, the father of Ben, alerted group monitor Mike Moore that a possible rule violation was about to occur.

“It will be interesting to see what [Shields] will do, considering he can’t fix his ball mark which is between his ball and the hole, because he is not on the green,” Phil Gelenberg told Moore as a Mirror reporter stood next to Moore.

Shields did exactly that, walking up to the divot mark in front of his ball, after Phil Gelenberg had talked with Moore, and fixed it before putting his shot from the fringe. The Hollidaysburg senior made a two-putt par to maintain a four-shot lead but was informed after the hole by Moore that he may be facing a penalty.

Despite clearly struggling with his emotions, Shields made par on the ninth hole, and Ben Gelenberg made birdie. After hitting a wayward drive on the 10th hole, Shields was informed by Moore and club professional D.R. Long that he would be accessed a two-stroke penalty. Shields bogeyed the hole and Gelenberg made par to tie the score after the 10th hole.

“It was kind of frustrating, and I let it get to my head,” Shields said. “I kind of fell apart. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have touched the mark in front of me, and I did, so they gave me a two-stroke penalty for it, and it is what it is.”

Shields regained his composure and re-took the lead when Gelenberg made a bogey on the par-5 14th hole. It was short-lived, however, when Gelenberg made an 18-foot par putt on No. 15 and Shields missed a 4-footer and made bogey.

A hole later, both golfers were upset with their drives and neither made a good approach. Shields came up short and Gelenberg’s shot missed the green right, rolled down a bank and was shrouded in trees. Shields chipped on, but left himself a 30-foot par putt. Gelenberg made the shot of the day, popping his approach high into the air, through the trees and within a foot of the hole despite being unable to see the flag from his position.

Shields just missed his par putt to the left, and Gelenberg tapped in for a par and a one-stroke lead.

“I knew Hunter and I were really close near the end, and I was trying to keep it together,” Gelenberg, who won last year’s District 6 AAA title as a freshman, said. “I knew I was one-up going into that last hole.”

Shields tapped in for bogey on the par-4 18th and seemed destined to lose by a stroke, but Gelenberg missed a 1-foot putt that would have sealed the title and had to tap in for double bogey, forcing the pair into a playoff.

Shields hit a monster drive onto the middle of the fairway, just the second fairway he hit the entire day, and Gelenberg missed it shorter and to the right. Gelenberg left himself a 30-foot birdie putt, but Shields was unable to capitalize on his drive and came up short of the green.

“There was a breeze. I took into consideration the wind, but when I swung, I got afraid to go long,” Shields said. “I didn’t commit to the swing, and I just came up short.”

Shields opted to putt from the fringe and knocked it about 10 feet past the hole. Gelenberg made a two-putt par, and Shields was unable to convert his 10-foot, downhill putt to keep the match going.

“Hunter overcame adversity that most kids his age would have a hard time with,” Hollidaysburg golf coach Bryan James said. “He didn’t play to the best of his ability, but he played to the best of his ability that he brought with himself to the golf course today.

“I felt like win, lose or draw he acted like a mature individual throughout the process, and that’s something to be said.”

Despite missing out on the title, Shields will advance to Tom’s Run along with Gelenberg for the PIAA Western Regional next Wednesday. State College defeated Hollidaysburg, 639-651, to win the team title and will play in a sub-regional in DuBois at Treasure Lake Friday for the right to advance to the PIAA Championship.

“It’s a good feeling to know that I’m moving on,” Shields said. “I wanted this, but I’m happy for Ben. I’m going to have to work on my short game if I want to keep going.”

TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: 1, State College (SC), 639; 2, Hollidaysburg (H), 651; 3, Altoona (A), 720.

INDIVIDUAL (TOP TWO ADVANCE): 1, Gelenberg, SC, 77-79-156; 2, Shields, H, 74-82-156; 3, Gates, SC, 78-80-158; 4, Ottaway, H, 77-84-161; 5, Martin, A, 80-85-165.