Area man wins title at Oakmont

By Michael Boytim

Jimmy Gillam won the most prestigious golf tournament of his career on one of the most legendary courses he’s ever played Wednesday at Oakmont Country Club.

The Tyrone graduate, who held a two-stroke lead after 36 holes, fell behind on the front nine Wednesday before rallying, forcing a playoff and winning the 114th annual West Penn Open over a field of professional and top amateur golfers on the fifth playoff hole.

“Considering the venue, yes, this is definitely the most satisfying win of my career,” Gillam said. “Oakmont is such a bear that you have to take what it gives you, stay patient, and when you are out of position, just take bogey.”

Having that patient outlook is something Gillam has struggled with in the past.

“That comes with maturity and experience,” Gillam said. “Five years ago, I would have let this chance go after that first nine. I’ve learned to stay balanced over a five-hour stretch, especially on a course like Oakmont. I knew with the way I have been playing as of late, I could make a bunch of birdies on the back nine and other guys would make bogeys.”

Gillam has spent the last five years as a professional golfer playing on mini tours. He’s won five events and is working toward September’s Tour Q-School. He participated in it last year but didn’t make it through the first stage. He said he’s much more prepared this time around.

“Nobody has worked harder and deserves this more than Jimmy Gillam,” Notre Dame golf coach John Handrigan said. “He’s overcome adversity and earned this win. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Handrigan, who golfed for Saint Francis and began his coaching career there before coaching Gillam at Coker College, played with Gillam and Ryan DelBaggio at Sinking Valley Valley Country Club last Wednesday.

“Playing with Jimmy last week, you could tell he was right there on the verge of doing something great,” DelBaggio said. “I’m so happy for Jimmy and everything he has overcome. His back nine and holes in the playoff today are perfect examples of how he keeps his eye on the prize and stays focused.”

Gillam kept his focus on winning despite his rough patch on the front nine.

“I was 5-over par through seven holes, and when I made the turn, I was four off the lead,” Gillam said. “I told my caddy that I needed to shoot 3-under on the back to at least force a playoff. I made good birdies, almost made a hole-in-one and had a great up and down on No. 17.”

Still, the 30-year-old faced adversity on the final hole of regulation.

“I had about a 6-foot putt to win,” Gillam said. “But I hit a weak putt and didn’t give it enough pace.”

Gillam missed two more chances to win it in the playoff and survived hitting it into Oakmont’s famed church pew bunkers to make it to the fifth playoff hole. Gillam and runner-up Connor Schmidt each had birdie putts. Schmidt missed his and tapped in for par just before Gillam made his and celebrated his victory.

Gillam shot rounds of 68, 73 and 73 and finished regulation at 4-over par.

Oakmont Country Club has hosted nine U.S. Opens and three PGA Championships. Gillam joined greats like Arnold Palmer as previous winners of the West Penn Open and took home a check for $7,500. He played the course for the first time Sunday.

“Whenever you step foot on the grounds, you can feel the history,” Gillam said. “It’s a very unique feel. I felt very comfortable Sunday, because I knew I had to pay attention, stay focused and keep myself in check.”