Bryan Hernandez had just one birdie on the afternoon, but he saved it for when he needed it the most.
The St. Cloud junior rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to defeat Harmony’s Austin Price to win individual title at the 2019 Orange Belt Conference Golf Championship at Royal St. Cloud Golf Course on Tuesday afternoon.
Hernandez and Price tied for low medalist honors, each shooting an eight-over 80 on the 6,620 yard course. Price was on pace to win the tournament, but finished bogey, bogey for a 40, matching his front side 40. Playing one group behind Price, Hernandez shot a front side 41 but parred six of the final nine holes to shoot 39 and force the playoff.
Starting on No. 1 White Side for the playoff, both players managed par fives on the 541-yard first hole. On the second hole, Hernandez found the fairway, but Price hooked his tee shot into the water hazard on the left hand side of the 393-yard, par 4. Taking a drop and hitting his third shot, Price put the pressure back on Hernandez by nearly jarring his third shot – stopping just a foot away.
Hernandez’s second shot found the putting surface – and after watching Price almost make par from long distance – calmly rolled in an 18-foot putt for the birdie and a one-shot victory.
“What a great playoff,” St. Cloud Swing Coach Jim Endicott said. “Obviously it was a great win for Bryan, but Austin deserves a ton of credit. He’s dropping two and hitting three and almost knocks it in the hole. It’s a great credit for him to keep grinding when it would have been easy for him to just give up and it’s a good lesson for everyone – a hole isn’t over till it’s over.”
Both players finished the regulation with 11 pars, 6 bogeys, and 1 double.
“I was a little nervous during the playoff, but thankful to come away with the win,” Hernandez said. “The conditions were near perfect for golf, so I really wasn’t overly happy with my score or the way I played. I definitely felt the round could have been a few shots better. On the 17th hole, I had a real good look at birdie and had the ball stop about a quarter inch from going in and then when I bogeyed 18, I wasn’t sure where I stood. After that happened, I was happy to find that I was in a playoff. When Austin hit it in the water on the second playoff hole, I was thinking I just needed to make a par, and then he almost jars his third shot. I regrouped, made a good read, and fortunately my birdie putt found the cup.”
Celebration’s Owen Ingram and Tohopekaliga’s Jonathan Bonilla tied for third, three shots back at 83. St. Cloud’s Chad Knollinger was fifth at 88; while Osceola’s Andrew Morgan, Gateway’s Will Giger and the Bulldogs Tanner Allore rounded out the All-Conference team by tying for sixth at 92.
Led by its three all-conference players, St. Cloud posted a team score of 356 to win the team championship over defending champion Celebration, who was second at 382. Osceola (392) was third; followed by Harmony (414), Tohopekaliga (421) and Poinciana (473). Liberty and Gateway did not have enough players to post a team score.
The team title may be the beginning of a good run by the Bulldogs as this year’s team features two juniors, five sophomores and a freshman.
“We’re a young team,” Endicott noted. “It will be a lot of fun to watch this team develop in the next two years.”