MURRELLS INLET — Robert Mieczkowski could have been bitter about his 2010 disqualification in the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship and swore off the tournament.
But he returned undeterred, and on Friday he made the most of an opportunity that was taken from him two years ago.
Disqualified prior to the championship round after shooting scores deemed too good for his handicap in 2010, the Old Bridge, N.J., resident claimed the title in the 29th annual nearly 3,100-player event Friday at the TPC of Myrtle Beach.
“I’ve got a story for life now,” Mieczkowski said. “Now I’ve got two stories, and this one trumps the other one.”
Mieczkowski shot a 76 for a net 7-under-par 65 to win the championship by a stroke over Frank Payne of Aynor, a first-time participant who shot a 78 for a net 66.
Payne was vying to become the first winner from the Grand Strand since former Sun News sports editor Willie Binette won the inaugural tournament in 1984.
“I can’t believe I got this close,” Payne said. “I wish I could have played just a little smarter on the back nine. But 78 is a great round for me, especially here. This ain’t no easy golf course. I was close, till the last hole.”
Mieczkowski’s par on the tough 445-yard uphill par-4 ninth hole for a net birdie clinched the title. He began the round on the 10th hole and had a two-stroke lead at net 8 under on the eighth tee, but he double bogeyed the hole.
He shanked a 9-iron from 120 yards in the rough, hit a pitching wedge across the green and missed a 4-foot putt. “That [eighth] is when I kind of realized what was going on,” Mieczkowski said. “I saw the cameras and they said, ‘Who is Robert Mieczkowski?’ Then I started getting nervous and I think the nerves got to me there.”
Encouraged on the ninth tee box by a few friends from the traveling Golf Club of New Jersey, of which he’s a member, Mieczkowski hit driver, laid up with a hybrid to the green’s apron and chipped to 3 feet. “I sucked it up,” Mieczkowski said. “I just cleared my mind I guess.”
Mieczkowski, 40, a shift supervisor for the IMTT Bayonne oil storage plant, has played in seven consecutive World Ams. He was leading his flight through three rounds in 2009, but collapsed with a 93 in the fourth round to fall short of the championship round.
“I was nervous, jittery and sweating. I was like, ‘Who’s this? Where did this guy come from?’ ” Mieczkowski recalled. “In 2010 I’m like, ‘I’m not blowing up.’ I was concentrating and shot 74 in the final round.”
The 74 was deemed too good. Mieczkowski was DQ’d later that evening. “That’s the joke down here, if you play too well you get disqualified,” Mieczkowski said. “But I’m not going to not play well. I had never shot a 74 before in any tournament.
“The final word came down and the committee explained it to me and I understand. That’s their rules, and playing too well, I’d rather get disqualified. You’ve got to protect the field. … I wanted to come back last year and prove I could play golf.”
Mieczkowski has owned a condo on the Grand Strand since 2004 and has been coming down days and weeks before the tournament each year since 2008 to prepare. “That’s when I realized what I needed to do,” Mieczkowski said. “You spend a lot of money to get in here and get down here, you don’t want to waste it.”
The 8.1 handicap has been here since Aug. 18 this year, and shot rounds of 76, 78, 84 and 79 for a net 284 to reach the championship round. “I’ve been playing a lot of golf,” Mieczkowski said. “The toughest thing to get used to down here is the humidity and Bermudagrass down here. I come down here all the time so now I’m used to it.”
Payne, 49, a Roanoke, Va., native who has lived in Aynor since 1982, was in the clubhouse when Mieczkowski made his clinching net birdie on the ninth.
The 12 handicap, who is a member of the Hackler Course at Coastal Carolina and also plays regularly at Dusty Hills Country Club in Marion and Pineland Country Club in Nichols, made a bogey for a net par on his final hole – the ninth – when he was two strokes behind Mieczkowski at the time.
“I had a bad lie in the rough and knew I was two down going into that hole, so I tried to get it on the green,” Payne said. “I about had a panic attack on my shots going into the greens on the last two holes. I was 100 yards out on No. 8 and hit it about 10 feet. I was blowing.
“I’ve played tournament golf before, and when you know you have a chance it works on you the last four holes. … But I played as good as I could play. I’m not going to fuss about it.”
Seven-time Cy Young Award winning pitcher Roger Clemens made a run in the championship round. Clemens, 50, playing with an 8 handicap Friday, was 5 under through 14 holes but made a double bogey on his 15th hole and bogeyed two of his final three to tie for ninth at net 1-under 71.
Friday’s championship round was contested by the winners of the World Am’s 68 flights.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.