Alex Sleeker delivered a final round score of 3-under-par 68 to post a wire-to-wire four-stroke victory at the 33rd Richmond Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship at Providence Golf Club.

Coupled with his first day, championship-best total of 5-under 66, Sleeker ended the two-day, 36-hole event with an 8-under 134 aggregate. Past champion Ben Keefer (Glen Allen) closed with 1-under 70 and finished second (4-under 138). Ken Coccolin (Moseley) carded a final-round best 4-under 67 and, along with Ryan Taylor of Glen Allen (70), finished five off the pace at 3-under 139. 

Sleeker claimed his first RGA title, reaching a goal on his golf to-do list. He was also the only competitor in the field to post two rounds in the 60s.

“It feels great. I love these events and this tournament. I’ve been close before, but to actually pull it off feels really good because I played solid golf,” said Sleeker, a 42-year-old radiologist. “I am just happy I was able to do it.”   

Sleeker accounted for four birdies against only one bogey on the last day. His only bogey of the event came at the par-3 third hole, but he answered back by making birdies at Nos. 5 and 6 to get into red numbers for the round where he would remain the rest of the way. Sleeker converted a two-putt birdie at the par-5 fifth and snaked in a 30-footer one hole later. All told, he hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.

“My thought was, ‘Just keep playing your game and keep playing solidly, hitting greens and try to make birdies,’ ” Sleeker said. “My ball-striking was much better today than it was yesterday—although I didn’t hit as many close as I did yesterday, but overall I just hit the ball much better. I was in play more. I had a lot of good looks that I had good putts on that just didn’t go in. That happens.”

He owned the lead after the first round at last year’s City Mid-Amateur but faltered on the final day. This time around, Sleeker was admittedly determined to benefit from the experience. It showed. He didn’t panic after an early blemish on his scorecard which was his only bogey of the championship.

“I learned a lot. I learned that I need to slow down,” said Sleeker, a member at The Country Club of Virginia. “All I can play is my game. I had to be more patient after that bogey on [No.] 3 and I did that. I’m proud of that.”        

Sleeker shot one under on the outward half to build a three-shot lead over Keefer with whom he was in the same group of three during the final round, along with Scott Bemberis. The long-hitting Keefer blistered his 3-wood tee shot to just short of the putting surface at the par-4 10th and converted an up and down for birdie narrow Sleeker’s lead to two shots.

But that’s as close as anyone would get the rest of the way. At the par-4 16th hole, Sleeker drained a right to left breaking 9-footer for birdie to get to seven under for the championship. Keefer, meanwhile, faced a delicate 7-footer from above the hole that slid by and he missed the comebacker, resulting in a bogey and a two-shot swing that ballooned Sleeker’s lead to four strokes that he’d own to the end.

Keefer detonated some huge tee shots throughout the day, but battled some spotty wedge play and burnt edges on birdie putts for much of the second nine. Truth be told, Keefer, the 2009 event victor, has played in only a few competitions this season and is still trying to knock some rust off.

“Both days, I really had a hard time making putts. I was kind of quitting on my stroke a little bit. Quitting on it and pulling it left. Missed a couple short ones—started to frustrate me a little bit,” said Keefer, a 39-year-old financial analyst at Capital One. “Some wedge shots that I really would’ve expected in a little closer and should hit closer didn’t … that’s just from not playing a lot. The small stuff—the wedges and the putter—were not as sharp as I would like to have them.”

Sleeker finished in style by stuffing his wedge third shot to 10 inches at the par-5 finishing hole as fellow-competitors who had finished play and onlookers oohed and aahed behind the amphitheater green. Keefer also made birdie at the last.

Cocolin played bogey-free in the final round. In the opening day’s shotgun start format, he made a triple-bogey 8 at the par-5 eighth hole early on in his round, but went without a bogey the rest of the tournament, a span of 30 holes.

“I never let up from that point on. I’m pretty proud of that in my book,” Cocolin said.

With rounds of 69-70, Taylor joined Sleeker and Keefer as one of only three competitors to register two under-par rounds, but lamented missed opportunities on the greens.

“I couldn’t make any putts,” Taylor said. “If you don’t make putts, you can’t expect to win.”

 

FULL FIELD SCORES

Championship Flight           Second Flight      
Alex Sleeker 66 68 134     Jeff Spears 82 67 149
Ben Keefer 68 70 138     Mark Baldwin 81 73 154
Ryan Taylor 69 70 139     Mike McCann 81 77 158
Ken Cocolin 72 67 139     Chris Neal 87 72 159
David Jordan 72 68 140     Ben Shields 79 80 159
Steve Serrao 71 70 141     John Bartley 79 80 159
Scott Bemberis 69 75 144     Nick Cametas 81 78 159
Greg Bales 72 72 144     Bob Efird 81 78 159
Daniel Duval 73 71 144     Mathew Hudgins 79 83 162
Kurt Williams 73 71 144     Ron DeCastro 80 84 164
Gary Cicatiello 71 74 145     Mark Leone 82 86 168
Mel Burns 71 74 145     Brian McKinney 84 84 168
Tyler Clark 73 72 145     Sean Bowers 88 83 171
Greg Marbold 71 75 146     Walt Ozierski 92 91 183
Jeff Nygaard 69 78 147            
Jimmy Angel 73 75 148            
James Holmes 72 79 151            
                   
First Flight                  
Billy Vass 77 70 147            
Larry Loving 78 70 148            
Ben Lienard 77 72 149            
Matt Brantingham 74 75 149            
John Santilli 74 77 151            
Robert Nussey 76 76 152            
Chris Corrada 76 78 154            
Ron Mamrick 77 77 154            
Joe Alexander 77 78 155            
Eric Crain 77 79 156            
Steve Isaacs 77 79 156            
Todd Hoyle 78 78 156            
Kent Carson 76 83 159            
Brandon Stokes 78 83 161