THUNDER BAY -- Jamie Depiero thought he had squandered a chance to tee it up with members of PGA Tour Canada.
Instead he had done just enough to book his ticket to the Staal Foundation Open.
Depiero carded the low round of the day, a one-under 71, to capture the Thunder Bay District Golf Association’s qualifier held at the Strathcona Golf Course on Sunday.
Last year’s Strathcona Invitational finalist raced out to a blazing start, picking up birdies on four of his first seven holes but ran into trouble and Depiero thought he had given the one-day tournament away.
He figured it was going to take a much lower score to earn the exemption into next month’s PGA Tour Canada event at Whitewater.
“I thought 71 wouldn’t have a chance of getting it,” Depiero said. “I thought it was going to be around 67, 68 but I just grinded it out. The back was a little sketchy but I held on.”
That 71 turned out to be enough, barely, on a soft course that at times seemed to be ripe for the taking but did not yield any low figures.
There was a four-way logjam just a single shot behind Depiero with Robbie Untinen, Mark Willianen, Jeff Hunter and Mike Vale all recording even-par rounds.
For Depiero, it was a case of putting his game together at an optimal time.
“I was playing really well (Sunday). I just lucked out to have a good day on this event,” he said. “It’s just really good timing.”
His first shot of the day did not look like one that would be struck by the eventual winner.
The opening tee shot for Depiero was less than ideal, as he found himself in recovery mode playing from underneath a tree on the par-3 first hole but he rebounded to save par.
That was enough to give him a burst of momentum and he capitalized, picking up birdies on Nos. 2, 3 6 and 7 to blaze out to the top of the leaderboard, sitting four-under through seven holes.
The train started to slip from the rails just before making the turn as an errant drive on No. 9 culminated with him making a double bogey, giving two shots back to the field.
Depiero admitted he tightened up as a result of the hot start, knowing he was going to be in contention for the lone qualifying spot.
“I thought if I was four-under, with so many good players in the field, there had to be somebody would be five or six-under,” he said.
He fought his way around the golf course on the second nine and thought he ran into big trouble on No. 16. His second shot on the par-five appeared to be heading out of bounds and he all but conceded it as being gone, but a fortuitous bounce kept his ball in play.
Depiero says that outcome preserved the result.
Many of the other players knew coming in they would have to post red figures, with Willianen having a crucial birdie putt on No. 16 that just slid past the hole.
The rest of the field will have one more chance to earn an exemption with next week’s District Amateur Championship, a two-round tournament which will be contested at Whitewater and the Fort William Country Club.
Staal Foundation Open executive director Scott Smith presented Depiero with the official player credentials he will use for the tournament.
Smith said with such a tight leaderboard, there are quite a few guys who feel like they will have a good chance at the second exemption, especially in a format that will reward consistent play.
“I think there are a lot of guys that could have done it today and within one stroke, I’m sure there are lots sitting at home thinking about that one stroke they probably shouldn’t have taken,” Smith said.
“I think next week with two days it’ll give them an opportunity where if they have an issue out on the course it will give them another day to recover.”
In the meantime, Depiero will wait for the impact of making the field of the Staal Foundation Open to sink in.
With the hard work put in, he knows whatever happens playing against the PGA Tour Canada field will be a bonus.
“The mindset going in is honestly to just enjoy it because I have nothing to lose,” Depiero said. “I’m just going to go out there and have fun and see what happens.”
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