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Changing of the guard on the green

THUNDER BAY -- Hank Wilke didn’t want to play the 18th hole a fourth time on Monday. The 58-year-old golfer stuck his approach shot on No.

THUNDER BAY -- Hank Wilke didn’t want to play the 18th hole a fourth time on Monday.

The 58-year-old golfer stuck his approach shot on No. 17 at Whitewater Golf Club to within two feet to edge defending champion Brett Shewchuk on the third playoff hole and capture his third District Amateur Championship.

It was Wilke’s first local major win since winning back-to-back Amateur titles in 2004 and 2005.

He did it the hard way.

Wilke, who trailed Shewchuk by five strokes through eight holes, rallied with four birdies in a five-hole stretch to take a two-shot advantage into the final regulation hole.

But an errant tee shot into the woods forced him to take an unplayable lie, then work his way down the 10th fairway, over a tower of trees and back onto the 18th in four.

He made the up-and-down, Shewchuk chipping and putting from the fringe for a birdie that produced a one-over 73, equaling Wilke’s round and setting up the sudden-death playoff, both golfers finishing the three-day event with four over 219s. The duo played 18 twice in the playoffs before heading back another fairway and starting at 17. 

It was a scrambling finish for Wilke, who also made an unlikely par on his second playoff hole, his tee shot finding the edge of the forest on the lengthy 18th.

“I didn’t think it was going to be possible, to tell you the truth,” said Wilke after the six-hour round, not sure he’d ever reach the podium again.

“It’s great to come and play Brett. I had one of those rounds when everything went right on the back nine. The front nine wasn’t so great. I made some putts, made some chips, hit the ball really well and I’m quite happy with that.”

After birdying the par 5 12th to start his run, Wilke showed age is just a state of mind on the short par 4 14th, driving the green, his ball coming to rest some eight feet from the cup.

Shewchuk found the rough in front of the green, but chipped to a foot and both golfers settled for birdies.

The defending champion’s luck ran out on 15, his tee shot planting itself in the bunker.

Shewchuk, who won the event in 2013 and 2015, could only manage a two-putt birdie, while Wilke, from the other side of the green, chipped in for birdie to even the match.

“I was so mad I missed that putt,” Shewchuk said, after blasting his drive deep onto the fairway on the 16th.

But it was Wilke took the outright lead on the hole with a birdie after Shewchuk missed a seven-foot birdie try of his own.

The 24-year-old Shewchuk, who plans to attend Niagara College this fall, found more trouble on the 17th, his tee shot straying left into the forest that led to an unplayable lie and a bogey 5.

“I was relaxed at the time,” Wilke said. “Brett was up five coming up on the back nine. I had nothing to lose. I was just trying to stay with it. When you make some putts and make some chips, the next thing you know you’re two behind and you have a chance.”

Shewchuk, winner of this year’s Strathcona Invitational, said he got beat by the better player.

“I played fine. Hank was just on fire for pretty much the last 10 holes, minus what he did on 18.”

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith has been the editor of Thunder Bay Source for 18 years and has served a similar role with since 2009. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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