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Suto, Hager grab PIAA medals

YORK - With the winds swirling around the prestigious golf venue at Hideaway Golf and Resort, a pair of Palmerton golfers were making history for their school.

A PIAA Class 2A state gold medal was within reach for senior Josh Suto and his underclassman teammate Tyler Hager on Monday as both Bombers were in serious contention for the championship.

To think that Suto - who had never played much golf until his sophomore year - was within a putt of forcing a playoff with eventual winner Josh James of Union City is remarkable and a story unto itself.

For Hager, he too was in the hunt right up until hole 17 before faltering late.

When it was over, both Palmerton golfers had earned PIAA State Medals.

Suto finished tied for second place with Quaker Valley’s Jackson Bould, while Hager finished in a tie for sixth place.

“Awesome day,” was the way Palmerton coach Alex Knoll described things with excitement in his voice as he praised his two standouts.

Indeed, it was awesome and spine-chilling right down to the closing holes for both Suto and Hager.

Down a stroke, Suto got himself into a little bit of trouble off the tee on the 18th hole with a slice, forcing him to punch out into the fairway.

“The wind was howling into my face and the wind just took it,” Suto said about his final tee shot of the tournament.

“That was a smart approach,” Knoll interjected when talking about Suto’s decision to not go for the green with his second shot on the par 4, 18th - which was No. 1 handicap hole on the course.

He hit a great third shot onto the green and was roughly 18-feet from the cup for a potential par and a tie, which would have forced a playoff.

Though the putt was not an easy one, it still was makable for Suto, who is very good in the short game. The ball rolled away, and the comeback attempt left Suto with some work to do. Suto couldn’t get the second putt to fall either and finished with a double bogey - leaving him two shots behind the winner.

Suto was dejected after the tough finish, but when reminded that he finished second in the state, he bubbled up quickly and said, “I’ll take it.”

“You can’t base the day on the last hole; it was extremely windy. Suto and Hager both played great,” Knoll said. “They both showed amazing composure throughout their rounds.”

Hager was in the battle from the get go. He pared the opening hole, birdied the par-5 second hole, then fell off a bit with a bogey on hole 3. But then he bore down and converted five consecutive pars. He would finish the front with a two-over-par 38.

“I hit the ball great,” Hager said, admitting the wind played havoc with some of those hits. “A number of times, I hit the ball solid but the winds were taking it right or left ... but there’s not much you can do about that.”

The 16-year-old junior said he peeked at the scoreboard after the 13th hole.

“I knew I was still in it,” he said. “From there on, I wanted to be aggressive and go for some birdies.”

Hager parred the first six holes on the back nine, but knowing time was running out if he wanted to make a run at the championship, he went for it and bogeyed two of his final three holes.

Although Suto and Hager both fell a little short of their ultimate goal, it still ended up being a fantastic way to finish an incredible season not just for the duo, but also for their Palmerton teammates.

Their PIAA State Medals - a rare feat for any athlete - were a perfect reminder of just how impressive they were.

QUOTABLE … “It was difficult. The back nine was tough, but not as difficult as people were saying.” said Suto - the lone senior member of the District 11 Class 2A team champion Blue Bombers.

QUOTABLE II … “I think it was a good experience to get used to all the pressure feelings, which will enable me to prepare for other tournaments in the future,” said Hager.

THE WINNER … James survived a three over back nine, thanks to a great front nine where he shot 2-under. James carded an overall one- over-par 72, Suto was at 74 and Hager shot a 5-over 76.

GREENS, GREENS, GREENS … The undulating greens proved to be a huge challenge for the 72 golfers who teed off yesterday. PIAA Executive Director Bob Lombardi pointed that out as he overlooked the tournament.