Kovach wins East Side Amateur in sudden-death playoff

With a heavy rain falling and winds howling, St. Louis native Chris Kovach didn’t flinch as he stood over an 18-foot birdie putt in a sudden-death playoff at the East Side Amateur Golf Championship on Sunday at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course.

The reigning St. Louis District champion, Kovach had played in worse conditions.... only 10 minutes earlier.

A 27-year-old CPA, Kovach’s birdie on the first extra hole proved to be the difference as he edged former Triad High School standout Blaine Buente and Chad Niezing of St. Louis for the championship.

“In that situation, you just have to block out the conditions. The rain didn’t bother me. I was more concerned on the 18th hole when I had a short par putt and the winds went from 20 mph to 45 mph. in a space of about 15 seconds. That was tough,’’ Kovach said.

“In sudden death, I just tried to stay aggressive. I hit a good approach shot and gave myself a left-to-right birdie putt of 15-18 feet. I like left-to-right putts. I hit a good putt and it went in.’’

Tied with Kovach at 3-under-par 141 after 36 holes, both Buente and Niezing missed birdie putts on the par 4 377-yard first hole at Spencer T. Olin sand settled for a tie for second place.

Long one of the top amateurs in the St. Louis area, Skip Berkmeyer was a shot back at 2-under-par 142, while St. Louis natives Patrick Britt and Parker Goldman tied for fifth place at 1-under 143. Three players from Illinois — Parker Lawrence, Wes Hillen and Steven Souchek — finished at even-par 144.

Buente comes up short

Buente, a former Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Year who recently completed his junior season at Millikin University in Decatur, shot a 4-under par 68 on Saturday and shared the first round lead with Kovach. Buente held a one-shot lead with two holes to play on Sunday.

But a costly three-putt on the par 4 17th hole, put him in a tie. With his younger brother Austin serving as his caddy, Buente then missed a birdie putt on 18 and then again in sudden death.

“I just lost my focus on 17. There is not way I should have three-putted from where I was on the 17th green. But its golf. Those things happen,’’ Buente said. “My putting is what was really on the first day when I shot 68. Today, it was the reason I shot 73. I had chances. I just didn’t make many. But again that’s the way it goes some days.’’

Hillen, Souchek, contend

Both former qualifiers for the United States Amateur Championship, Hillen and Souchek both were in contention, along with Lawrence, who played his high school golf at Mater Dei, at Spencer T. Olin this weekend.

Hillen was 1-under par for the day and two-under par for the tournament midway through his round on Sunday. But a four hole span where he went 4-over par proved costly for the title hopes of the former Columbia High School player.

“I was playing well. I was 1-under and just ran into a few holes there where I hit a couple of bad shots,’’ Hillen said. “After it happened, I just tried to give myself some birdie chances coming in. I had just one.’’

Souchek, who played at Gibault and later was a standout at both John A. Logan College and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, also had chances this weekend.

“I was all over the golf course today,’’ said Souchek, who plans on turning professional next year. “It could have been worse, but it could have been better this weekend.’’

Former Mascoutah High School player Matt Hatley shot an even-par 72 on Sunday to finish in 14th place. Hatley, who finished at 3-over par 147 for 36 holes, will be a freshman at McKendree University beginning in August.

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean