Trent Karlik had played the Penn State Golf Course just once before, about 15 years ago when he was a member of the Robert Morris golf team.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Pittsburgh-area native made it look like he had mastered every blade of grass.
Karlik was one of just four players to finish under par and walked away with his first title in the 114th West Penn Amateur Championship.
“It feels great,” Karlik said. “I have no idea how it feels right now. I can’t wait to call my mom and dad. They’re my No. 1 fans.”
The 35-year-old Karlik, who teaches computer science at Montour High School, captured his first West Penn Am title and joins a long list of champions in an event that dates back to 1899 and includes eight-time winner William Fownes, seven-time champion Sean Knapp and five-time champion Arnold Palmer.
“It really means something to be next to (defending champion) Dave Brown, Sean Knapp and obviously Arnold Palmer’s name on that cup,” Karlik said when he accepted the trophy.
Karlik finished with a final-round even-par 71 on the Blue Course for a 7-under 206 total. Greensburg’s Arnold Cutrell, 49, was four back at 3-under 210.
Karlik took command of the tournament with a sizzling front-nine during his second round.
He opened with a 2-under round Monday morning on the White Course, then started on the back nine on the Blue Course on Monday afternoon and was still 2-under when he made the turn. He birdied No. 1, then closed with birdies on four of his last five holes to finish with a round of 66.
He also had birdies on holes 5-7 Tuesday morning to get him to 9-under and a five-stroke lead over Cutrell.
“I played them (7) under in two days, which is pretty good playing, I would say,” Karlik said with a grin. “I just kept it in the fairway, hit it a long way, pulled out the driver. My playing partner, Arnie Cutrell, he was pretty surprised to see me pull out driver so many times.”
That success left him with some short approach shots to the greens, allowing him to be pretty aggressive.
“I just pulled out the driver and was hitting it so straight,” Karlik said. “The holes (have) got some depth here, so where people were hitting 9-, 8-irons, I was probably hitting a 56-, 60- or 52 (-degree wedge). I hit different combinations.”
Karlik and Cutrell were paired for the final round, and Cutrell said he hoped to go 3-under Tuesday to have a chance, but it was tough to keep up with Karlik.
“He didn’t make many mistakes,” Cutrell said. “He didn’t make many bogeys and he made his share of birdies. He played rock solid. That’s tough. This course is tough to go real low on. He would have had to back up a little bit for me to catch him.”
Cutrell pulled close twice after starting the day 3-down. He made par on the first four holes, while Karlik had a bogey on the fourth to cut the margin to two. But then Karlik had his run of three straight birdies while Cutrell found a bunker on his way to a bogey on No. 5 and again bogeyed No. 8, ballooning the margin to six.
Karlik’s only double-bogey of the tournament came on No. 10, and consecutive birdies for Cutrell on 12 and 13 got the difference back to three, but Cutrell found water on the next two tee shots to dash his hopes. He didn’t hit his tee shot quite right on the par-3 14th, then found a marsh area on the par-4 15th.
“I misjudged the wind there,” Cutrell said. “I thought the wind might help my hook, my left-to-right hook, but it actually kind of knocked it down. But I thought it was worth the gamble there, given I was four shots down. With four holes to go, there wasn’t a lot of trouble that could happen to him the last four holes. I just thought it was time to make something happen.”
By then, Karlik played steady and safe to coast to the win.
“The last four or five holes I was playing middle of the green,” Karlik said. “I was just hoping that I could probably two-putt.”
It gave him a happy return to the Penn State course, which was hosting the West Penn Am for the first time.
“I didn’t really remember anything,” Karlik said. “I came up for a practice round, I was just hitting around and thinking, ‘Wow, this course has got some difficulty to it.’ But then I look up and I’m like, ‘Three shots ahead after 36 holes? I guess I did something right that most of the other players are doing wrong.’”