OLEAN, N.Y. — If he’d have played a bit better on July 1 at Buffalo’s Glen Oak Golf Club, Chris Blocher likely wouldn’t have added another milestone to his impressive Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur resume.
The eight-time winner competed in the qualifier for the New York State Amateur, which was conveniently set for Crag Burn in East Aurora. But Blocher struggled at Glen Oak, settling for a 4-over-par 76, and didn’t shoot the 73 required to make the field.
Thus, he returned to play in the Men’s Amateur, a tournament in which he’s been a dominating figure since his first win in 1997. Over the 22 tournaments Blocher has played during that span — he missed one for a wedding — he’s been in the finals 11 times, winning nine.
His latest victory came Sunday afternoon at Bartlett Country Club when Blocher downed collegian Mitch Faulkner, who plays to a gaudy plus-2 handicap at Pennhills, 6-and-5.
That victory was the former Bonnie star’s ninth, tying him with the legendary Ted Kochan for most wins in the Men’s Amateur’s 83 renewals.
Now 84, Kochan won his nine titles in a span of 11 years (1960-70) and never lost a final until returning to play in 1975.
But Kochan and Blocher, who plays to scratch at Bartlett, the tourney’s home course, got to their nine victories in different ways.
The former Salamanca teacher, stock broker and current bed-and-breakfast owner, got his wins between ages 25 and 35 and did it by earning a reputation as the area’s best-ever match player.
Indeed, though Blocher didn’t get to know him until well-after Kochan’s prime, he has profound admiration, appreciation and respect for what his fellow record-holder accomplished.
The 43-year-old Hinsdale Central physical education teacher and basketball coach is an avowed medal player. In fact, when he started playing in the Men’s Amateur, Blocher’s goal was to set the tournament record for medalist honors, which he did in 2017, claiming that distinction six times in a span of 21 years. By contrast, Kochan medaled only twice but was devastating in match play.
Comparing field sizes is hardly a valid yardstick. In Kochan’s nine victories, the Men’s Amateur fields averaged 87. For Blocher, it’s 98. The biggest field average among those who won at least three tournaments is the 113 standard for Dan Stetz’s six titles.
The biggest difference between Kochan and Blocher is the players of their respective eras.
Kochan was facing the area’s top veterans ... golfers with years of experience.
Blocher, starting with himself, has often been tested by fields laced with talented collegiate players. In fact, of the 14 titles that he did not win over the past 23 years, 10 were claimed by college stars.
St. Bonaventure, whose team has been a notable presence in the Men’s Amateur over the past decade-plus, was under-represented this year as three members were playing in the NYS Amateur.
But there was one notable Bonnie in the field, senior-to-be Zach Chaddock, who had won two of the past three Men’s Amateurs, both before his 21st birthday.
The scratch golfer from Springville opted to defend his title and was ousted in the semifinals, 2-and-1, by Faulkner, the No. 1 player on the Clarion (Pa.) University team who is also heading into his final season.
And while the 36-hole final match began to get one-sided after the 23rd, Faulkner had already made clear, a day earlier, his awe of what Blocher had accomplished.
It was the view Blocher has of Kochan, albeit decades after he had become a Men’s Amateur icon.
The real contrast in this year’s final was experience. When Blocher was 21, he didn’t know how to “fix” himself when struggling on the course. That job fell to his mentor and award-winning teacher, Jim Barillo.
Now Blocher, as he did Sunday, figures it out for himself.
Faulkner, 21, who had never previously made even the semifinals of the Men’s Amateur, can’t do that now, but as with the man who beat him, he eventually will.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)