For Thad Wier, winning Monday's ECIC Golf Championship was long overdue.
The East Aurora senior shot an even-par 72 for a three-stroke victory at Brierwood Country Club in Hamburg.
A field of 80 competed in temperatures that reached the low 60s with a slight wind. Eleven golfers carded scores in the 70s. The top 24, plus three exempt players, advance to the Section VI Championships at Lancaster Country Club in May.
"This is a very big deal to me. I haven't won a tournament in years," said Wier, who plays out of Springville. "I've been real close. This summer at the New York State junior amateur I was sixth. Last year at this I was third. I got second at sectionals. I was close the whole year, but it was always one or two strokes . . ."
Wier's round included 12 pars, three birdies and three bogeys. He needed a birdie on his last hole [No. 1] to break his own 9-hole school record of 34. Instead his 12-foot birdie putt raced 5 feet past the hole, and then his next shot lipped out. It was one of the few disappointments in an otherwise solid round.
"I kind of felt it [the feeling he'd win] coming down No. 1," said Wier. "I had nobody, except Bill Gaffney was close. Coming into the tournament I was ranked seventh, so I wasn't even in the first group."
While Wier plays in his share of USGA events, he takes high school golf seriously.
"This is my fifth season and he is the first and only boy that wants to make golf a career," said EA coach Ryan Ellis. "I've never had anyone as dedicated to their game as him. He's an excellent player and teammate. He wants to play year-round and see where his career can take him."
Gaffney, a sophomore from Williamsville East, was runnerup with a 75. He answered a bogey on No. 11 with a 54-foot birdie putt on No. 12.
The field included the defending Section VI champion, freshman Andrew Romano of Depew. Romano and junior Kyle Kapturowski of Iroquois shared the top seed in the tournament with 36.5 nine-hole stroke average.
It was a frustrating round for Romano, who shot a 78 to finish fifth.
Romano, Kapturowski and Wier were exempt from having to qualify for the sectionals, having played on the state team last year. That didn't necessarily work in his favor.
"I was trying to win this because I'm exempt so you could play for birdie on every hole if you wanted," he said. "I didn't play good at all today. I couldn't putt and I couldn't hit a green. I was rarely putting for birdie, and when I was, I would miss it barely."
Sophomore Austin Nowak of Lancaster and senior T.J. Dalton of Clarence tied for third with 76s. Nowak's goal of winning the title quickly disintegrated into not missing the cut after he bogeyed the first four holes. He came back with a birdie on No. 5 and an eagle on No. 7. "I was worried about not making the cut, but I kept my head in it," he said.
Dalton avoided that one blow-up hole that has plagued him this season and shot 38-38. He'll compete at sectionals for the third year in a row. He hopes to continue his golf career at Arizona next fall. "After the match he said, 'I finally put it all together,' " said Clarence coach Dave Johnson.
Chip shots: Gaffney and Nowak are sons of standout amateur golfers in Western New York. John Gaffney is a former State Amateur champion. Gary Nowak is a five-time club champion at Lancaster CC. . . . The season concludes on Thursday when the four division champions, Orchard Park, Depew, Williamsville North and Iroquois, compete in the ECIC team championship at Orchard Park Country Club. . . . Named to the ECIC All-star team for placing in the top eight were: Wier, Gaffney, Nowak, Dalton, Romano, Kyle Jeziorski of Orchard Park, Brennan Fanfara of Iroquois and Jake Struebing of Amherst.