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Hall receives a painful education on golf’s realities

LEWISTON – Gavin Hall was only a few minutes removed from watching the Porter Cup fall into the arms of another Saturday when he starting thinking about better days ahead. The best players in golf history, at the height of their careers, lost many more tournaments than they won.

They say winning is a learning process, but long forgotten when celebrating champions was the education that came from losing. Hall will be on the PGA Tour sooner than later. It’s virtually guaranteed. The 21-year-old phenomenon from Pittsford has established himself as one of the nation’s top amateurs.

For now, however, he’s experiencing growing pains that will someday thicken his skin and strengthen his backbone. Someday, he’ll look back at the four-shot lead he watched slip away over the final seven holes Saturday and be thankful for the experience. He will learn to buckle down, learn to preserve, learn from past experiences.

Of course, it smarted walking off the 18th green Saturday after his birdie putt burned the left edge, knowing Australian Harrison Endycott was an easy 5-footer from swiping away the tournament. He was looking back at lost opportunities, shots left at Niagara Falls Country Club that would have allowed him to coast if he converted.

“It’s golf,” Hall said. “There’s always something you can get from it. Golf is a game where the top player in the world will win 25 percent of the time. That’s Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Those guys at the top of their game were winning a quarter of their events. You got to learn how to lose. It stings right now, but I’ll certainly be a lot stronger.”

Hall was convinced this was the year he would win the Porter Cup, and with good reason. He was the runner-up as a 15-year-old. His four previous tournament finishes were second, eighth, eighth and third. Now he has another second. No player in tournament history had that much success without winning.

He was in position to win the two-dog race, too, after turning his three-shot lead into four going into the par-3 12th hole. Hall pulled a wedge long, leading to a bogey. Endycott picked up two more strokes with birdies on Nos. 13 and 14. Hall lost the lead with a bogey in 16, where Endycott made a 40-footer for birdie.

Perhaps at some point Hall will reach out to his friend, Jordan Spieth, and discuss the madness and exhilaration that comes with golf. The Porter Cup is a major golf tournament at the amateur level, one that likes to view itself as being most similar to the Masters. Spieth knows about giving away comfortable leads.

And he knows something about winning.

Spieth’s decision to turn professional opened a scholarship at the University of Texas, one Hall grabbed after realizing UCLA wasn’t a good fit after all. The two became friends on the junior circuit and maintained a good relationship while Hall emerged as one of the top players on one of the top teams.

“He’s a great resource,” Hall said. “He comes by every fall. I’m able to text him and call him. There are a few guys that I’m able to reach out to and learn from. Ultimately, they’re at the step that I want to be. I want to be on the PGA Tour, winning golf tournaments and competing consistently out there.”

The key to competing consistently is playing consistently, which is precisely where Hall needs to improve if he wants to play with the big boys. He know how to light up a scorecard. At age 15, he shot a 10-under 62 in the second round of stroke play, setting a record for the U.S. Junior Amateur.

Hall is quiet and unassuming, but his game is a different matter. He had moments of greatness during his junior year at Texas, but with his brilliance came intermittent rounds that reminded people he wasn’t quite there. He was still hurting Saturday over Texas losing to Oregon, and losing his match, in the NCAA tournament.

Length is no issue. He knows how to scramble. He can be deadly with the putter. It’s in there, somewhere, but it’s a matter of putting everything together for four rounds in a tournament. He dominated the Porter Cup for the first three rounds in building the big lead, but it was foreign territory.

“You’re going to see a lot of him,” Endycott said. “But it didn’t really change much of me. I’ve won before, I knew how to win in this situation, but at the same time I did have to play good at the right time. I managed to do that.”

All you need to know about Hall was neatly wrapped in a five-hole stretch on the front nine Saturday. His prodigious length was on display on the fifth and seventh holes. He outdrove Endycott by 40 yards on No. 5 and crushed one 370 yards – 370 yards – on the eighth hole. Both times, however, he settled for par.

He pulled a drive on No. 6 and was behind two trees guarding the green, lofted his approach over them and made a 20-foot uphill putt for birdie. He hit a perfect shot from the short side bunker on the par-3 seventh hole before tapping in for par. He found an alley between two trees on No. 9 and missed a 5-footer for birdie.

It was Hall at his best, and his worst, bombing off the tee, scrambling out of trouble, missing putts he should have made and plowing forward. The best players win when they’re not at their best, when they find a way to post a solid score in an inconsistent round. He finished with a 1-over 71. Endycott shot 66, tied for best of the day.

“I’ve been really close, particularly the NCAAs,” he said. “I had a couple of wins this semester. You can always take something away from being in this position. I haven’t had the lead like this in a long time. I felt like I played pretty well. The golf course was not easy.”

Sometimes, that’s just golf. Sometimes, that’s youth. Sometimes, the other guy is simply better on a given day. Hall entered the final round 42-under par for his career at the Porter Cup. But it was the 20-year-old Endycott who confirmed he had the ability to make a charge and the audacity to finish the job.

Hall played the final seven holes at 2-over par while Endycott was 3-under. The Aussie saved par on 17 after firing short of the green. With the gallery surrounding the 18th green, with his heels overhanging a bunker while he executed a flop shot to within 5 feet, Hall still had a chance and missed.

Better days are ahead.

Sometimes, it’s painful.

“I think my time is coming,” Hall said. “Certainly, it hurts now. The NCAAs stung. I really haven’t had many tournaments go my way. It’s bound to turn around at some point. I don’t know when it’s going to be. It’s surely going to feel pretty good. As long as I keep working hard and doing the right things, I’ll be in good position.”

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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