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Luthra takes trophy in field of young talent; BDGA champion surprised himself

If you put them all on the range beforehand and watched them fire away, Raman Luthra's not the guy you're picking to win the Buffalo District Match Play title. There's that re-route on his downswing that's hard on the eyes. There's that extra poundage he carries while most everyone else looks marathon-fit. Add in that Luthra's 28 and Western New York golf is ruled by college-aged go-getters and come on now, really, this guy took off from work to roll with this crowd?

Luthra readily admits he didn't show up at the Country Club of Buffalo Thursday and Friday expecting to abscond with the big trophy. There's too much young talent milling around for him to go there. But he knows this: What his swing lacks in grace his mind offsets with wisdom. While others feed off bravado he nibbles away with patience. Beat him if you can, just don't expect him to make it easy.

And darn if no one could touch him.

Luthra (Crag Burn) shut the door on Matt Stasiak (Fox Valley) with his lone birdie of the match, on No. 17, for a 2-and-1 victory and a second major BDGA championship. He won the individual crown in 2009.

"I'm better as I get older," Luthra said. "I'm just smarter. I don't hit at any flags. I was trying to hit it to the left-center of the green on 17 and luckily caught a slope there and it went to 5 feet. I'm not a pin-seeker, put it that way. A lot of these guys I watch hit balls on the range and I don't have ball flight like that. My ball moves all over the place."

A pair of Stasiak bogeys staked Luthra to a two-hole advantage but the former Miami (Ohio) golfer took on his opponent's persona, making his way back to even as Luthra made bogey on Nos. 8 and 9. Stasiak, 22, took his first lead with a par at 12 and appeared primed to move 2-up on the par-5 13th. Instead, a poor chip and a three-putt enabled Luthra to win the hole with a scrambling par.

"Matty gave me a little leeway on 13," Luthra said. "I could be 2 down there instead of all square. That's the match right there. He makes birdie there, now I got to force the issue."

"I just hit a terrible chip shot and three-putted and that was definitely the match right there," Stasiak said. "Usually I should be able to get that one up and down and at worst make par and making bogey there just killed me."

Luthra protected his lead with pars before striking for the lone birdie of the match at 17 following a 5-iron from 170 yards.

"I had 6 in my hand and I could feel the wind and I went with the shot that . . . it's funny, everybody has a go-to shot. I remember sitting at Crag Burn with Mark Kirk and Gary Battistoni and talking about 'There's always a shot under pressure, a guy's got a gun to your head, what are you going to hit? What's your go-to?'

"And I said [on 17], 'You know what, this is a perfect opportunity to hit it at the back pin.' My go-to shot's usually a punch-cut, and I just hit it perfect and it worked off the slope and I knew at worst I was going to 18 at that point."

Luthra advanced to the final with a 5-and-4 morning victory over Mike Carrig while Stasiak outdueled Chris Covelli, 2 and 1. It was Stasiak's second straight runner-up finish in this event. Last year he was beaten, 1-up, by Jake Katz, who has turned pro.

This time he just ran into Mr. Steady. "Fortunately I didn't run into any buzzsaws this week," Luthra said. "Part of my strategy was to make a lot of pars and let other people make mistakes. I don't come into these things expecting to win ever. But I love to compete."