Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Joey Savoie's Wonderful World of Magic. Mr. Savoie will open his act today by hitting a golf ball so it ricochets off that rock and onto the clubhouse roof, from where it will feed into that downspout and emerge on the green and roll into the hole.
Just kidding, folks. Mr. Savoie isn't ready to take that trick public yet. But any of you who saw the championship match of the International Junior Masters on Friday afternoon can vouch that this young man, the reigning Quebec Junior and Juvenile champion, possesses an uncanny ability to take nothing and turn it into something unimaginable. It's kind of like golf's version of the Big Bang Theory only without the sound effects.
Well, wait. Scratch that. There was that Savoie Scream that reverberated throughout East Aurora Country Club when the young man drilled a 35-foot birdie putt up the ramp and into the cup on No. 16 to halve the hole with birdies. You may have thought that magicians always missed the human target with the dagger but that one found North Tonawanda's James Blackwell square and served as the defining shot in Savoie's 2-up victory that gave Canada its third IJM title in the last five years.
Poor Mr. Blackwell could see that glistening blade coming at him a mile away. Trouble was, in golf ducking does you no good. You just have to stand there and take it like a man and maybe mutter "Well played" when there's 1,000 other things you'd rather say. "Enough already!" would be one of the nicer ones.
It seemed to most that the match would be squared when Blackwell put an eagle chip snug to the 16th cup while Savoie contemplated his options from the lower part of the two-tiered green. But it didn't seem that way to Blackwell. He'd seen this act before.
"I was thinking [birdie] was only going to be good for all square, just by the way he was putting," Blackwell said.
Savoie elected to chip from the lower putting surface but covered only three-fifths of the distance to the hole. He could have devoured War and Peace during the time he took to read the ensuing putt ?but in the end his deliberation was justified.
"The putt was really straight," Savoie said. "I was wondering which way it would turn. But I decided to hit it straight and it just went in."
Blackwell never led in the match, falling behind three holes through four. Slow starts were his nemesis throughout the tournament but usually without lasting effect. He started bogey-par-bogey while shooting 2-under 69 in the first round of medal play and opened with a triple-bogey in a second-round 70 good for a 139 that matched the lowest total ever by a medalist. The hiccups continued throughout match play.
"But he's the only one that took advantage of the first few holes," Blackwell said. "Three down, and I was never leading at any point. I got it back to all square but he took advantage of those first few holes."
Savoie's Wonderful World of Magic commenced when he nearly holed out for double-eagle from 240 on the par-5 third. Later he halved the par-5 12th following a miraculous shot from adjacent to the hazard to a severely elevated green, and then halved the par-3 13th with bogeys with a surgical scramble from the depths of the 10th hole. While Blackwell dealt him a few reprieves there was no doubting Savoie's resolve.
"It means a lot," Savoie said. "The first two days I really scrambled just to get into the championship flight. I hit six or seven balls OB in the first two days. To win it in match play means that I'm a fighter, something like that. I really fought hard today."
As for Blackwell, the IJM showed how much upside there is to his game. He struggled with his distance control, with short chips and with his putting. His decision-making was at times a curiosity. Yet he won the Gary Player Cup, tied the medalist record and made it all the way to the final before Savoie took his magic show center stage.