Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

ALBANY -- The wild ride ended so quietly that you could hear James Salter's three-foot putt hit the bottom of the cup amid a gallery and tension Sunday afternoon at Doublegate, where Salter survived a playoff to beat Josh Crews -- a 16-year-old kid with rock-hard nerves and a putter to match -- to win the 7th annual Albany Amateur Golf Championship.

It was a hold-your-breath moment for Salter, who led for two days before finding himself in a sudden death playoff, and then finally finding the title at the end of a simple three-footer for par on the par-4 10th hole to complete a day Salter described as "a roller coaster."

"It was kind of exhausting,'' said Salter of his up and down day and the pressure of the playoff. "It's the excitement. It wears on you. Yeah, that's probably more pressure than I've ever been under in a golf tournament, but it was fun.''

It was Crews who injected more drama into the Albany Amateur Golf Championship than anyone had seen in years by forcing a playoff with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that knotted the score and stomachs of both golfers.

"He knew he had to make it, and he sure enough did,'' Salter said. "He played phenomenal golf on the back nine.''

Crews, a rising junior at Deerfield-Windsor, started the day one stroke behind Salter (73-76-149), but made the turn after nine holes on Sunday three strokes in back of the leader. Then Crews fired a 33 on the back nine with birdies at 13, 15 and a beauty at 18 with a putt he will never forget.

"I just knew I had to make it,'' said Crews of the crucial putt. "But I knew I could make it. I was confident I would make it.''

Salter, a 22-year-old Deerfield-Windsor product who just graduated from Auburn, congratulated Crews on the putt. And they both headed to the playoff hole at 149, smiling.

"I was glad he made it and forced a playoff,'' Salter said. "It made it exciting for both of us.''

They might still be playing if not for a small tree just to the right of the fairway on No. 10 -- the playoff hole. Crews hit his drive just to the right and the ball landed behind the tree that blocked his path to the green.

"I wanted to cut the ball back, slice it back to the green,'' said Crews, who hit a 5-iron too straight to do him any good. The ball sailed true, but didn't cut back and landed left, about 40 feet from the cup off the green. Crews bounced back with a gorgeous chip to within 10 feet of the cup.

"Josh got a tough break on his drive and got behind that tree,'' Salter said. "He didn't have any way to go at (the green). But (his second shot that landed off the green) didn't faze him. He came right back and hit a great shot. He had a great chip.''

But Crews' par putt slipped just past the lip, and all Salter needed was a small tap-in to par the hole to win his first Albany Amateur.

"You never want to see anybody lose it,'' said Salter, who tried to remember the only other playoff he had been in years ago.

"I was 10 or 11,'' he said. "I really can't remember it's been such a long time.''

He won't forget this one. Salter was playing in his fourth Albany Amateur and had finished second to Spencer Davis last year. He led after the first day, but said he couldn't do anything right early on Sunday.

"We were both playing brain dead on the front nine,'' said Salter, who shot a 40 for the first nine holes before shooting a 36 with a pair of birdies at 13 and 15 on the back. "I was all over the place early, but I knew I had to make some shots on the back nine.

"It was a roller coaster of emotions all day,'' he said. "Being down on the front nine, and then picking up my game and then having a playoff. It felt good to win it.''

Craig Taylor (76-78-154) was third and Ralph Chambless (82-73-155) was fourth. Davis (80-76-156) finished fifth.

There wasn't much drama in the women's championship division. There hasn't been since Kathryn Fowler took over the tournament three years ago when she was a senior at Southland Academy.

She won by 15 strokes that year. She won by 13 last year, and won by 13 strokes again this year.

Fowler, a red-shirt sophomore at Ole Miss who played her first year of golf for the Rebels this year, was fishing on a lake with her mother Saturday night between rounds of the tournament. They heard thunder and had to stop and come home without catching any fish.

That's about the only thing that stopped Fowler all weekend. She had a five-stroke lead after shooting a 76 at Stonebridge and fired a 72 on Sunday with birdies on three of the four par 5s.

Helen Kirbo, who won the tournament in 2004 and 2007, finished second at 161, and Debbie Devane was third at 162. Kelly Pearce, a former Sherwood star who won the tournament in 2008, was fourth at 164.

"I just really like this tournament,'' Fowler said. "It's relaxing to be at home. I get to sleep in my own bed at home and be around my family. Knowing the course, being at home and having my family makes a big difference. My parents and grandparents were here today.''

Fowler's mom and dad -- John and Beth -- make trips to see almost all of her college tournaments and even traveled to California this year. Her dad was her caddie three years ago when she won her first title here, but gave up the job.

"He says it stresses him out too much,'' Fowler said.

There wasn't much to be stressful about Sunday.

"I had a good, steady round,'' Fowler said. "There's a lot of doglegs on this course so you have to plan out your shots really well, and I did a good job on the par 5s.''

Fowler said she planned on coming back next year for a chance at a four-peat, and that would be fine with the tournament and the First Tee of Albany, which runs the event that's sponsored by U-Save-It Pharmacy.

Fowler is a product of First Tee, which has a mission statement that's as straight forward as a hole in one: "To improve the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf.''

After she won, Fowler thanked First Tee for her beginnings. She embodied the whole idea of this tournament.

The youngest golfer to win Sunday was 14-year-old Tyler George, who won the men's first flight division, and Mike Cooper completed his own trifecta by winning the men's senior division with the best score in the tournament. He won the men's championship flight in 2007 and won the men's mid-am last year.

"Maybe when I'm 65 they will add a new super senior division,'' Cooper joked.

Cooper shot a 69 on Saturday and fired a 2-under 70 on Sunday to finish at 5-under 139. He was trailing last year's men's senior champ Joe Dorner after 14 holes Sunday but rallied late to win his third title. Dorner finished at 3-under 141 after shooting a 70 on Sunday. Tom Hall was third (70-74-144) and Bubba Burt, who won the title two years ago, was fourth at 156.

Rainey Owen (80-76-156) won the mid-am, beating Stan Mikle (80-79-159) by three strokes. Lester Tomlinson (84-78-162) was third, and Tim Dill (83-83-166) was fourth. Jim Dickey (77-80-157) won the senior men's first flight title.

Glenda Eubanks won the first senior women's division title by overtaking Fran Clinkscales (84-86-170), who led after the first round. Eubanks (85-82-167) thanked the tournament for adding the women's senior division this year. Becky Yager (88-85-173) was third and Sissy Smith (89-86-175) was fourth.