WATERTOWN — Consistency has been the secret to Bob Hughes’s golf success over the past 4 1/2 decades.
Remarkably accurate from tee to green, abetted by a magnificent short game and one of the sweetest putting strokes in the history of city golf, Hughes also possesses the mind-set that all champions have — the feeling that when he’s on top of his game, nobody can beat him.
Though this week wasn’t quite as dominating as some of his previous 12 Watertown City Men’s Golf Championships runs, it was still better than anybody else. So a 13th city crown — on July 13th, no less — accomplished with a 9 and 8 win over Tim Phillips in Sunday’s finals at Watertown Golf Club, simply added more luster to the Hughes legacy.
“The older you get, winning becomes a lot more special,’’ said Hughes, who seized a 5 up lead after nine holes, led 3 up after the morning 18, then closed out the match by winning the final five holes. “My goal every year is to win. Sometimes you play really well and don’t win. Other years, you play just OK and win. This week, for the most part, was pretty good all around.’’
Hughes won the first hole of the day with a par, and never trailed. He stumbled a bit on the back nine in the morning, allowing 1984 winner Phillips to get back into the match.
Still holding a 4 up lead on the fifth hole when the second 18 was delayed for 1 hour, 15 minutes by heavy rain, Hughes earned a halve when Phillips missed a short par putt.
That was the beginning of the end for Phillips, who also bogeyed the final four holes of the front nine. Hughes drained a tough 20-foot birdie putt on No. 6, then made three four straight pars to mount an almost insurmountable 8 up lead.
Fittingly, the defending champion canned an eight-footer for a birdie-4 on the 10th hole to end the match early.
“Tim’s a tough competitor, so you can never have a big enough lead,’’ Hughes said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t make many putts today and pars were good enough.’’
This was a rematch of the 1984 final, which saw Phillips beat Hughes for his only city crown. But Sunday was not his day.
“I hit the ball well enough,’’ Phillips said. “But my chipping was not nearly as good as (Saturday), and I missed a ton of putts. I thought when I made that comeback on the back nine I could close the gap a little more. But it’s never easy against Bob because he is just doesn’t give you much hope.’’
After shooting a 4-over-par 40 on the opening nine, Phillips birdied No. 10 to win his first hole.
He also birdied 12 and 13, then looked to have 14 won when Hughes chipped in from the fringe for a par to halve the hole.
A three-putt bogey by Phillips on 15 allowed another bonus halve for Hughes.
“If I get 14 and 15, it’s probably a different match,” said Phillips, who also won 16 when Hughes hit his tee shot in the bushes over the green. “After that, I didn’t do a heck of a lot right.’’
Hughes went back to 3 up with a par on 17 and they immediately began the afternoon round because of impending bad weather.
Phillips gave away the first hole of the second 18 with a bad three putt.
Hughes then made one of his few big mistakes, driving out of bounds on No. 3. But he immediately got that hole back with a nice up-and-down on No. 4, and Phillips missed a short putt for par.
They hit tee shots on No. 5 when the heavy rain began. After returning to the course, Phillips pitched to three feet but missed again.
“It’s disappointing not to play better, but it’s been a great week,’’ said Phillips, who has qualified for the New York State Amateur, to be played next week at Bellevue Country Club in Syracuse.
Said Hughes: “The wind was really tough today. It affected not only tee shots but putts as well. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many cross-wind putts.’’
Hughes still enjoys going up to WGC at night and getting in a short practice session in the peace and quiet. “You can work on your game with no one around and really prepare for an event like this. Hopefully, I can still keep doing that and winning this tournament for a few more years.’’
No one would bet against that.