By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – The limestone plaque, carved from the very ground that makes Bedford great, for the city’s golf champion is appropriate. Uncatchable, unwavering in simplistic approach, Aaron Harrell hammered, chiseled and polished off another tournament title.
While his last-round game was a little sub-par by his standards, so was his score. Harrell slashed out a 3-under 69 during Sunday’s final tour of Otis Park and coasted to his second consecutive Bedford Men’s City Tournament crown. He finished with a 72-hole total of 18-under 270, lapping the field again as J.T. Bellush was a distant second by 17 shots.
Harrell missed matching his record-setting romp of 22-under from a year ago, but he become the first to post four consecutive rounds in the 60s, and he joined an exclusive club as the 11th man in history (an event that started in 1931) to win three City championships.
After a sluggish start, with two early bogeys, Harrell tamed the par-5 6th hole with an eagle, and he carded four birdies on the back nine – a side of Otis that usually does not yield such low numbers – while leaving no doubt. This day wasn’t necessarily about score, it was about legacy as Harrell earned his place among names like Gratzer, Hackney, Tillett and others who have three titles.
“Being from here, growing up here, watching all those guys that have three, it’s really cool to be in that fraternity,” Harrell said. “Shooting in the 60s is always good. It wasn’t really my goal, but that’s pretty cool. Not many people have put scores like that up for four rounds in the same tournament. I’m very happy.”
Harrell’s haphazard opening, bogeys on the second and third holes (and he didn’t hit a green in regulation until the fifth), cost him some of the 11-shot lead he started with. Ethan Stanley was trimming a shot per hole off the margin, although that pace was unsustainable.
Harrell regrouped with the splendid eagle on 6 – blasted drive, iron from 200 yards to 10 feet – and went on a par run from that point. He tamed the 12th (wedge to 4 feet), 13th (pitch to 10 feet), 16th (pitch to 5 feet) and 17th (pitch to 4 feet) holes on his way home to handshakes of respect from his playing partners and hugs from his two young boys.
His secret, in addition to obvious talent, was his demolition of the back side. Otis is renowned for surrendering low scores on the front and getting stingy on the second nine. Harrell flipped that script. During his four rounds, he posted 16 birdies (four each day) and played that nine in 12-under par.
“I don’t know why,” Harrell said. “Maybe I was getting loose on the front and got warm toward the back. It’s just one of those things. I hit better shots on the back, I guess.”
Bellush, one of the men who laid the foundation of Bedford North Lawrence’s golf greatness by helping the Stars reach four consecutive state finals in the 1980s, was a surprise runner-up. The 48-year old with two back surgery scars fired a 1-under 71 and completed the event with a career-best 1-under total of 287. That would have won a lot of other years.
“Oh man, I know,” Bellush said. “I’d like to look back and see some of those scores from the past. But it’s a new era here of City Tournament golf, with people just getting better and better all the time. Aaron is elevating the rest of us to make a new norm. He has created a new norm.”
Bellush has added amazing distance (for his age) to his game, thanks to a swing simulator in his home that has added swing speed. Perhaps it’s to stay ahead of his young son as long as possible, perhaps others are going to have to invest in the latest technology in order to keep up.
“I really like the way things are going,” Bellush said. “It’s taking better scores to win this tournament. It’s pretty cool.”
If Harrell took that approach and practiced more, “I would probably play worse,” he said. Family takes priority and time. That’s how good the 35-year old champion is. Less is much more.
“Right now I just don’t have the bug,” Harrell said. “It’s not in the cards to come out and practice. And I don’t think I’ll do this every year. When I know where the ball is going, it’s somewhat easy. If I can do that, I can hit it somewhat well and score well.”
Stanley, who played alongside Harrell all four days, didn’t always know where it was going for the final round, but he salvaged as much as possible with a 77 and four-day total of 1-over 289. Sam Cobb matched Harrell (and Daylen Tidd) with the day’s best of 69 to finish fourth at 290.