Juhasz outlasts Wilson
Freedom High grad beats defending champ to win title
Zach Juhasz glanced toward the large gallery surrounding the 16th green at Green Pond Country Club.
He checked his pulse.
He also took an unusually long time to line up a short putt, then missed an opportunity to close out his match against Jason Wilson. Juhasz regrouped quickly, however, as he had throughout the 83rd annual Lehigh Valley Amateur.
The 22-year-old Freedom High School graduate prevailed Sunday in the Championship Flight final on No. 17, the first time he’d played the hole all week. Juhasz and Wilson both parred the 17th and Juhasz defeated the defending champion by two holes with one remaining to win his first L.V. Amateur title.
“Are you kidding me?” Juhasz asked in response to a question about his anxiety levels on the putt at 16.
“Nerves are an understatement. It was probably like 5 feet. It was just a misread; I thought it was going to go right and it didn’t. I still thought I made it but I didn’t. But yes, I was crazy nervous.”
Juhasz stuck his tee shot onto the green on the 188-yard, par-3 17th and Wilson did the same. They both missed birdie attempts, then halved the hole with pars.
The large gallery following the final applauded loudly for two of the area’s more popular players.
“I’ve had dreams for a while of winning this,” Juhasz said. “I thought I could win the second year I played it in 2016. But it’s always been up there on the list. It goes like: state am and then LV Amateur. Right now, it’s real close though. Everyone circles their calendar for the LV Am. It’s the best week of golf, honestly.”
Both Juhasz and Wilson arrived at the championship showdown — Wilson was the top seed based on his title last year; Juhasz was seeded second as the qualifying medalist — after relatively comfortable wins in Sunday morning’s semifinals.
Juhasz ousted 14-year-old Emmaus High School freshman John Keba 3-and-2, while Wilson eliminated Steve Castellani 4-and-3.
Wilson, 45, played from ahead against Juhasz for only one hole — he went 1-up after taking Nos. 2 and 3. Despite his wayward drives, Wilson stayed close to Juhasz throughout the round. Juhasz called his bogey on the ninth hole a turning point.
“I got up-and-down for a bogey,” Juhasz said, “and that was pretty huge. I could’ve easily made a double and lost the hole. I was grinding as hard as I possibly could and made sure I didn’t give up on any holes.
“I felt like I played pretty well. I’ve been playing good for the last two or three months, just trying to keep it steady. [Saturday], I didn’t hit it too well but the short game’s been good the last couple days.”
Wilson, a Lehigh Valley golf hall of famer, acknowledged his struggles off the tee and congratulated his opponent for a match well played.
“I didn’t drive the ball well. I didn’t hit it in play very often and I found myself scrambling,” said Wilson, who was trying to become the first repeat champion in 28 years. “I did OK with that for a while and I had a little of that throughout the week but this was clearly the worst day for my tee game.
“Zach played so solid all week and I knew it wasn’t going to get me very far playing poorly against him. I’m proud of Zach. He’s a great kid with a ton of talent.”
Juhasz, whose gallery included his former principal at Freedom, Mike LaPorta, has lost 100 pounds over the last six months. Juhasz has won the past two Lehigh Valley Tournament of Champions titles and is the defending club champ at Northampton.
He was thrilled to add to his list of accomplishments on Sunday.
“This means everything,” Juhasz said. “I’m a people person. I love when people come to watch. I think this is the first time my dad’s [Abel] come to watch since I was a sophomore in high school, when I first started.
“It’s been an absolute crazy year. But from the weight standpoint, I’m feeling a lot better and playing a lot better. In general, life isn’t too bad right now.”
Michael Blouse is a freelance writer.
Zach Juhasz gets a read on the green at the Lehigh Valley Amateur tournament Sunday at Green Pond Country Club in Bethlehem Township.
Jason Wilson lines up a putt at the Lehigh Valley Amateur golf tournament Sunday at Green Pond Country Club.