LEWISTON — Derek Bard has played some outstanding golf in the past few years, but unfortunately none of it has come at the Porter Cup.
Playing in his fourth and final tournament at Niagara Falls Country Club this week, he hopes to improve on his best finish of a tie for 38th last year. The University of Virginia graduate had four top-10 finishes in his senior year and won a tournament for the third time in his college career, placing first at the Palmetto Intercollegiate. He is only the fourth men’s golfer in UVA history to earn All-Conference honors for three consecutive years. He also was named to Golfweek's All-America team.
Earlier this year he won the Monroe Invitational in Pittsford and his younger brother Alec, who is playing in his first Porter Cup, tied for ninth. The field included two-time Porter Cup runner-up Gavin Hall.
To keep the momentum going, Derek's experience in three previous Porter Cups could be the key.
"I learned how to play the course," he said. "At certain times, I made some poor course management mistakes that came back to bite me. As a result, I still haven't played my best in this tournament yet. This year I'm going to take the approach to be more patient and not try to do too much. Play it smartly and play it the right way, you can have a lot of wedges in your hand and make birdies that way."
Should Bard put it all together, (he shot 70 Wednesday) he could be the second Virginia champion in three years. He was a teammate of Denny McCarthy at Virginia and was there to see his buddy win the Porter Cup in 2015.
Not to be outdone, Bard, 22, attracted national attention at the U.S. Amateur a month later at Olympia Fields, Illinois, with a surprise run to the championship match that included a major upset after barely qualifying for stroke play.
"My putter got hot, that was the main thing. I felt really comfortable tee to green all week." he said. "I just played well enough to get through stroke play. I made it by a shot and then when match play started I started to roll it better and it started to heat up for me. Mentally, I was in a great place, staying in the moment.
"Having Alec on the bag with me was really cool. … We were a great team. He has been around me long enough to know how I work and his help along the way helped me for sure."
In the quarterfinals, he shocked the world's top-ranked amateur, Spanish star Jon Rham, 1-up after trailing early. How did he do it?
"I woke up that morning and I was pretty nervous, but my mindset was so good that whole week I just took it shot-for-shot," he said. "I got down early in the match, 3 down through 10 and then played the last eight holes I think in 2- or 3-under. Thinking back on it, it gives me confidence, to turn the match on the 11th and 12th holes like that against the favorite. I've never done something like that before. It was a cool moment."
His runner-up finish to Bryson DeChambeau of SMU earned him a berth in the 2016 Masters. With his brother caddying again, he almost made the cut. He learned a lesson that day.
"Scores were high that year and it was windy both days," he recalled. "The cut was plus-6 and I was 6-over with four holes to go and I thought the cut was going to be a little lower so I tried to force the issue coming in and made a couple of mistakes. That's a lesson I can take with me, not to press or force the issue."
While he was helping Derek try to make the cut, Alec was taking it all in at Augusta National. "It was awesome. I had to pinch myself," he said. "The U.S. Amateur was cool, but the Masters is a whole different thing. It took me a little bit to get into it but once we got going it was just a blast. It was cool to see how the best players in the world carried themselves."
The Bards are from New Hartford, New York, population just under 2,000, about five miles outside Utica and a little more than 200 miles from Lewiston. They graduated from New Hartford High School, which has one of the best golf programs in the state. The Spartans' winning streak has reached 108 consecutive matches after 15 wins last spring and they have won seven consecutive Section III championships. Derek won the state high school championship in 2012 and Alec won Section III titles in 2015 and 2016.
Alec, 19, is a sophomore at Penn State and helped the Nittany Lions make it to the NCAA finals for the first time in seven or eight years. He almost didn't make it into the Monroe Invitational in June and then finished in the top 10.
"I had to qualify and won a playoff to get in. I really liked the look of that course (Monroe Golf Club) where par is never a bad score and I usually play better on courses like that opposed to birdie-fests," he said.
With that, he may be stepping up to the next level as a good player in his own right. Alec has been asked about playing in the shadow of his brother more times than he can count.
"I get that a lot," he said with a smile. "People say it must be tough having your brother doing all this great stuff, but I don't look at it that way. I see him as a role model trying to match myself to him when he was my age and try to follow in his footsteps. I know if I can keep pace with him, I know I'm doing pretty well."
So who is the better player? They both laughed and Derek said, "We'll find out this week."