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Norwich - On the verge of clinching his second straight Norwich Invitational championship, Dan Hendrickson just wanted to hit his 25-foot putt within a few feet of the cup on the 18th hole Sunday afternoon.
Hendrickson, who held a slim 1-up lead, did more than that.
He drained the long birdie putt for a dramatic finish to an entertaining and extremely tight match against Phil Perry, a good friend and battle-tested competitor. He raised his arm as the ball rolled the final few feet.
"I wanted to keep the pressure on him," Hendrickson said. "I wanted to get it to two or three feet. I wasn't looking to make it, that's for sure. That was a surprise."
"It made it exciting because I think we were boring people to death out there making bogeys and pars."
It was more like never a dull moment in a match at Norwich Golf Course between the defending champion and five-time winner Perry. Neither golfer led by more than one hole in the 88th annual event until the end.
"He deserves it," Perry said. "He played great."
Hendrickson, who grew up in Waterford and now lives in Charlotte, N.C., carried a 1-up lead into the par 3, 18th hole. His drive landed on the front third of the green, with the pin placement in the back corner. Perry's tee shot hit the green and went off the back left side.
His challenging putt gained momentum, climbing over a ridge and eventually finding the cup for the win.
"It was dead center," Hendrickson said. "It almost looked like it wanted to stop for a minute, then it went in."
Perry enjoys the match play format. He only wishes that he could have drained a couple makeable putts earlier in the match.
"It's fun," said Perry, an East Lyme resident. "It's different. You've got to expect the unexpected. And that putt, that was a great putt."
Perry is the last golfer to win consecutive Norwich Invite titles, taking four straight from 2003-2006.
He earned a hard-fought 1-up win over Josh Cameron of Mystic in the morning semifinal while Hendrickson defeated Joey Derrico, 2 and 1, in the other semifinal.
Neither golfer gave an inch throughout the afternoon. Perry took a brief lead on the 11th hole, setting up a two-foot birdie putt with a deadly accurate second shot from the fairway.
Hendrickson evened the match on the par 5, 14th hole. He chipped to within about five feet and then drained the par putt. Perry missed an opportunity to halve the hole, failing to sink a short putt.
"I've been doing it all weekend," Perry said.
Perry admitted having trouble shaking the miss. His tee shot found the bunker on the par 3, 15th.
Then he clubbed his sand shot well over the green, allowing Hendrickson to win his second straight hole and take the lead for good.
Luck was on Hendrickson's side on 17.
Perry's good-looking approach shot hit the top of the pin and skidded off the back of the green.
He almost recovered, as his nearly perfectly executed third shot rimmed out. Both golfers made par, setting up the dramatic ending.
"Phil is a great opponent," Hendrickson said. "We had a battle last year, too. I think we both got a little tired. We made some mental errors out there. Both of us kind of squandered away a couple of chances. Phil got a bad break twice on 17, so I dodged a big bullet there and just hit a great putt."
Hendrickson plans to come back next summer to try for his third straight title. He felt he had something to prove this year.
"I really wanted to come back, not only to defend but kind of justify my win last year and show that I played really good last year and prove to myself that it wasn't a fluke," Hendrickson said.
Other Norwich Invite winners were: First Flight, Matt Lame over Ed Hilario, 2&1; Second Flight, Jim Lawler over Frank Villazante III, 4&3; Third Flight; Tony Susi over Michael Greene, 6&5; Fourth Flight, Steve Chevalier over Joe Barile, 2&1; Fifth Flight, Adam Vaccari over Michael Fitzpatrick, 3&2; Sixth Flight, Andrew Fitch over Nick Ritacco, 4&3.