By Gary Kalahar
JACKSON – Steve Maddalena’s quest to improve his golf game never ends.
Maybe that’s why he keeps adding to his remarkable record, more than three decades after he started collecting Jackson golf titles.
A project to revamp his swing continues to pay benefits, the latest coming Saturday when he won the Tournament of Champions at Arbor Hills Golf Club. Maddalena defeated Greg Zeller on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff after the two tied at even-par 72. Pete Walz was next at 75 in the field of eight in the tournament open to this year’s tournament winners and top 10 finishers on the Honor Roll.
The victory pushed Maddalena to third on the final Honor Roll, behind Player of the Year Josh Dirlam and Mike Brockie.
Three years ago, Maddalena was dissatisfied with his play enough to begin working on a swing change with pro Gary Robinson. After not winning a local major tournament in 2014 or 2015, he has now picked up three more victories in the last two years, pushing his total to 27.
“I committed to changing the way I hit the ball,” Maddalena said of moving to a more consistent left-to-right ball flight. “It took a couple years to get comfortable. There were a lot of bad rounds. This year I’m a lot more comfortable. I have a lot better control of the golf ball. Even my misses are pretty good.”
The 57-year-old Maddalena says he has added 15-20 yards to his drives and is hitting his irons more accurately.
“It’s easier to hit shots, especially on harder golf courses,” he said. “As my swing gets better, I get more comfortable. You’re much more calm when you know where your golf ball is going to go. I can play with a lot more comfort.”
The victory was Maddalena’s sixth in the Tournament of Champions, tying him with Bob Zimmerman for the most TOC titles. Zeller also was seeking his sixth, having won five of the last 10.
Playing at Arbor Hills for the first time this year, Maddalena recorded two birdies and two bogeys. He lipped out a 10-footer for birdie on No. 18 that would have prevented the playoff.
Because of a backup in another tournament being played at Arbor Hills, Maddalena and Zeller had to play the first hole three times before the second hole was open. They both parred No. 1 all three times, a difficult pin placement leaving them unable to get good birdie looks.
“It was in the middle of the green, which is the worst spot,” Maddalena said about the sloped green. “You cannot get it close.”
Maddalena won with a birdie on the par-5 second hole by reaching the green in two for the first time in his memory. His drive down the left side of the fairway left him a good angle for a 215-yard approach over some trees, and he found the middle of the green. Zeller could only make par after a drive toward the right side left him with tree trouble.
Maddalena said he favors more aggressive golf in a playoff.
“If it had been medal play, I might not have taken the same line,” he said. “You could end up making a big number if you hit the trees or do something stupid.
“I’ve been in a fair amount of (playoffs), and I’ve found if you get more aggressive, the tendency is to win more than lose, and you want to play that way rather than waiting for the other guy to make a bogey. And I sure didn’t think Greg would make a bogey.”