Newcomer Antonelly holds on to capture first McAllen Amateur

San Antonio’s Luke Antonelly watches his approach shot from the fairway on No. 18 at Palm View Golf Course during the final round of the 18th annual McAllen Amateur Golf Championship on Sunday in McAllen. Antonelly won the event for the first time. (Henry Miller | The Monitor)

McALLEN — For the second time in as many years, a newcomer has been crowned as the victor of the McAllen Amateur Golf Championship.

Luke Antonelly, a first-year participant from San Antonio, captured the championship trophy Sunday at Palm View Golf Course after entering the day with the slimmest of leads over the competition. The 2018 champion — Ricardo Samar of Monterrey, Mexico — was also a newcomer to the tournament when he took first place a year ago.

“I just stayed patient, kept grinding and came out with the win,” said Antonelly after the trophy presentation on the 18th green Sunday evening.

Antonelly entered the afternoon with a one-shot lead after Saturday’s first round with a 1-under 71, making him the sole competitor to finish 18 holes under par. He began the second round of tournament play with Genaro Davila of San Antonio and Luis Noriega of Tampico, Mexico, nipping at his heels.

The three men made up the final trio of the day and stayed tight with one another through most of the afternoon.

The wind — which played a huge factor in Round 1 on Saturday — calmed a bit, but still hovered consistently between 15 and 20 mph throughout the day. Instead, it was the blistering heat that impacted play most in Round 2, with a peak heat index climbing up to 117 degrees by mid-afternoon.

“I actually got up to a two-shot lead after No. 10 and I bogeyed No. 11, so I lost one there,” Antonelly said. “And then (Davila) had some chances coming in. I was struggling a little bit.”

Coming down the stretch, Davila trailed Antonelly by one stroke with two holes left to play. The two men each hit onto the green on their tee shots on the par-3 hole No. 17. However, they each barely missed birdie putts wide right to head to the final hole with one shot separating the two.

Antonelly utilized a long drive and a superb approach from the fairway — a shot he called his “best of the day” — to put himself on the green in two shots on the par-5 hole No. 18. Davila and Noriega each sailed shots over the green to end up with difficult chip shots from behind the hole.

Antonelly narrowly missed a mid-range putt for eagle with the ball, ultimately coming to a rest on the lip of the cup. He tapped in an easy birdie putt to seal the deal.

“(Davila) just couldn’t buy a putt,” he said. “I finished it on the last hole.”

Antonelly closed out the day with a 2-over 74 to finish the tournament with a 1-over 145 for the weekend. Davila, a two-time former champion from 2012 and 2014, ended Sunday with a 3-over 75 to close out the weekend with a second place finish, two shots behind the champion Antonelly.

Joe Avitia of Edinburg — the McAllen Amateur’s 2017 champion — improved upon a 3-over round Saturday by shooting a 2-over 75 on Sunday and leapfrogged into a third place finish.

The overwhelming sentiment that was echoed across the course was praise for the tournament and the conditions of the course throughout the weekend.

“I really like this tournament. I come here every year,” Noriega said. “It’s great competition from all parts of the country and all parts of our country, Mexico. It’s the best tournament here in the Valley.”

“The tournament that Carlos (Espinosa) organizes is really awesome. He really tries to make you feel like the big guys,” Davila said. “They really try to make you feel comfortable and provide a tournament atmosphere. It’s just great. It’s really just a great tournament.”

For City of McAllen Golf Director Carlos Espinosa — who organizes the annual event — however, the tournament plays an integral part in bringing the whole community together.

“It’s a bunch of little things that come together to make this happen,” Espinosa said. “But at the end of the day, without the support of our city and our city leaders who allow us to do this type of event, it just wouldn’t happen.”