For first-time Jamaica visitor Andrew Arft, it was very much a case of veni, vidi, vici: I came, I saw, I conquered.

A week ago, the 27-year-old American wasn’t even planning to come to Jamaica. Fast forward seven days.  Arft on Oct. 31 emerged triumphant after a tightly fought back nine to complete a wire-to-wire victory by one shot at the 56th Jamaica Open Golf Championship.

Arft carded a 1-under 71 for a 7-under total of 209, while Dominic Piccirillo signed off with a 68 to finish alone in second place at 6-under. Fellow Americans Josh Anderson (70) and Blake Wagoner (69) each were a further stroke back in a tie for third at Tryall Club in Hanover, just outside Montego Bay.

Arft, who had started the final round with a two-stroke lead, was twice caught at the top over the closing nine holes by Piccirillo before the tournament was decided on the 18th green.

Piccirillo, playing in the next to last group, bogeyed the last after three-putting from 25 feet. Arft, in the final group, knew at that point that a par-4 on 18 would be good enough to secure victory and he duly delivered. He struck a superb wedge approach to 20 feet and comfortably two-putted to seal the title and earn a winner’s check of $20,000.

“I knew that the clubhouse leader was at 6 (under) and I knew that a par on 18 would get the job done,” said Arft, who lives in Casselberry near Orlando and plays out of West Orange Country Club. “I gave the putter a chance and four was good enough today. I was as happy as could be.

“I’ve had a couple of wins before, but nothing of this magnitude – especially with the purse and with some of the good players. I know in the last group and in the group in front of me, we had some guys who have either won or have had a lot of success here, so I knew they were going to make a charge. There was a little bit of holding on for dear life from me but also just hitting some damn good golf shots.”

Arft only made the decision to come to Jamaica a week ago after being persuaded to do so by fellow professional Patrick Lundy while competing in a mini-tour event in Orlando.

“I had no intentions of playing this tournament at all, didn’t even think about it,” smiled Arft. “But Patrick said, ‘Hey man, you should play it.’ So, I signed up on Thursday, booked the flight on Friday, got here on Saturday morning and now it’s Tuesday and I’m champion! It feels amazing!”

On another hot day at Tryall with very little ocean breeze, Arft offset a birdie at the first with a bogey at the second before picking up another shot at the par-5 sixth to reach the turn in 1-under 36. He eagled the par-5 11th to get to 9-under but then bogeyed 12 and 13 to set up a nerve-jangling finish over the challenging closing stretch.

“Today was really an up-and-down day,” said Arft. “I had a couple of birdies, I had an eagle, and I had a couple of bad bogeys. I don’t know for sure, but I played 14 through 18 at 1-under-par for three rounds and I would be shocked if that was not the best by far – not to belittle anyone else, but that’s good golf.”

Aqua Bay Resort returned as presenting sponsor for the fourth consecutive year. The tournament serves to showcase its vast potential and the beauty of Jamaica and was also sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Tourism Enhancement Fund, Digicel Business, and the Grand Palladium Hotel.

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Photo: Art Arft (Tryall Club)