STRATFORD -- As the finalists of the 43rd Borck Junior Golf Tournament sat down to lunch at the Mill River Country Club on Wednesday, they received a surprise phone call.
Fairfield native J.J. Henry, PGA Tour pro and a two-time winner of the Borck in 1991 and '92, called to wish the competitors good luck as they finished what he described as "a first-class event."
As it would turn out, though, luck would not play a role, as Tyler Sands and Faith Garcia used rock-solid performances to win the boys and girls championships respectively.
Ninth-seeded Sands, 17, of the Great River Golf Club in Milford, fought off a strong charge from No. 3 Connor O'Brien of Tashua Knolls in Trumbull to win the boys championship 3 and 1.
Sands, of New Canaan, birdied the first hole of the day to take an early lead and regained the lead on the third hole with a bogey. He never relinquished the lead from that point on.
On the uphill par-4 16th hole, with a 2-up lead, it looked as though Sands could be in trouble. After O'Brien hit a fantastic second shot from behind two pine trees to 20 yards short of the green, he stuck his chip two feet right of the hole for a highly probable par. Sands had a difficult uphill putt from 12 feet to save par, but with the pressure high, Sands knocked it right in the heart of the cup.
Sands was not done, though. After O'Brien's birdie chip on the par-3 17th slid just under the hole, Sands ended the match in style by draining an uphill 30-foot putt for birdie.
Still, Sands acknowledged it was his putt on 16 that was the defining moment of the match.
"I knew that that putt was imperative because I didn't want to go to the 18th hole," Sands said. "This week boosted my confidence, because pulling out a victory is something I hadn't done in competitive golf."
Joining Sands in the winners' circle was Garcia, 16, the first repeat girls champion at the Borck since Kelsey MacKenzie won it in 2007 and '08. Garcia, who attends Trinity Catholic and lists her affiliation as the e-club of Fairfield, defeated Mary Bennewitz 2 and 1. Bennewitz represented the First Tee of Fairchild Wheeler in Fairfield.
Garcia set a record Monday when she shot a 3-under-par 71 to earn girls medalist honors, but Bennewitz made it tough on Garcia, who never had a lead larger than three holes. The match ended on the 17th when Bennewitz just missed a 20-foot par putt on the high side of the cup.
Garcia said she was excited to win and looking forward to attempting a three-peat next year.
"There's so many emotions right now, I'm so happy," Garcia said. "Mary played great, she was a good competitor and a great sport."
Jim Palsa, tournament director, said he was grateful to the players as well as Mill River head pro Harold Lachioma and the Mill River staff for a great week of golf.
"Mill River did a fantastic job beginning to end for us," Palsa said. "Those matches were a lot of fun, they were close and everyone played well."