By Beaux Yenchik, UGA Intern
Fruit Heights, UT – Golf respects no one, and it showed at this year’s Senior Stroke Play Championship.
This sport can be funny sometimes. One day, everything seems to be going down the can – putts won’t fall, can’t hit a fairway, and the ball is drawn to poor lies – and the next day is the exact opposite. It is a sport of firsts, comebacks and the chance to prove oneself. Whatever storyline suited best, happened to each division winner – Shaun Houston and Rick Moore in the Net Division, Steven Brinton in the Super-Senior Division, and Randy Hicken in the Championship Division – Friday and Saturday at Glen Eagle Golf Club.
Not even a crippled back could keep Hicken – a name seen consistently at the top of the leaderbaord – out of the winner’s circle in this season’s second major. Having tweaked it just the day prior to the start of the event, Hicken almost didn’t give it a go Thursday morning but is sure glad he did.
With some chiropractic work done on his back late Wednesday, Hicken managed to plug along to a 3-under-par 69 – all on abbreviated swings – for round one. Hicken, birdieing three of his first five holes, got off to a hotter start than expected, besides the bogey on No. 8. With three more additional birdies on the back, Hicken unfortunately dropped two shots when he double bogeyed the drivable par-4 17th.
“I was having to take another club or two on a lot of those approach shots,” Hicken said. “But, I knew if I kept it in play and got it on the green, I was going to be OK. It really comes down to course management. If you can manage your own game, it doesn’t really matter what goes on around you.”
(Hicken's tee-shot on the par-3 7th)
Round two – with added flexibility and less back pain than round one – Hicken had a flawless scorecard. With three birdies on the front and one on the back, he went 33-35 to shoot a 4-under-par 68. For a day with some crazy windy gusts and a steady breeze, Hicken – along with a couple other competitors – took a leg-up on the rest of the field by shooting in red figures.
Taking the lead from first-round leader Kirk Siddens, Hicken began to show his dominance early by posting another under-par score – the only individual in the field to do it all three days.
Sitting at 7 under par with a one-shot lead over eventual runner-up, Todd Kartchner, Hicken relied heavily on his ability to hit fairways and make putts when he needed in round three..Trading three birdies for two bogeys on his final 18, Hicken outlasted the field with a three-shot victory by finishing with a 71 (-1) at 8 under par.
Hicken said: “I hit it pretty straight, [keep] it in play, and don’t’ hit very many errant shots. It’s really a course that fits me.”
It was the second time Brinton claimed victory in the Senior Stroke Play, the first coming a few years ago. The 68-year old – who happened to have celebrated his birthday during the opening round of the tournament – was delighted to find himself back in the winner’s circle. Posting a 4-under-par 140, Brinton triumphed over playing partners David Fischer (-2) and first-round leader Mike O’Keefe (E), along with the rest of the field.
Brinton got off to a hot start in Syracuse as he managed to roll in two birdies on his opening nine – holes three and eight.
Adding yet another birdie to his card on the par-5 11th, Brinton didn’t drop his first shot until the par-3 15th. With the wheels just slightly off the track, Brinton bogeyed his next hole – a short and narrow par-4 with hazards lining both sides of the fairway – to drop back to a 1-under-par 71 and two shots behind the leader.
Day two’s round was almost flipped in comparison to day one for the overall Super-Senior winner. Shooting an even par 36 with one bogey and one birdie, Brinton turned it around with the putter on the back nine.
Sinking a birdie putt from nearly 30 feet on the 10th hole, Brinton stated, with just a touch of sarcasm as the ball rolled in, “That was the longest putt I ever made.”
Brinton would go on to birdie his next hole after he knocked his approach onto the green in two on the dogleg par-5. He would also circle one more hole on his back nine as he would go on to shoot a 3-under-par 33, with a total score of 69 for the win.
“It was a good match all the way,” Brinton said. “We were all very close until the last two holes, then I kind of hung in there. It was a lot of fun. I putted well [and] didn’t miss anything.”
There was a tie at the top of the leaderboard at the end of play Friday in the Net Division between Moore and Houston – a former winner of the event. Taking different routes to get there, the two first-place winners finished their tournament at an 11-under-par 133 – reminding those that the Net Division is based off of using the field’s handicaps to determine their final score.
Houston, who was the first-round leader, had a three-shot lead as he carded an impressive 62, which for Glen Eagle GC is 10 under par. As a 15-handicap, Houston managed to rack up nine birdies and an eagle/hole-in-one on his card to get to his division-low score.
Round two was not quite as eventful for Houston – carding several double bogeys and bogeys to counteract his birdies and eagle. With a final-round score of 1-under-par 71, Houston managed to finish with three crucial net pars to help secure his co-victory.
(Houston's tee-shot on No. 8)
Moore, a first-time UGA winner, was emphatic following his victory. Being seven shots behind Houston after day one, Moore pulled something special out of the bag to get in one stroke ahead of runner-up Richard Dibblee. Going 69-64, Moore was only one of three players to shoot in the 60s both days.
Moore started off hot Thursday morning by carding three birdies in his first four holes. With a net eagle on No. 6, Moore put on the brakes to his impressive start by bogeying holes eight and nine to finish his front nine at a net 3-under-par 33.
The back nine for Moore was a little less exciting as his net eagle was matched with two bogeys, to shoot a total of 69 (-3).
“Nobody can explain how nervous you get when you’re out playing golf and you’re playing in these things,” Moore said. “When you are out playing with your buddies on a Saturday, it’s just a little bit different.”
Day two was almost all birdies for the Davis Park Golf Course stud – only hiccupping once on the par-4 14th to drop a shot. Knowing he was going to have to go low, Moore stayed steady all day, eliminating any possibility of having a blow-up hole, which would have cost him the crown. Moore went 31-33 to shoot his 64, the third lowest net round on the day.
Moore said: “My caddie, Randy Walker, he just kind of kept me steady… When I would try to make a stupid choice on club selection, he would back me out of it.”
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