After three-straight second-place finishes, local golfer Greg Ward finally tasted victory at the annual Kitchen Creek Classic men’s tournament.
But he needed two extra holes Sunday afternoon to pull it off.
“I always seem to fight my way to second place,” the 24-year-old said after making his par putt at the ninth hole to win the two-hole, sudden-death playoff against Jim Ballard.
“I [almost] gave it away in the last four holes,” he admitted.
Ballard led the field after carding a 79 (one better than Ward) in Saturday’s first round, which was plagued by a heavy downpour and strong, swirling winds.
“The average [score] on Saturday was probably around 94,” said club pro Steve Wood. “It was more a test of survival than a test of golf.”
Some of the tournament’s participants were not appreciative of the survival test. “It wasn’t golf,” said Stan Gilbart of Ignace. “Everybody I talked to said they should have called it.”
But Wood said once they had started, it just could not be called off.
Ward admitted it was tough to play in the poor conditions Saturday, but he still managed a decent round of 80.
“It was just patience,” he remarked. “Everybody is gonna have big numbers. I just didn’t let it bother me. [I knew that] anything 80 or under is a great score.”
Sunday proved to be a chilly, overcast day but to the relief of the 130-golfer field the rain held off.
Ward fired a one-under 36 on the front nine to snatch the lead from Ballard, who went out at three-over 40. And with a cushy three-stroke lead heading to the back nine, Ward appeared to be cruising towards victory.
Cruising, that is, until he faced his biggest nemesis—himself.
“I was finding a way not to lose instead of finding a way to win,” Ward explained. “Just the wrong things were going through my brain.”
Ward’s spotty play included bogeys at #10 and #11 that opened the door for veteran golfer Ballard to close the gap.
On the 16th hole, Ward seemed to lose the handle completely, carding a double-bogey six that left Ballard just one shot behind with two holes to play.
Then on the par-four 18th, Ballard unleashed a solid drive down the middle of the fairway while Ward shanked his, leaving him about 375 yards to the cup.
“Sometimes I hit them long, sometimes I hit them short,” Ward said, obviously disgusted after his tee shot.
This set up a tense putting showdown on the 18th green—to the delight of the gallery that had gathered on the from the clubhouse deck to watch the finale.
Ballard calmly made par to shoot a one-over 36 on the back nine and 155 total for 36 holes. Ward, meanwhile, drained a long bogey putt to wind up at 155—and force the sudden death playoff.
Both parred the first playoff hole (the 10th), but the deadlock was broken on the second hole (the ninth) when Ballard put his approach into the creek, leaving Ward in need of only a par to win.
After tapping in his victory putt, Ward seemed more relieved than excited. “Sorry about that performance,” he said, only half-jokingly, afterwards.
For Ward, the victory was a long time in the making. He has been watching the Kitchen Creek Classic since he was 12 years old.
“I’ve been waiting for it since I watched Greg Ross win in 1990,” he said, “So, it’s real nice.”
As for plans for celebration, don’t expect a big fuss. “I’ll just give my fiancée and my kid a hug,” Ward smiled.
Colin Wielinga finished third overall with a 157 total, followed by Sean Taggart and Snake Krawchuk (who had won the Senior Open earlier this year) at 158.
Bob Crowe had a 159, followed by defending club champion Brian Beers (160) and John Lundon (161).