The Match Play Championship hosted by The Stone Canyon Club is one of the Southern Chapter PGA’s Major Championships. The tournament seeding’s for the top sixteen local PGA Professionals consisted of pre-qualifying tournaments to determine the players that would advance to the Championship, including last year’s Champion Chris Dompier.
In championship style, there were the usual surprises that match play produces along with a dramatic conclusion.
In the first round, host Head Professional Brent Newcomb once again took on the spoiler roll. Last year, he defeated the defending champion Josh Brown in the first round, and this year’s first round victim was the 2008 Match Play Champion and 2011 Player of the Year Brandon Smith from Ventana Canyon falling 2&1.
It was a battle of wills back and forth trading good shot after good shot, hole after hole…
The #1 seed Ben Kern, Assistant Professional at Blanchard Golf Club took advantage of his youth and length to outlast Dave Simm of Ventana Canyon winning 3&2. The defending champion Chris Dompier slipped by Ventana’s J.D. Lindberg 3&2. Glen Griffith cruised by Brent Lingel of Blanchard golf course 8&7 to advance to the quarter finals. Rich Elias snuck by with a 3&1 victory over Ritz Carlton’s Tim Hynd. It took 19 holes before Don Littrell could put away Director of Golf Steve Hughes from La Paloma CC. Josh Brown scored a 1up victory over his opponent Ryan Eckroat from Poston Butte Golf Club, while Tim Clark out lasted Justin Bubser from Tucson National 2 &1.
In the afternoon quarter-final matches, Don Littrell won his match with an impressive 1up victory over Ben Kern. Newcomb continued his stellar play defeating Ritz Carlton’s Tim Clark 7 & 6. In a come from behind effort Canoa Ranch Director of Golf Rich Elias came up short losing on the final hole to Chris Dompier. The match against two former champions went 20 holes before La Paloma’s Josh Brown could claim Victor over Glen Griffith to advance to the semi-finals.
The following morning matches between Don Littrell and local home course favorite Brent Newcomb found Littrell coming out on top with a 3&2 victory. Josh Brown continued his winning ways putting away last year’s Champion Dompier 5&4 with three birdies and an eagle to advance to the Finals against Assistant Professional Don Littrell from Skyline CC.
The final’s match is probably not who you would have suspected with Littrell the #8 seed and former Champion Brown as #6. Nevertheless, it was an outstanding round played by both. The odds certainly favored Brown. However, after Littrell beat the #1 seed Kern it seemed to give him the confidence needed to play his best against Brown.
It was a battle of wills back and forth trading good shot after good shot, hole after hole. Littrell held on to a 1up lead going to the 15th tee, but walked off the green all square after Brown knocked in a 30-foot birdie putt. Brown took the honors on the next tee on the difficult 237-yard par-3 16th hole. He covered the flag with his approach shot landing 20 feet behind the hole. That didn’t seem to faze Littrell as he hit his shot hole high to within 25 feet for birdie. Littrell said, “I had the exact same putt this morning and made it.” Sure enough after making the putt in the morning match to close out Newcomb he made it again putting the pressure back on Brown. As Brown’s birdie attempt ran past the hole, he found himself one down with two to play.
The 17th hole is called “Ambush Canyon” for good reasons. It is a risk – reward driving hole, perched on top of rock incline, playing only 307 yards which is reachable with a good tee shot. However, it’s like threading a needle in the driving area by the green; you just have no room for error unless you lay-up off the tee. Well, there was no lay-up in either player as Littrell absolutely tagged a 3-wood that landed on the green, but rolled into the back bunker. Brown followed suit hitting a solid 3-wood that looks like “frozen rope,” as golf sayings go, right at the hole. The ball lands at the front of the green, takes one bounce and rolls right behind the hole 15 feet for eagle. Brown hit it to 5 feet the day before to make eagle in his match against Griffith. This time, however, a two putt birdie was good enough to win the hole and tie the match with one hole to play.
Both players proceeded to rip their tee shots right down the middle of the fairway on the 503-yard par 4, 18th hole. Their drives were so close together you could lay a blanket over them. Littrell was away, hitting from 155 yards, he said, “I hit my stock wedge.” That wedge put him 20 feet from the hole. Brown found himself between clubs and hit it in the front bunker giving Littrell the upper hand. His bunker shot was good enough to save par, but it did not matter. Littrell had that look in his eye and Tigers charge to the hole with his fisting pumping as the ball falls in the hole to win the Championship.
The thing that impressed me most of all was not only how well they both played. However, it was the sportsmanship between the two players when the final putt was dropped. A true congratulating handshake and hug by Brown for a well-deserved win by Littrell. It was such a good match that it almost didn’t matter who won because they both played like Champions.