Three Fortunate Breaks Help Kokrak Notch Second Win of the 2010 Season
eGolf Tournament Director Ben Case, Southern Pines Head Pro Matt Horvath, and Champion Jason Kokrak
By Stewart Moore
Carthage, N.C. – With every victory on every level of golf, a few good breaks are required in order to break through for the win. On Saturday at the eGolf Tour's Bushnell Championship, Jason Kokrak wound up with three fortuitous shots that would prove to be the difference in winging and posting a nice finish. The Warren, OH native would utilize those breaks en route to a final-round 67 and his second win of the 2010 season.
At the start of the final round, Kokrak and Tommy Biershenk were trailing overnight leader – and eGolf Tour rookie – Chesson Hadley by two shots. Entering Saturday's round, Biershenk and Kokrak were Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the tour's money list. Hadley, a Raleigh, NC native who had just finished a standout college career at Georgia Tech three weeks prior, would have his hands full in the final round.
After a bogey at the par-4 first for Kokrak, fortuitous break number one would come on the par-3 second when an overzealous chip shot hit the flag and wound up in the bottom of the cup. The alternate option was likely a stressful par putt early in the round and the chance of starting bogey-bogey.
"It was kind of a lucky chip," said Kokrak. "I hit the chip a little hard and it was going to go 5 or 6 feet past, but then it hit the pin and dropped right in. That was a good break early in the day."
Kokrak's chip shot would ignite a quick stretch of standout golf with yet another chip-in for eagle on the par-5 third, followed by a birdie on the tricky downhill par-4 fourth.
Through nine holes, Kokrak still trailed Hadley by two shots when the rookie posted a 3-under 33 on the outward nine of the Dan Maples-designed Little River Resort course. Biershenk, who turned at 2-under 34, was alone in third and trailing Hadley by three shots.
Biershenk birdies at 11 and 13 were well timed as Hadley hit his first rough patch of the day. Forced to take relief from unplayable lies, and in turn incur one-shot penalties each, Hadley posted back-to-back bogeys on 11 and 12 when his approach to 11 and his tee shot on 12 proved to be costly mistakes.
Right when the momentum was shifting towards Kokrak and Biershenk, Mother Nature stepped in. A weather delay from 1:38 PM to 4:30 PM due to area thunderstorms forced players to take shelter in the clubhouse and remain idle as lightning and thunder surrounded the course in the greater Pinehurst area. When play finally did resume, the final threesome putted out on the 13th green and moved to the suddenly-drivable par-4 14th.
Normally playing at 330 yards, tour officials moved the final-round tees up on 14 to entice players to try and drive the green on a hole where 3-irons and wedges were the norm. A benign front hole location would tempt countless players into going for eagle, Jason Kokrak included.
"My 3-wood goes 275 yards, all day, no problem," said Kokrak, easily one of the longest players in golf. "With the tees moved up, it was playing about 278 to the hole, and I actually flew it to the back of the green, but was able to make a nice two putt for the birdie there."
Kokrak's towering 3-wood came at the perfect point in the match as it allowed him to pull even with Biershenk and move one up on Hadley.
Hadley and Biershenk posted matching birdies at the par-4 15th, and when all three players pared the par-3 16th, it brought the chess match to the diabolical par-5 17th at Little River.
A forced carry over a small pond on the 17th gave players a risk/reward option in trying to go for the green in two on the 556-yard hole. However, the green sits so far below the players and to the right that the entire putting surface is out of sight. In turn, players are required to take a leap of faith if they are to go for the green in two, as woods and hazards surround all parts of the green.
"I saw both of them layup on 17, and I was like, ‘You know what, this is my chance to make something happen.' If I don't cut it, I'm in the hazard; if I over-cut it, I'm just short of the green with an easy chip up the hill," said Kokrak, who had yet to meet a par-5 he didn't like. "I hit a flush 6-iron from about 220, and I don't know what happened. It went left and hit a tree, but luckily it came right down."
Fortuitous break number two was Kokrak's towering approach coming to rest just next to the green as opposed to deep into the forest. Fans watching greenside stared in awe as the ball soared into the trees before a loud thud sent it spiraling back into play. From there, Kokrak would get up-and-down for birdie to pull even with Biershenk and one ahead of Hadley.
When all three players found the 18th fairway, Biershenk would be first to play. The storm had left the fairways somewhat damp, and a "mud ball" on the 72nd hole took away some of Biershenk's normally-stellar wedge control. His approach from 130 yards sailed over the green and set up what would be an otherwise simple chip.
Kokrak and Hadley both hit their approach shots to 25 feet, setting up a possible winning putt for Kokrak and hopefully a tying putt for Hadley.
Biershenk, first to play of the three, hit a delicate pitch to 4 feet and would have that to remain tied with Kokrak.
When the birdie tries for Hadley and Kokrak slid by the hole, Biershenk was left with 4 feet to force a playoff between himself and Kokrak.
Entering the 72nd hole, Biershenk was 82-under par for his last 287 holes on tour. Arguably one of the best golfers in the United States for this stretch, the former Clemson Tiger was one week removed from claiming his third eGolf Tour title at the Bolle Classic. Standing on the green of the 18th hole, the Boiling Springs, SC native had posted an unbelievable 95 birdies in his last 15 rounds (and 17 holes today) on tour. There was simply no reason to think a player with those figures would miss a short putt to force extra holes.
Fortuitous break number three occurred when Kokrak was making plans for a playoff, only to watch in shock as Biershenk's tying putt slid low and left of the hole.
"I thought it was a straight putt, but it broke hard left on me," said a dejected Biershenk at the scoring table. "I guess you win some and lose some."
Stunned and thrilled all at once, Kokrak had collected his second tour title of the season and regained his spot atop the money list after posting the winner's check for $33,857. His single-season earnings of $97,708 put him roughly $7,500 ahead of Biershenk, who had ascended to the No. 1 spot last week following his win. In addition, the win made Kokrak the tour's first two-time winner of the 2010 season.
Even after the cards had been signed, Kokrak still couldn't believe his luck on the final green.
"I really did think Tommy was going to make it, he was just playing so good for so long," said Kokrak. "I mean, I was already mentally preparing for a playoff, but that's the way things happen sometimes."
After claiming his first title at the Cabarrus Classic in March, Kokrak realized that sometimes you're going to need the powers that be to smile on you when trying to win at this level. On Saturday, three fortuitous breaks turned a good tournament into a great week for the former Xavier University star.
"Everyone played solid out there today, but I caught a few breaks here and there that really made the difference," Kokrak said. "I'm still surprised that I won."
Biershenk and Hadley would share second place and earn $14,892 for their play at Little River.
Grant Waite of Australia finished in solo fourth at 16-under 271 on the week. Playing in his first full season on the eGolf Tour, the 1993 Kemper Open champion put together rounds of 65-72-67-67—271 to notch his best finish of the season.
One-over through five holes in his final round, Waite would go on to record six birdies on his round to match Kokrak and Derek Fathauer for the low final round. Waite earned $9,541 for his efforts.
- A special thanks goes to Southern Pines Head Golf Professional Matt Horvath, Little River Director of Golf Marvin Waters, and their respective staffs for coordinating this event and hosting the tour and our players for the week. Thank you to Southern Pines Golf Course Superintendent Scot Sorgent and his staff for their efforts in providing a great venue for the tour this week.
- The tour will take two weeks off before retiring to the greater Charlotte area for the sixth annual Southern Open, contested at The Club at Irish Creek and Warrior Golf Club on July 14-17, 2010.