Labor Day Tournament: Day 1
SALISBURY — It was supposed to be what firefighters call a milk run.
Defending champions Ken Clarke and Chris Owen were expected to breeze past 16th-seeded Seth Correll and Chris Nesbitt in Saturday’s opening round of the Labor Day 4-ball Tournament. Intead, they needed 19 holes to advance to today’s quarterfinals at the Country Club of Salisbury.
“It’s like I said last year — if you make it to the championship bracket you’ve always got a chance,” Clarke said. “Golf’s a funny game. All you need are one or two breaks and anything can happen.”
Owen said he was warned about Correll and Nesbitt, both well-schooled former Catawba golfers.
“We kind of knew about them, heard their names,” he explained. “A lot of people told us we were gonna have our hands full.”
Correll and Nesbitt lived up to to their billing. They were a hole up after nine and still led after 13. Owen birdied the par-3, 180-yard 14th hole to square the match and Clarke birdied 15 to put the favorites ahead. They lost the 18th on a par and prevailed when Owen sank a 3-footer for par on the first extra hole.
“It’s never easy in the game of golf,” Clarke said after a dehydrating match.
Their reward is a second-round match against Charlie Graeber and Bill Haynes, the No. 8 seeded tandem that outplayed Brad Vinson and Chase Jensen, 2 & 1. “We played good enough to win, that’s all,” Graeber said. “It came down to 17. Brad was the only one who hit the green. I was short. All he had to do was birdie to continue the match, but he parred it.”
The afternoon’s most commanding performance was turned in by medalists Blake Wray and Lee Frick, the area’s hottest couple. A week after qualifying with an eye-popping 66, they birdied seven holes, shot 8-under par for 12 and absolutely destroyed Brian Jones and Steve Gegorek, 7 & 6.
“We just went out there and played golf,” the even-keeled Frick said with the calmness of a movie usher. “There’s still a lot of golf to play, but if we keep doing this we’ve got a chance to win it.”
Wray — a former Western Carolina linksman — and Frick, last year’s club champion, will face off against Derek Paschal and John Allen today. The No. 7 seeds felt they struggled to best Eric Mulkey and Thad Sprinkle, 3 & 2. “We put outselves in position where we had to play some better golf,” Paschal said. Added Allen: “Pars don’t win holes against those guys.”
The most-promising team on the card may be high schoolers Davis Richards and Big Jake Kennedy, the 12th seeds who surprised 2008 champions John and Johnny Kyger, 5 & 4. Richards is a South Rowan junior who currently plays on the Carolinas Golf Association junior tour. Kennedy shares that distinction and is student body president at West Rowan.
“We knew it would be a tough match,” Kennedy said. “But it’s tough to beat anybody who shoots 6-under for 14 holes. That’s what we did.”
They’ll meet 13th-seeded Brandon Shirley and Nathan Frick in the quarters. They advanced with a 1-up decision over Seth Waller and Justin Lefler.
Other first-round winners were third-seeded Josh Brincefield and Steve Antosek and No. 6 Corey Basinger and Steven Harvey.
The Brincefield-Antosek duo won 5 & 3 against 14-year old Nick Lyerly and his father Roger. “We’ve been out here a lot practicing with Ken (Clark) and Chris (Owen), maybe 8-10 times in August,” Brincefield said. “We’d love to meet them on Monday. That’s the dream.”
Basinger and Harvey won a tight match, 2 & 1, over Andrew Morgan and Sean Kramer. “Corey led the way all day,” said Harvey. “The only putt I made that mattered was to win on the 17th, a 10-footer for birdie. That was it.”