Labor Day golf: Christy, Miller win on final putt

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 7, 2009

By David Shaw
The holiday weekend’s most compelling story got even better just before 7 p.m. Monday.
No, it wasn’t Cam Sexton’s unfortunate ankle injury in Catawba’s 21-20 football victory or West Rowan High School’s heart-stopping triumph over Davie County.It wasn’t even the surprise package runners-up Chris Owen and Ken Clarke delivered in the 56th annual Labor Day golf tournament at the Country Club of Salisbury.
It was ó drumroll, please ó Jim Christy’s putter.
“You won’t believe this, but I bought it from Chris last summer,” Christy said after using that very Titleist model to sink a 9-foot putt on the 18th hole.
The birdie gave Christy and Phil Miller their first championship with a 1-up victory.
“He gave me a good deal on it,” Christy added with a wide smile. “I guess it wasn’t working for him, but it sure worked great for me.”
The eighth-seeded tandem rallied from two holes down with seven to play and gained an unlikely win by taking the final two. Miller, who works in financial services, birdied the 12th and 13th holes to square the match. But when Christy and Miller lost on 15, their hopes nearly fizzled.
“We were tired and in danger of losing,” Miller said. “When I walked up to the tee box at 12, I realized I’d been hitting my driver sketchy all weekend. So I said myself, ‘If I’m going to make my partner happy, I’m gonna have to start playing a lot better.’ That’s how we finished.”
Their finish was straight out of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
“We thought we had ’em,” Owen said. “All we had to do was keep hitting it forward and keep hitting greens. We said, ‘They’ll have to make birdies to beat us.’ Which they did.”
Still one down after 16 holes, Miller and Christy charged back, beginning when Miller drained a dramatic 55-foot putt to win the 17th.
“Did you see how many paces I had to take?” Miller asked. “About 12 to 15 just to measure the hole.”
Clarke saw it all from his front-row seat.
“I just didn’t expect him to make it,” he quipped. “It was a great putt.”
Added Owen: “If that putt didn’t hit the hole, I thought it would go off the green.”
That set the stage for a grand finale on the par-4, 395-yard 18th hole. All four finalists placed their approach shots on the green, just inches apart. Clarke’s putt for birdie reached the hole but broke wide. Owen also misfired from short range.
Christy, batting third in the order, stepped to his ball and spent nearly a minute calculating a four-inch break. He took a couple of practice swings ó showcasing the putter that formerly resided in Owen’s bag.
“After their two guys missed, I felt like the pressure was off me,” Christy said. “I was ready, but I knew if I didn’t make my shot (Miller) would make his.”
Never happened. Christy gently pushed a shot that found the hole and dropped, setting off a celebration of New Year’s Eve proportion.
“I’d been putting great all day,” he said. “Looking at that one ó and remembering the one I let slip away on 16 ó I just wanted to make sure I got it. It was a happy moment.”
A moment conceived from a small transaction sometime last summer.
“I told him I was gonna break the sucker after he made a couple of putts early,” Owen joked afterward. “I don’t know if they would have penalized me or anything, but it might have started a fight.”
NOTES: Miller and Christy combined for seven birdies and carded a 5-under 66. Owen and Clark teamed for five birdies and a 67. … Both teams earned 4-and-3 semifinal victories Monday morning: Owen and Clark, seeded 15th, beat Ed Cook and Jay Stevens; Miller and Christy eliminated the fourth-seeded duo of Stephen Bullock and Guy Hoskins. … In the Seniors Championship, Bob Rusher and James Poe were crowned champions for the second straight year. They topped Russ Priddy and Wayne Tate by a 4-and-3 margin.