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Labor Day Golf: ‘Every match was like climbing a mountain’

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A team shot 11-under for 17 holes — and lost — as an extraordinary Crowder-Dorsett Memorial Labor Day Four-Ball Golf Tournament unfolded on Monday.

The last stroke of a long day was made by cool William Little’s torrid putter. He calmly drained the tricky, match-sealing putt on No. 17 that put the Little/Derek Lipe team in the winner’s circle in the Championship Flight.

“Left to right break, a 12-footer,” Little said with a sigh of relief.  “I was just the guy who had the last putt.”

Little was humble in the aftermath, as was Lipe, but no one would’ve blamed them if they’d torn off their shirts, thumped on their chests and jumped in the Country Club of Salisbury pool.

Little and Lipe played crazy-good and they had to play crazy-good to stop Ugandans Ronald Otile and Joel Basalaine, the pride of Livingstone College. Otile and Basalaine, who doffed their caps to loud cheers as they accepted runner-up medals, won the hearts of the gallery.

Little and Lipe birdied six of their last seven holes to finally subdue the LC guys, 2 and 1.

“We were playing really steady,” Lipe said. “We never carded a bogey and we never got behind, but we couldn’t pull away. We’d make birdie, and they’d make birdie. Those guys were making every putt.”

“This was unprecedented golf,” tournament director Jake Alexander roared when the smoke had cleared. “This was golf like we’ve never seen before.”

Little grew up as a homeschooler in Kannapolis and didn’t start playing golf seriously until he was 17.

Lipe’s life is built around golf. He’s a local who went to high school at South Rowan and Carson. He was part of the runner-up team in the Labor Day Championship Flight in 2015. His job is managing the golf course at Rolling Hills.

“We just ran into each other in a few tournaments and decided to be partners,” Little said. “We teamed up and won the consolation finals in the Championship Flight last year. It’s just one of those things. When I’m out of a hole, he’s always in it, and when he gets out of a hole, I’m in it. That’s what makes a strong team.”

Lipe and Little were 1-up after nine holes, but Otile and Basalaine tied it on No. 10.

Then Lipe and Little were relentless. They birdied five straight holes, from the 11th through the 15th, but they still lost the 13th when Basalaine and Otile eagled.

When Basalaine and Otile took the 16th with a birdie, they were only one hole down.

“As many birdies as we were making, I never felt like we had any momentum,” Little said. “We had to keep making them.”

But then it was suddenly over on 17.

“The only shot that stands out in my mind is the putt the big man dropped on 17,” Lipe said. “All I knew was I didn’t want to go to 18 — or beyond that. We were playing against college guys, and they’re a lot better conditioned for this sort of stuff than we are. The fourth tough match in three days, fatigue definitely had started to set in. That’s why this win means so much. This was the best field I’ve ever seen here. Every single match you played was a championship match.”

Championship Flight semifinals

Otile and Basalaine took a mind-boggling morning semifinal from Catawba golfers Tanner Bibey and A.J. Boyd.

Bibey and Boyd were the team that shot 11-under and lost. Parring meant an almost automatic loss of a hole. The Livingstone golfers were 13-under when they brought the match to a close on the 17th hole.

Otile and Basalaine were well aware Livingstone golf coach Andre Springs had been part of the first team of Black golfers to to win the Labor Day Championship Flight in 1987. Springs and Larry Frost topped a team that day that included Catawba golf coach Sam Gealy. The LC golfers were excited about seeing history repeat to some extent.

“We were 6-under after 10 holes,” Basalaine said cheerfully. “On 15, I made a 35-foot putt for an eagle. That was the key hole for us. They had a shorter putt for eagle, but did not make it.”

“It was the first time we had seen those Catawba guys play, and they hit it very long,” Otile added. “There were so many good players in this tournament. Every match was like climbing a mountain.”

•••

In the other morning semifinal, Lipe and Little held off another younger team —  Jake Clodfelter and Hank Robins.

Down three holes late in the match, Clodfelter and Robins sliced their deficit to one down and had momentum.

“They were hot and we were struggling, but then Derek rolled in a big putt on 16,” Little said.  “Derek drives it well. His wedges are unbelievable, and when his putter gets hot, it’s on.”

Women’s championship

With only four teams entered, the women played with a stroke-play format on Monday.

The Yatawara sisters, Grace and Lily, shot 67 for a comfortable victory.

Both starred at Salisbury High. Lily went on to play at Appalachian State, while Grace recently finished at East Carolina.

This was Grace’s sixth championship and Lily’s second, but this was the first time they’ve been a team in the tournament.

“I was playing with Allison Dupree Adams when I was young and we won, and then we kept defending every year,” Grace said. “Then I was playing at East Carolina and missed the Labor Day for several years. So Lily and I have really been waiting nine years to finally play together.”

The Yatawaras were hard to tell apart, both in appearance  — black outfits and gold hats, and in their swings.

The Yatawara sisters struggled — for them — on the front nine. They made two bogeys and two birdies. But they were close to flawless on the back nine, with four birdies and five pars for a 67. On the rare occasions when Grace got in trouble — OB in the woods on No. 16 and deep in a bunker on No. 17 — Lily was there to bail her little sister out. Lily also closed the match in style by rolling in a long, uphill putt on No. 18.

“I’ve gotten a membership at the Country Club recently, so I’ve been playing a little more,” Lily said. “I hope we can have more women’s teams next year and have a regular match-play bracket like the men.”

Adams and N.C. State senior Micah Furr, the former Carson star, shot 76 for runner-up honors.

Adams has two children now, so she doesn’t get to play as much golf as she once did, but that’s a trade she’s happy with.

“We really had an opportunity the first nine holes, but we didn’t take advantage of it,” Adams said. “I think if it’s match play we’re down one after nine. But then on the back nine, the Yatawaras just played great golf.”

Senior Championship

The Concord-based team of Roger Jernigan and Robert Shoaf took the Senior Championship for golfers over 55. They defeated John DeRhodes and Rick Pickett, 5 and 4.

Shoaf plays mostly at Warrior, while Jernigan is usually on the course at Rocky River.

“It was a lot of fun for Robert making birdies today and it was a lot of fun for me watching him,” Jernigan said with a laugh. “He carried us.”

Shoaf didn’t deny he had the hot hand.

“Back-to-back birdies on 7 and 8 to put us five holes up,” Shoaf said. “Those were daggers.”

Super Senior Championship

When John Henderlite turned 65 in December, everyone knew this was probably coming.

Henderlite and partner John Kyger made history together by taking the Super Senior Championship Flight for golfers 65 and over. They topped defending champions Jim Lynch and Grady Summerlin, 5 and 4.

Henderlite and Kyger are the first in the tournament’s history to win the open, Senior and Super Senior divisions. They’ve also been qualifying medalists in all three divisions.

Henderlite won the Championship Flight 45 years ago playing with Bud Mickle. He won it twice in the 1980s playing with Jake Alexander.

Kyger won the open division in 2008, while playing with his son.

“I’m proud of the championships, but this tournament has been more about the enduring friendships,” Henderlite said. “I’ve played in it with my dad and I’ve played in it with my son and I’ve played in it with some of my best friends in the world. As long as I’m blessed with good health I hope to play in it. It’s always a wonderful experience.”

Final word

Cooped up by COVID-19, golf was one of the few available activities, and a lot more people are playing golf and playing it well.

Flagsticks stayed in during putts and there were no rakes in the bunkers. Handshakes were generally replaced by fist-bumps in this year of COVID-19. Galleries were limited.

But the Labor Day tournament went on, bigger and better than ever. The parking lot was at capacity.

“It’s a really unique event for this community,” club pro Chad Campbell said. “There was a lot of fun for the golfers because we have great sponsors and because a lot of people put in a lot of work behind the scenes. It was a tremendous tournament, the best golf we’ve seen since I’ve been here.”

See Scoreboard for more results.

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