Golfer walks all the way into winners circle
Port Country Club member Bob Goss lines up a putt on his way to topping the leaderboard in the senior men's division at the 68th Niagara District Champion of Champions golf tournament Saturday at Sawmill in Fenwick. BERND FRANKE
Golf was anything but a “good walk ruined” for Kham Vong on Saturday.
He said practising putting strokes while walking the course between holes at Sawmill contributed to his three-stroke victory in the men’s division at the 68th annual Niagara District Champion of Champions tournament.
Vong hit a lot of fairways and his irons were working to his advantage as well.
“It just came down to the putter, so I decided to do some putting drills while I was walking,” he said. “It worked out in the back nine.”
Vong, club champion at Rockway Glen, placed fourth at last year’s Champion, which was also played at Sawmill.
“I wasn’t ready for how tough Jeremy can set these pins and green, but this year I was ready,” he said, crediting Sawmill general manager Jeremy Julie for once again setting up a challenging course.
“The way they set the pins today, it was tough,” the 46-year-old said. “It was a little more fun, a little more toward the middle of the green.
“The greens were a little slower, so you can attack for those birdies.”
The victory was Vong’s second Champions men’s division title and the first since he won the 2011 event at Riverview in a one-hole playoff. He finished with a 73 on nines of 34 and 39.
Vong said he approached Saturday’s tournament much differently than he did the week before at the qualifier.
After the front nine Vong was even par at the qualifier at Beechwood, but a beer at the turn was in hindsight the wrong beverage choice. He went 8-over the rest of the way.
“I learned my lesson: I will wait to have a beer after the round,” he said with a laugh.
Bill Lipsett, Twenty Valley, 40-36=76; Adam Briggs, Oaklands, 36-40=76; Derek Billyard, Sawmill, 41-39=78; Matt Graham, Port Colborne, 40-40=80; Dylan Patus, Long Beach, 41-41=82; Mike Mattola, Beechwood, 40-42=82; Mitch Molen, St. Catharines, 42-41=83; Nolan Von Kalackreuth, Bridgewater, 41-42=83; and Mike Bedard, Grand Niagara, 44-41=85; rounded out the top 10.
Lookout Point champion Ryan Dyck withdraw and Clarke Fortuna, International’s representative in the field of 12, did not start.
High marks for teacher
Port Colborne County Club was well-presented in the winners circle at this year’s Niagara District golf championship, and no one’s victory was more convincing than Stefi Markovich’s in the ladies division.
The Lakeshore Catholic High School math teacher’d 3-over-par 74 was six shots better than St. Catharines Golf and Country Club member Chris Critelli, the two-time defending champion.
She strung together three birdies in a strong start as she fashioned nines of 39 and 35 for the win.
“Coming in I had some ‘mental lapses,’ I tend to get in my own way at times,” she said with a chuckle. “Today I just came out with the focus of playing the shot in front of me and just having fun with my playing companions.
“I had a great group with Chris and (Bridgewater champion) Ruth (McBride.)”
The victory was Markovich’s seventh in the ladies division and 10th overall. She also took three titles competing at the junior level.
Trailing Critelli, 38-42=80; on the leaderboard were McBride, 45-40=85; Karon Vamples, Twenty Valley, 45-40=85; Shannon Pollock, Rockway Glen, 42-43=85; Courtney White, Beechwood, 45-43=88; Nancy Bridgeman, Peninsula Lakes, 45-44=89; Michelle Fraser, Whisky Run, 47-47=93; Martha Cruikshank, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 46-49=95; Donna Larsen, Sawmill, 49-47=96; Wendy Ozog, Rolling Meadows, 50-48=98; and Emily Zweir, Cardinal Lakes, 51-51=102.
Mistakes kept to a minimum
Bob Goss didn’t make any birdies, but that didn’t stop the 66-year-old from soaring to the top the senior men’s division at Champion of Champions.
“I didn’t make any big mistakes. I never made a birdie,” the Port Colborne Country Club member said after winning his second senior men’s title and third overall.
“I never made a birdie. I had a three bogeys and a double.”
Goss, who shot 37 on the front nine and 39 after the turn for a 5-over-par 76, edged Rolling Meadows club champion Fred Laselva, 40-37=77; by one stroke and St. Catharines’ Bernie Bodogh, 40-39=79; by three strokes.
Goss said he was confident heading into the clubhouse.
“I knew I would be pretty close, because I knew not too many guys were going to shoot par out here today,” he said. “I figured 74, 74, 76 was going to be right in the mix.”
Sawmill was a challenging layout to master Saturday when some of the top golfers in Niagara visited the Fenwick course to play for regional bragging rights.
“It was a tough golf course,” Goss said. “The pins were set in tough spots, and the wind was kind of funny on the tougher par-4 holes.”
Scores for the rest of the senior men’s field: Blake Goulet, Grand Niagara, 43-37=80; Ange Bozza, Twenty Valley, 42-39=81; Larry Anderson, Queenston, 41-42=83; Roger Perry, Cardinal Lakes, 44-40=84; Tony Ravenda, Riverview, 39-45=84; Dave Tieche, Niagara Falls, 43-44=87; Brian Allen, Freedom Oaks, 47-43=90; Dave MacDonald, Bridgewater, 46-44=90; John Haworth, Dunnville, 51-51=102. John Stansic of Water Park did not start.
Score in the ‘respectable zone’
Sandra Billyard picked a good day to have an off day.
Nines of 43 and 41 for a 13-over-par 84 were nothing to brag about, but it was enough to give the three-handicapper her first senior ladies Champion of Champions title.
“I probably did not play well for about the first 13 holes,” the Port Colborne Country Club member said. “Then I thought to myself. ‘Sandy, will you at least try to par in.’
“I ended up doing that, so that kind of kept my score a little more in the respectable zone.”
Billyard put Saturday’s round at Sawmill in perspective by saying such a showing at her home course would not have given her the club championship and the right to compete at Champions.
“No, definitely not, but you always feel more comfortable at your own club,” the 58-year-old said.
Billyard, a four-time Champions winner in the ladies division, competed for Port Colborne’s senior women’s title after losing the club champion to Stefi Markovich.
Billyard came into her first Champions competing in senior ladies with high expectations based on her handicap.
“I think I put too much pressure on myself,” she said. “I know anything can happen in one day of golf, but I think I put too much pressure on myself.”
Sharon Greenwood, Peninsula Lakes, 45-45=90; Dale Lauzon, Cardinal Lakes, 44-46=90; Cindy Wegg, Twenty Valley, 49-43=92; Karen Debendet, Willodell, 48-44=92; Carol Cort, Rockway Glen, 50-44=94; Yolanda Henry, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 48-47=95; Miya Sinclair, Queenston, 46-49=95; Sue Labatte, Niagara Falls, 52-44=96; Juliette Soulsby, Beechwood, 50-50=100; Kathy Morningstar, Whisky Run, 54-47=101; and Sandy MacDavid, 58-52=110; also competed in the senior ladies division.
St. Catharines Golf and Country Club member Sukriti Harjai shot an 8-over-par 79 to win her second Champion of Champions junior girls title in as many years.
The Saint Michael Catholic High School student, who also topped the Niagara District Junior Golf Tour this season, carded nines of 41 and 38 to finish four strokes ahead of Lookout Point’s Kayla Burke, 44-39=83; and seven ahead of Dunnville’s Sasha Baker, 42-44=86.
She said the trick to winning at Sawmill, a challenging course with fast greens, is “to pick your spots.
“If you haven’t this course before, it’s definitely challenging,” Harjai said.
She didn’t let the pressure of coming into Saturday’s tournament as the defending champion get to her.
“I looked at it like I’m just playing a regular round,” Harjai said. “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself and mess up.”
Her putting was top-notch.
“Even if I had a bad putt I would get it back and make it,” said Harjai, who rebounded from a double bogey on her second hole by making par on No. 3.
Lookout Point champion Luke Delgobbo added the Champion title to his 2017 golf resume with a three-stroke victory in the junior boys division.
The 14-year-old E.L. Crossley Secondary School student finished the day with a 4-over-par 75 on nines of 37 and 38.
Twenty Valley’s Andrew Noble, 38-39=77; St. Catharines’ Ben Simmonds, 40-39=79; Rolling Meadows’ Blake Pingue, 42-40=82; and Beechwood’s Oliver Hunt, 41-41-82; rounded out the top five.
Delgobbo competed at Sawmill earlier this summer on the junior tour, but thankfully Saturday’s round wasn’t a repeat performance of the first outing at the Fenwick course.
“I tripled the last hole and lost by three,” he said.
Delgobbo survived a “shaky start” that included a bunker shot on the second hole, a shot into the water on third hole and lost the ball for a bogey on the 12th hole.
“I find when I have bad starts the round actually ends better,” he said. “I find if I birdie my first hole, I’m not as focused.”