Gary Varnier's 6 back-nine birdies lead him to victory
Photo courtesy of SCGA
It seemed like Gary Vanier was playing a different course than everyone else on Wednesday.
The 64 year old from Pleasant Hill, Calif. turned in a 7-under-par 65 in the final round of the 2015 SCGA Senior Amateur Championship to snatch the victory away from Santa Barbara resident John Pate, who had held a sizeable lead after Rounds 1 and 2. Vanier's final round included a spectacular back nine on which he shot a 6-under that included six birdies in a seven-hole stretch.
"That was the best back nine I've seen played on this course in the 20 years I've worked here," said Head Pro Dave Hartley.
Vanier's incredible strech of play began on hole No. 10, where he collected the first of three straight birdies. The hot open to his closing nine pulled him within one of 55-year-old Pate, who was competing in his first SCGA Senior Amateur. Still down one though, Vanier would tie things up for the first time in the tournament on hole 14, a 156-yard par 3 that had a tough back left pin location. The eventual champion would almost ace the hole, collecting an easy birdie to really put the pressure on Pate.
Completely in the zone, Vanier would go on his second run of three straight birdies, while Pate would catch a bad break on No. 15, hitting the flag stick with his approach shot and having it ricochet off the green. The Pate bogey coupled with the Vanier birdie gave somebody other than Pate the first lead of the three-day tournament.
But Pate wasn't done, even when it looked like he was. Vanier, like he had done all day, left himself with a makeable birdie putt on No 17, while Pate went wide left of the green. Finding himself two shots down with two holes to go, Pate made the shot of the tournament, holing a chip shot and putting the pressure back on Vanier.
"I've never seen that chip shot made," said Hartley.
Nursing a one-stroke lead heading into the par 3 18th hole, Vanier once again displayed his near-perfect iron play, sticking his tee shot three feet from the hole and all but securing victory. With a par by Pate, Vanier would two-putt for the win.
"I knew I had two shots there, so I sort of lagged it up," said Vanier, who also won the 2013 playing of the event. "I didn't want to pull a Dustin Johnson and have it roll five feet past the hole!"
Vanier would end the tournament with a three-round total of 8-under-par 208. This was the second year that the Championship was extended to 54 holes.
Pate carded a 54-hole score of 7-under-par 209, despite blazing the course on Monday for an opening nine-hole score of 5-under-par. He had impressive rounds of 68, 72, 69. Pate is currently the defending champion of the California Senior Amateur Championship and the SCGA Four-Ball Championship.
The leaderboard contained a number of familiar names on the California senior amateur golf scene, with two-time champion Jeff Burda finishing T4, SCGA Senior Match Play semifinalist Michael Turner finishing in third and multi-NCGA Champion Casey Boyns tying Burda for fourth place.
View results for Southern California Senior Amateur Golf Championship