Gage Ihrig Weathers the Storm, Wins the Kansas Match Play
Gage Ihrig, the 2017 Kansas Match Play champion <br>(KGA photo)
Gage Ihrig, the 2017 Kansas Match Play champion
(KGA photo)

MISSION HILLS, KS (July 23, 2017) - Kansas City Country Club and the surrounding neighborhoods looked like a mid-summer Kansas tornado had touched down briefly when the players arrived on site early Sunday morning for the final match of the 107th Kansas Amateur. But Gage Ihrig and Sam Stevens had a 36 hole contest to play and they were not going to let a few thousand tree limbs on the ground get in their way. When the 34th hole of the match was finished Gage Ihrig had claimed his second KGA title of the 2017 season and Sam Stevens received his third Kansas Amateur Match Play runner-up trophy.

The 4&2 final result seemed a wider margin of victory than had been the case throughout most of the contest. Ihrig birdied the second hole of the morning round, a short par three, and then never trailed. He built a brief 3 up lead on the opening hole of the afternoon session, but Stevens birdied the next hole to reduce the margin to just 2 holes. The next seven holes were halved with either pars or bogeys setting up Ihrig’s final five hole charge to the finish. Birdies at #12 and #13 increased the lead to 3 up and by the time the two started the 16th hole, Ihrig was dormie. Stevens pressed his recovery shot from the right side walnut grove and careened his ball into the left fairway bunker. With Ihrig safely on the putting surface in two strokes, the match was nearly over. Caps came off after Ihrig played his third stroke to a makeable position close to the hole.

While the two finalists displayed well placed and long shots from the tee and fairly accurate approaches, it was the putting game that seemed to have abandoned both young collegians. Stevens, a senior to be at Oklahoma State, in particular struggled with his putting throughout the match, even missing putts that would have been made in earlier matches. Ihrig managed to make a few more putts and that was the difference.

Loren Breedlove, the Kansas City Country Club superintendent for the last 37 years, had a crew of early-risers who worked to prepare the putting greens and almost all of the its 30-some bunkers so that the championship match could begin Sunday morning after a short delay. The overnight storm hit the Mission Hills area hard. Brush Creek did get out of its banks for a time, leaving debris on the golf holes near the club entrance. One old oak tree that had already been scheduled for removal the week after the Kansas Amateur, was split in two by the strong winds. It covered most of the first fairway so that the players had a strange sight from the first tee. The fallen tree was merely an obstacle to hit over.

KGA officials asked Breedlove to give priority to the mowing of the putting greens and everything else could be handled with special rules for the day. The players and officials walked the morning 18 holes and were then issued golf carts for the afternoon round. That was fortunate as the skies cleared and the temperatures and humidity made it very uncomfortable for the players and spectators alike.

At no time did the debris play a factor in the outcome of any hole.

For the morning session, Ihrig, a Wichita State golfer and senior to be, played 18 holes 1-under par 69 while Stevens struggled to shoot 1-over par 71. That was the difference allowing for the 2 up Ihrig advantage at the lunch break.

For the 16 holes played in the final session, Ihrig was 2-under par. Stevens was 2-over par. Over the final 10 holes of the match, Stevens had no fewer than six opportunities to make a birdie and win a hole. His frustration was obvious. So for a long stretch of seven holes from #5 through #11, Ihrig was matching Stevens hole for hole. Finally at #12 Ihrig hit his tee shot to within 10 feet of the hole on the 220-yard scenic downhiller and then sank a putt to go 2 up.

At the par four 13th hole the tees had been moved up to the forward tee in order to tempt the players into going for the green that is fronted by a wide water hazard. Ihrig had the honor and smoothly struck a lofted wood to the front of the putting green. Thinking he had a better chance to make a birdie from the middle of the fairway, Stevens played an iron to a spot short of the water hazard. His wedge landed close to the hole put had enough spin that the ball rolled to a position several feet below the hole placed a the back of the green. Ihrig’s first putt from 50 feet stopped close to the hole for a conceded birdie. Stevens failed to make his birdie and fell to 3 down again.

Both players missed the green at the par three 14th hole and neither could save par. And when #15 was halved with pars, it was getting close to the end. The 16th green was the scene of contrasts. A joyful Ihrig with his caddy and family compared to Stevens disappointment of being the Kansas Amateur runner-up for the third time in the last five year. The beautiful A.W. Tillinghast golf course temporarily disheveled by Mother Nature. But soon all will return to normal. The golf course will be restored to its usual beauty and difficult test of golf while two young athletes will tee it up for their next event. The joy and disappointment will linger for a time, but it will be a day that will not be forgotten by those who played or witnessed the final match of the 107th Kansas Amateur.

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ABOUT THE Kansas Amateur

36 holes of individual stroke play qualifying to determine low 64 players advancing to single elimination match play bracket. Any player that is not exempt from regional qualifying must go through one of the five regional qualifying sites or the second chance qualifier to advance to the championship. Open to any male amateur golfer with an active USGA/GHIN Handicap Index through a KGA member club.

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