Tony Padilla (NCGA photo)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Aug. 24, 2018) – Tony Padilla is comfortable staying calm in high pressure situations, he does it every day in his job as a college basketball referee.
So when it came time to tee it up in the final match of the NCGA Senior Match Play Championship against two-time defending champ Randy Haag, Padilla was ready for the challenge.
“Randy is one of the most accomplished players in the country, so you gotta make sure you don’t make mistakes, or he’ll take advantage of them,” said Padilla of his final opponent.
In his round Friday, Padilla was nearly mistake free, making just a single bogey in a 4-and-2 victory over Haag to put his name on the championship trophy. Padilla held the lead for every hole in the match, starting with a birdie on the par-5 first hole at Spyglass Hill to take a 1-up advantage.
“Today again, I was just trying to hit fairways and greens, and I pretty much accomplished what I was after,” said Padilla.
Padilla rattled off nine pars in a row on holes 2 through 10 to take a 2-up advantage into the back nine. He then knocked his second shot on the par-5 11th hole to 10 feet, making the putt for eagle to go 3 up. But it wasn’t until 13 green when he really felt comfortable with the match.
“When I made birdie on 13, that was huge. Randy was in there about 8 feet. I made a 30-footer and he ended up just missing his putt. That swung the tide in my direction.”
For Haag, the runner-up finish was bittersweet, as he was hoping to complete the rare NCGA Championship “three-peat” by winning the Senior Match Play for a third consecutive year. Haag nearly accomplished that same feat in the NCGA Match Play Championship, winning in 1992 and 1993, before losing in match play in 1994. Haag will now head directly to the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship in Eugene, Oregon, where he has an early first round tee-time Saturday.
“I think playing Spyglass will prepare you to play anywhere in the world, especially with the way the rough is right now. So I figured this would be a hell of a warm-up,” said Haag about his preparations for this week’s USGA event.
Meanwhile, Padilla will look to leave similar marks on the NCGA record books, but defense of his 2017 Senior Stroke Play Championship will have to wait. The dates this year conflict with his referee schedule. If his performance this week is any indication, he will be a force in many more NCGA Championships in the future.
For the first time in its three-year existence, there’s a new winner in the Super Senior Match Play Championship.
Ron Johnson defeated two-time defending champ Frank Pieper, 1 up, on the final hole at Spyglass Hill. But Pieper did not go down without a fight.
Johnson built an early lead in the round, making birdie on the first hole to set the tone. When he walked to the ninth tee, he was 1 over on the card with a 5-up advantage in the match. But that’s where things got interesting.
“My putter got a little balky starting at the ninth, I three-putted from about 8 feet to lose the hole. If I had made it, I’m 6 up, or even if I two putt, I’m 5 up at the turn. And that just gave him a little bit of momentum,” said Johnson.
Pieper snuck another one back on the par-5 11th hole with a birdie to get the match to 3 up, and then bogeys from Johnson on holes 15 and 16 had Pieper back in the match.
“He made birdie on 11, and then I made bogey on 15 and 16, and all of the sudden I’m only 1 up,” said Johnson of his back nine slide.
But when it mattered down the stretch, Johnson stood up and executed with the championship on the line, getting up and down from a precarious position over the green on 17 to maintain the 1-up lead and move the match to dormie.
Needing to win the final hole to force a playoff, Pieper missed the fairway by just two yards to the left side. The ball settled down into thick rough in a lie so bad that it took several minutes to locate.
With Pieper only able to advance the ball 70 yards up the fairway, Johnson stuck his final approach shot to 10 feet. Pieper followed with a pitch shot to 3 feet for a conceded par, but it was too late. Johnson only need a two-putt for the win.
“I was just thinking don’t hit it too far past the hole, because I know how quick that putt can be. A little bit of nerves, a little bit of excitement, all of that was churning around in my head,” said Johnson.
For Johnson, it was just another day at the office. When he retired nine years ago, he told his wife he wasn’t actually retiring, “just starting a new job.”
“Having my name on any NCGA tournament is always a thrill. I’ve got one for the Senior-Four Ball, one in the Super Senior Championship, and now the Super Senior Match Play,” said Johnson.
When asked about the keys to his recent success, Johnson said, “Hard work and practice. It helps to have a very supportive wife.”
ABOUT THE NCGA Senior Match Play
The NCGA Senior Match Play Championship was
historically an invite-only event in which the top
16 players on the NCGA Senior points list were
invited to participate in the Senior Match Play
Championship, held concurrently with the NCGA
Amateur Match Play at Spyglass Hill, over a three-
day period. However, beginning in 2012 the event
was modified to a 32-player match play field,
still allotting 16 spots to the top 16 of the NCGA
Senior points list, while allowing the other half of
the field to qualify.
Senior players (ages 55+) must have a handicap
index of 7.4 or
less. There is no handicap limit for super
seniors (ages 65+).
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