By Rick Woelfel for AmateurGolf.com
Chip Brooke (R) and senior champ Brian Keenan (Gasparilla photo)
When the sun rose Saturday morning over Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, the Gasparilla Invitational appeared headed to a dramatic conclusion.
Chip Brooke started the final round holding one-shot lead over Tug Maude but no fewer than nine competitors were sharing third place, just four shots off the pace, waiting for the leaders to falter.
They almost got their wish.
Brooke overcame a bumpy start to keep his pursuers, including Maude, at bay, and went on to claim the 66th edition of the Gasparilla by the same one-stroke margin he held when the day began.
Despite losing three shots to par on the first two holes, Brooke, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, closed with an even-par 70 to finish the 54 holes at 5-under par 205, one shot off the tournament scoring record.
Maude, who calls Atlanta home, also closed with a 70 to finish at 4-under par 206. Bradford Tilley (Easton, Conn.) and Nick Maccario (Waltham, Mass.) shared third place at even-par 210 after matching 71s. Mark France (Plantation, Fla) was at 211 while Clark Brown (Navarre, Fla.) and Bill Williamson (Cincinnati) finished at 212.
Brooke stumbled out of the gate with a bogey before he and Meade made double-bogeys at the par-5 second after each inadvertently hit other’s balls after missing the green.
“We were not only automatically going to get a two-shot penalty,” Brooke said, “but we had to go replace each other’s balls and play from there. Neither one of us had really good shots. Truthfully, we both made really good sevens.”
Both players went on to birdie the par-3 fourth. “That kind of settled me down for the rest of the day” Brooke said. “I had a lot of putts that were knee knockers throughout the day, bit I never really felt nervous.”
Brooke went on to play his last 15 holes in three under par, recording additional birdies at the par-3 eighth and the par-4 12th.
The golf course played to just 6,332 yards but the putting surfaces lived up to their foreboding reputation and Saturday’s winds added to the challenge.
“The greens are really fast,” Brooke said, “really small, and especially today, every pin was … tucked in corners. The greens were probably close to 13 today.”
Brooke reached the finals of the USGA Four-Ball in 2018 with partner Marc Dull after the pair reached the semifinals the year before.
But because of job and family responsibilities, he doesn’t play in as many tournaments as his peers. That made Saturday’s win particularly significant.
“I’m not a guy that can play 24 events a year,” he said. “So when I get a chance to play in an invitational like this, with a really competitive field, and again at a place like this, which is pretty special in its own right … It’s really special, it really means a lot to win this caliber of event.”
Brian Keenan, who resides roughly a mile from Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, although he is not a member there parred the first extra hole to win the Gasparilla’s Senior Division title. Keenan and Rusty Strawn of McDonough, Ga. finished regulation play deadlocked at 3-over par 213 after closing with matching 74s.
William Mitchell of Atlanta placed third at 216 while Jack Hall of Savannah, Ga. was at 217 after rounds of 73 and 76 respectively. Mike Finster (St. Petersburg), Paul Royak (Tampa), Bob Royak (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Steve Harwell (Mooresville, N.C.) were all at 218.
The seniors played from the same tees as the mid-amateurs; the field recorded just four sub-par rounds all weekend.
“I’m from Tampa so this always a tournament I look forward to playing in every year,” Keenan said.
“The first couple days I played really well. I made some decent putts that kept the rounds going. I finished bad yesterday (in the inclement weather). Today, I got off to a rotten start (four over par through the first six holes). But I just hung in there.”
Keenan played his last 12 holes in even par, closing his round with a birdie at the par-5 18 th to force the playoff.
“The pins were tucked in the back,” he said. “I just stopped looking at the pins and started hitting the middle of the greens and making pars. Today, that was a good score.”
Keenan note that the Donald Ross design at Palma Ceia played to every bit of its scorecard yardage. “Sixteen of the 18 pons were in the back of the greens today,” he said. “They really stretched the course out.”
ABOUT THE Gasparilla Invitational
54-hole individual stroke play championship
cut after 36 holes to the low 60 and ties. Good
and national competitors looking for an
tune up. Played on a traditional, tree lined
course that isn't very long but has small,
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