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The quality of golfers at Willow Springs Country Club improved significantly with the early-August closing of Happy Valley Country Club.
One of the golfers shifting from Happy Valley, Zim Hagan, is the new men’s champion at Willow Springs.
The 48-year-old Hagan forged a two-shot lead with an even-par 71 in Saturday’s first round and, in repeating the 71 in Sunday’s final 18 holes, seized the championship by seven shots at 142.
Hagan never won a club title in some 15 years at Happy Valley.
“I think I won the third flight one time,” he quipped.
Strong-finishing Brandon McKeel claimed second at 76-73—149, followed by brothers Brandon Godwin 73-78—151) and Brock Godwin (80-71—151) and six-time champion Troy Haynes at 76-76—152.
“I’m proud of myself,” Hagan expressed. “I don’t have to qualify for the Wilson Cup. After last weekend, I just hoped I broke 80. I’m as shocked as you are. I can’t explain it. I’m still shaking.”
Among the five age-group champions was Rick Proctor, who exited from Happy Valley to Willow Springs in April. Proctor outdueled Danny Brite for Men’s Seniors (ages 55-64) supremacy. Proctor rallied to a 74-70—144, while Brite, the first-round leader, carded a 72-76—148 to finish second.
Repeat champions were Jerry Barnes in Super Seniors (65-69) at 72-73—145 and Tommy Vick in Legends (70-79) at 70-74—144.
Vick prevailed against Bob Pope with a par on the first hole of a playoff. Pope posted a 72-74—146.
Henry Futrell, at age 83, seized the first Super Legends (80-above) crown with a sizzling 67-67—134, 8-under-par from the orange or shortest tees.
The club title was Futrell’s 10th in four divisions at Willow Springs.
Junior champions were 13-year-old MacKenzie Gamble, 12-year-old Bree Council, 7-year-old Bowman Smith and 5-year-old Thomas Layton.
Hagan grabbed the lead Saturday with birdies at Nos. 1, 3, 12, 14 and 15. Sunday’s final round jump-started when he chipped in for birdie from the back of the No. 1 green. He also birdied Nos. 12 and 15.
“I got Zim-med!” Haynes exclaimed.
Noted McKeel: “I am playing really hard to try to get second place. But I am proud of Zim; he deserved it.”
Added Hagan’s long-time golfing crony Brandon Godwin: “He played well; he hit the ball really good. He lapped the field. I’m impressed; this is the first time I’ve seen him hold it together. He has figured it out apparently.”
Hagan defied his competitive golf history with his efficiency at playing steady and maintaining the lead.
“My level of consistency is impeccable,” Hagan joked.
He then chose to respond in third person, declaring: “Zim Hagan kept telling Zim Hagan that Zim Hagan is going to do this.”
Hagan continued in a more serious tone: “I hit it good for the most part ... the best I’ve hit it in a while. I usually get tentative but, this year, I decided to play my game. I’m happy!”
McKeel birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to notch his career-best runnner-up finish.
Brite managed a one-shot advantage against Ricky Vick and a two-shot margin against Proctor on Saturday, when he had three birdies.
The final round, Proctor, age 63, birdied Nos. 5 and 9 en route to a 1-under 35 the front nine and wrested the lead from Brite with a birdie at No. 13. Proctor carried the one-shot edge to the No. 16 tee.
After an excellent tee shot, Brite hit a wayward second shot, explaining he was distracted by a photographer. The victim of a horrible lie, Brite struggled to a triple bogey, while Proctor scrambled for par to boost his lead to four shots.
“I calmed down then,” Proctor admitted. “I knew I could make bogey and be OK, but I saved par. That putter was my saving grace. I told myself I needed to shoot 2-under today and I shot 1-under. I hit some good shots and missed a few shots. But my misses were not bad.”
The club appearance was Proctor’s second at Willow Springs.
“It’s nice to win one,” he said. “At our age, you never know. It was a good day. It’s always good to win another.”
Brite hailed Proctor as a “good, steady player,” adding: “He made a lot of good 5- and 6-footers. His only bad putt was on No. 17, and it was over then.”
Bo Corn took third at 76-75—151, with Vick fourth at 73-82—155.
Barnes, in his Super Seniors debut at age 65, ruled by six shots at 72-73—145. Billy Ballard, with two birdies down the stretch, surged to second at 79-72—151. John Wooten placed third at 80-73—153, with Danny Barnes, Jerry Barnes’ older brother, fourth at 78-79—157.
Jerry Barnes birdied Nos. 7 and 16 the final round.
“I played decent,” he reviewed. I got a good lead because those boys had a bad first round. It’s hard to play with a big lead. And these guys can play in Seniors as easily as Super Seniors.”
Jerry Barnes disclosed that he considered entering the Seniors category, but chose Super Seniors because his presence would complete a foursome.
“I don’t have anything to prove,” he said, “but it’s still fun to come out and compete.”
Vick emerged an age-group club champion for the fifth consecutive year with his third Legends crown. He opened a two-shot lead with two birdies in Saturday’s 1-under round. The 73-year-old Vick birdied Nos. 5, 9 and 10 Sunday. He double-bogeyed No. 11, but Pope double-bogeyed No. 12. Pope, however, roared out front by holing a 5-iron approach shot for an eagle on the par-4, No. 16 layout — where Vick bogeyed.
Pope needed a par on No. 18 to win but three-putted from a lengthy distance on the back fringe of the green. Pope hit a poor tee shot in the playoff and Vick prevailed with a routine, two-putt par.
“No doubt, I blew No. 18 and No. 1,” Pope expressed. “But Tommy deserved it; he played how he needed to play. It’s hard to overcome an eagle but, somehow, he did it.”
“We really had a good time and it was good competition,” Vick remarked. “I knew it was pretty tight but playing like that was fun. The older you get, the better it gets. It’s nice to win, but Bob would have been a great winner.”
Futrell was simply astonishing in his first tournament and only his second and third rounds from the orange tees. After building a four-shot lead with five birdies and a bogey Saturday, Futrell responded with scorching start Sunday, moving to 6-under with birdies at Nos. 3, 4, 6,8, 10 and 11. The only snag was a double bogey at No. 15. In two rounds, he fashioned 11 birdies, one bogey and one double bogey.
“Chipping and putting are where my game’s at,” Futrell declared. “And I usually don’t miss the fairway with my drive. I’ve been lucky; I’m lucky, at my age, that I can play like I can.”
Carl Benton was the runner-up at 71-77—148.
In the meantime, Futrell vows to be back on the red tees Monday.
However, Futrell and numerous others echoed Pope’s sentiment: “This is the best tournament we’ve had out here in a long time.”