In a burst of front-nine birdies and bad fortune for his playing partner, Nathan Lashley broke away in yesterday’s final round of the Mid-Pacific Open.
Then, tucked away at the back of Mid-Pacific Country Club, Lashley clinched the 53rd championship with a regulation par on the 13th. After his only bogeys, at Nos. 11 and 12, he absolutely needed it.
Lashley, lashing out at his clubs and anyone within ear shot in the midst of his bogeys, got a great bounce off a tree after an errant tee shot on the 13th. After he hit to the back of the green, the 28-year-old University of Arizona graduate nearly rolled in a frightening 50-foot birdie putt to save par and, maybe, the $15,000 first prize.
He closed with a 2-under-par 70 and won by five shots over San Jose’s John Ellis (75), the golfer he shared the lead with going into the final round.
Brady Stockton, another 31-year-old Northern Californian now playing the mini-tours, was another shot back at 72—282. He and Ellis got to the top by going low in Thursday’s first round. Stockton opened with a 66 and Ellis, who won the Hawaii Pearl Open in February, shot 67.
Ellis found disaster on the front nine twice yesterday. He three-putted the par-3 fourth for double bogey, then took triple bogey when he ended up on the wrong side of the eighth green, twice. Those holes were ultimately the difference, along with the 13th.
He and Lashley came to that green with Lashley facing a very difficult two-putt for par and still sizzling from the previous two holes. Ellis was looking at an uphill birdie putt inside 20 feet from just off the green.
Then Lashley almost rolled his birdie putt in.
"It was a great two-putt," he said. "I really needed to make par there after two bogeys in a row. That was huge."
"It was," agreed Ellis, who played the back nine in 2 under. "That was a tough two-putt and I thought if there was any hope it was if I made a three and he made a five there. That was no gimme two-putt. That was probably his best putt of the day. It should have gone in.
"When he two-putted that, I knew I was basically done, even though I made mine. I was basically playing for second then."
Lashley won on the Gateway Tour last month and was in contention here a year ago, before closing with a 78. He was nowhere close to that yesterday, saving his best putting and ball-striking for the final round. The 13th calmed him and he played the final five holes in 1 under, never faltering.
His winning score of 12-under 276 was five off David Ishii’s tournament record. Ishii set that with the first of three wins here in 1986. The last came in 2006, the year he was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame.
Yesterday Ishii, 55, and Hilo’s Kevin Hayashi, who was inducted into the Hall this year, rode together a group ahead of the leaders. Both played the front nine in 4-under 32, with Hayashi getting to 8 under and Ishii to 7 under. They could not keep up the pace on the back.
Hayashi, an eight-time Aloha Section PGA Player of the Year, has won nearly 50 titles, but has yet to win at Mid-Pacific. He finished fourth yesterday at 71—283. Claiming kamaaina honors over Kevin Carll (72—284), Ishii (72—285) and Nick Mason (71—285) was little consolation.
"I want that trophy," Hayashi said. "I think I’m trying too hard."
Punahou sophomore Kalena Preus closed with a 73 to win low amateur at 295. That gave Preus, runner-up in this year’s State Amateur Stroke Play Championship, a share of 10th overall with defending Mid-Pac champion Samuel Cyr and Ryan Caughlan. Allan Kuaana (80—323) captured A flight and Michael Yanagihashi (83—334) B flight.
Lashley and Ellis both return to the Gateway Tour now, with a little more money — Ellis earned $10,000 — and a lot more confidence. Both would like to return, but it might be a bittersweet sequel. More than anything, they would like to be playing on the PGA Tour this time next year.
"If I’m nowhere else," Lashley said, "I’d love to be here."