The first win in the Kenai Peninsula Open for James Contreras was easy. The second was very hard.
In 2014, Contreras fired an even-par 140 over the two-day tournament to win by 11 strokes in windy conditions that bothered everybody but him.
Sunday, Contreras came from five strokes down after the first day and nailed a slippery, downhill, 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th to defeat 2015 champion Rob Nelson by one stroke. Beau Forrest was third, six strokes back
Contreras, a Fairbanks Golf Course pro who won $1,600 on Sunday, finished with a two-day total of 8-over 148, shooting 37 on each nine. He joins Bryan Anderson as a two-time winner at the Open, which is now in its sixth year.
Proceeds from the tournament went to the prostate cancer and breast cancer funds at the Central Peninsula Health Foundation.
“It’s a tough little course,” Contreras said. “It’s amazing that’s what I needed to shoot to win.”
The difficulties for Contreras started before he even left Fairbanks. He is nursing a left hand injury. He said the injury required a lot of treatment in order to get ready for the tournament.
But Contreras had missed the All-Alaska Pro-Am and Skins Game in early July at Birch Ridge, and said he is always treated so well at the course, he didn’t want to miss the Open as well.
When fog delayed his plane out of Fairbanks, Contreras had another chance to bag the trip, but persisted.
Then he got to Birch Ridge and took his first putt.
“It ran like 10 feet past the hole,” he said.
Contreras said he has been spending summers in Alaska for about 25 years and never putted greens as fast as Birch Ridge’s in this state until this week.
“I also spend my time in Arizona, so I play fast greens,” he said. “I had to putt more like I putt there.”
Contreras said the hard and fast greens were the reason an 8-over-par total was good enough to win.
Nelson fired a 69 on the first day, but his 80 on the second day left an opening for Contreras.
“He was hitting great shots into the green,” Contreras said of Nelson’s Sunday play. “But the greens were awesome — firm and fast.
“His shots were bouncing over the green.”
Contreras said that on Saturday, the whole course was wet, including the greens, meaning the greens held shots better. But Sunday, the greens dried out while the fairways and areas around the greens remained moist.
He said wet fairways mean it is harder to spin the ball. And wet areas around the greens make it hard to get up and down. That’s how someone hitting solid shots like Nelson can end up with an 80 on the card.
So how did Contreras manage the 74, the best round of the day by three strokes?
“I did hold the green sometimes, but I’m not sure how,” he said. “I had some nice chips from around the green, and I made some 6- and 8-footers for par.”
The biggest putt for Contreras came on the par-4, 350-yard No. 18 on Sunday. He entered the dogleg left hole one shot behind Nelson.
Both players got on the green in two, with Nelson sitting 16 feet above the hole and Contreras resting 10 feet above the hole on Nelson’s line.
Nelson putted first and left his putt a few feet short. Contreras said seeing Nelson’s putt helped him pick up the speed, and he knew he did not want to leave his birdie putt short.
“At first, I didn’t think I hit it hard enough,” Contreras said. “But I hit it perfect and it rolled right in. If it would have missed, it would have went a few feet by.”
When Nelson missed the tricky downhiller for par, Contreras had his title.
In the amateur’s battle for low gross, Mark Dolejsi won with 171, while Mike Hollingsworth was second at 172 and Shane Sundberg, only 11, was third at 174. Earl Matthis and Sundberg both had low net at 144, while Hollingsworth was third at 148.
For the women, Kenai’s Leona Jackson had low gross and net at 197 and 151, while Danica Schmidt was second gross at 202 and Teresa Sibolboro was second net at 153.
Jackson said the rust on her game showed, and so did the difficulty of the course. She would have liked two rounds of 90 or below.
“It was still fun to get out there and have a good time,” she said.
Saturday pro closest to the pins were Forrest on No. 6/15 and Contreras on No. 8/17, while Sunday pro winners were Derek O’Neill on No. 6/15 and Zac Cowan on No. 8/17. Saturday for the amateurs it was Earl Matthis on No. 6/15 and Sundberg on No. 8/17, while Sunday it was Eddie Sibolboro on No. 6/15 and Mark Dolejsi on No. 8/17.
2016 Kenai Peninsula Open
at Birch Ridge Golf Course
Player Sa Su Grs Net
James Contreras, $1,600 74 74 148
Rob Nelson, $1,250 69 80 149
Beau Forrest, $750 77 77 154
Trevis Kordus, $425 73 85 158
Derek O’Neill, $425 78 80 158
Zac Cowan, $300 82 79 161
Rich Lundahl, $125 81 81 162
Travis Jorgensen, $125 76 86 162
Bill Engberg, $100 77 87 164
Chris Wright, $100 84 85 169
Brandon Kaiser, $100 82 88 170
Mark Dolejsi 85 86 171 153
Mike Hollingsworth 87 85 172 148
Shane Sundberg 85 89 174 144
Tristan Anderson 86 89 175 157
Eddie Sibolboro 91 85 176 162
Jay Kriner 92 92 184 162
Pedro McCall 100 84 184 156
Marcus Dolejsi 90 96 186 182
Earl Matthis 90 96 186 144
George Stein 90 97 187 161
Pirtle Bates 97 96 193 157
Scott Sundberg 102 97 199 161
Sid Cox 98 102 200 170
Vic Hussey 96 104 200 154
Gary Dawkins 110 99 209 153
Dave Mathison 112 115 213 213
Paul Sutton 99 106 215 187
Jeff O’Neill 99 117 226 194
Mike Herrera 115 113 228 192
Leona Jackson 97 100 197 151
Danica Schmidt 102 100 202 166
Teresa Sibolboro 104 99 203 153
Denise Cox 108 121 229 159