Bobby Jones famously said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half inch course … the space between your ears.”
That statement was cast in sharp relief Sunday during the final round of the Kenai Open at Kenai Golf Course.
It was raining. It was windy. Temperatures were in the 50s. And golf, especially tournament golf, is hard enough at the penal, par-72 layout as it is.
There were three main contenders for the crown. Each had their major bobbles. And each talked about the strenuous mental test afterward.
Recent Kenai Central graduate Max Dye, overcoming a 6-over-par 42 on the back nine, emerged the winner with a two-day total of 10-over-par 154. Three-time defending champion Chris Morin of Homer came back from a 45 on the front nine to take second at 155. And a 43 on the back nine relegated Todd Eskelin to third at 157.
Sunday night, Dye was set to fly to Texas, pick up his car and drive north to Wisconsin, where he will play Division III golf in Fond du Lac at Marian University.
“I’m excited,” said Dye, who also won the Donald R. Morgan Memorial Club Championship last weekend at Kenai before adding his first Open title Sunday. “I think I’m ready.
“Tournaments start soon when I get down there and I think I’m in good shape.”
More than driving, chipping or putting, Dye said he wants to sharpen his mental game and Sunday gave him a perfect opportunity to do that.
Dye came into Sunday two shots ahead of Eskelin but one behind Morin’s round of 74 on Saturday. But Dye and Eskelin each played the front nine in 37, while Morin’s 45 put him seven behind Dye and five behind Eskelin.
That gap began closing when Dye said he let some lost opportunities on the front linger and cause him to bogey No. 10 and double bogey No. 11.
“I had a rough start to the back nine and I know it closed quickly,” Dye said. “I was still kind of frustrated from the front nine and I didn’t get it out of my head.”
Eskelin actually moved into the lead by a stroke after Dye’s double bogey on No. 11. Then double bogeys by Eskelin on Nos. 14 and 15 proved too much too overcome.
“A lot of it was I was getting tired,” Eskelin said. “It’s hard to say focused for 18 holes.”
And Eskelin said that’s what separates golfers. He said Dye hits and putts the ball well enough to succeed in college, but that is not what picks the best players at that level.
“When you make a bad shot, to not compound it requires more mental fortitude than most of us have,” Eskelin said. “That’s what separates people apart at the next level.”
Morin, one of the best amateur golfers in the state, has been paying particular attention to his mental game, and it paid off on the back nine.
“If your swing is going bad, and there’s no physical injury, it has to be mental,” he said.
After a triple bogey on No. 9 finished off a dismal first half of the day, Morin was between clubs on the par-3 10th. He hit the ball in the bunker and got a plugged like, but managed to get up and down for par when all was increasingly looking lost.
As Dye and Eskelin leaked strokes, Morin came home riding the par train to make things interesting.
“It gave me a little boost,” Morin said of the bogeys and double bogeys on the cards of his competitors. “I tried to stay positive and in the moment and not worry about the outcome.”
But a final mental error may have cost him. Morin was keeping track of his score in relation to Dye. Before the 18th hole, Morin asked Dye if he wanted to know, and then Morin told Dye that Morin was a stroke back.
That turned out to be wrong. Morin was two strokes back. But that meant that when Dye was looking at a bogey and Morin was below the hole with a birdie putt, he felt comfortable leaving it short and taking the par instead of making sure the tying putt at least got to the hole.
“I would have tried to get it to the hole at least,” Morin said. “Who knows if I would have. The conditions were very tough.”
If handicaps are to be believed, though, Eskelin, Dye and Morin handled Sunday’s tough conditions better than everyone else.
Eskelin took top net with 145, while Dye would have been next at 150 but was not eligible because he won the gross. Morin was second at 151 while Mark McComsey was third at 153 and Keith Stacik was fourth at 153.
Saturday, closest to the pin went to Rene Alvarez on No. 5, Bob Tepp on No. 9, Kirk Hyman on No. 10 and Pat Bowen on No. 14. Skins went to Eskelin, Tepp and Morin.
Sunday, closest to the pin went to Dye on No. 5, Eskelin on No. 9, Pat Bowen on No. 10 and Morin on No. 14. Morin had two skins, while Truckee Lemay and Dye had skins.
at Kenai Golf Course
Plyr Sa Su Grs Net
Max Dye 75 79 154 150
Chris Morin 74 81 155 151
Todd Eskelin 77 80 157 145
Scott Woodland 85 81 166 156
Truckee Lemay 84 87 171 161
Mark McComsey 84 93 177 153
Rene Alvarez 87 90 177 161
Kirk Hyman 89 94 183 161
Charlie Kahakauwila 92 95 187 169
Chuck Rupenthal 94 93 187 163
Mike Houghton 95 93 188 162
Keith Stacik 96 93 189 153
Pat Bowen 94 96 190 154
Mike Kebschull 91 101 192 168
Roy Wells 99 98 197 157
Bob Tepp 94 107 201 169