LA QUINTA, Calif. – It didn't take long for a spectacular finish at the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship at PGA West, where six flights will crown national Champions.
Michael Baker, from Corona, Calif., held off Jayr Tonido, from Clarskston, Ga., in a one-hole playoff on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West to win a highly contested Jones flight (handicaps 16.0-19.9).
After entering the day in the final pairing and one shot off the lead, Baker played a steady final round. On the 18th green, he had a three-foot bogey putt to clinch the win.
"The arms were a little shaky," said Baker, who missed the putt and wound up in a playoff with Tonido.
Each player had just a few minutes to regroup before heading to the par-4 1st hole of the Nicklaus course for a sudden death playoff. Both players hit good drives, but Tonido missed the green and had a tough pitch back on.
After Tonido missed his par putt, Baker had this look at birdie to clinch the victory:
A Champion is crowned on the 1st Playoff hole. Congratulations Mr Baker, 2015 Jones Flight National Champion pic.twitter.com/WkR9OVKOfd— GCAmTour (@GCAmTour) September 22, 2015
"This is the top," said Baker. "This is right up there except for my kids being born.
"It's not going to get any better than this."
Baker joined Am Tour this year at the suggestion of his brother Bryan Baker, a three-time Nationals qualifier who plays on the Chicago local tour, also competing in the Jones flight at this week's Nationals. Michael and Bryan lost their mother last year, and made a point to make this year's National Championship a family affair. Michael brought his wife along and Bryan brought his wife and kids and they rented a house to be together all week.
"This meant a lot to me," said Baker. "I wanted to do this for her."
Runaway champion in the Snead flight
Heading into the final round, there wasn't much doubt as to who would win the Snead flight (20-plus handicaps). Rick Burton, from Seymour, Ind., entered the day with a 15-shot lead and cruised to a 16-shot victory of Rodney Harrison from Decatur, Ga.
Burton, 52, had the opportunity to compete in the Senior Nationals, which begins on Friday, but decided to compete this week instead in order to play with his son John, as well as some other friends on tour.
Turns out, it may have been a blessing playing with the younger and wilder Snead-flight golfers.
"The older guys, we try and advance it down the middle," said Burton. "And we do alright.
"I was playing with a couple guys who hit it 60 yards farther."
The result was a runaway victory, but it turned out to be a bittersweet one. His son John Burton, 21, was also in contention in the Sarazen flight until yesterday.
As John walked off the 18th hole after a 76, he was in an apparent tie with Vijay Jain for the lead. But shortly after turning in their cards, Burton realized his score on the 18th hole had been written down wrong on the scorecard by his scorer -- a five instead of a six.
He promptly reported the error, unsolicited, and it resulted a disqualification and forfeiting the opportunity to play in the final group in Round 4.
"I was proud of him for turning himself in," said his father Rick. "I wish he didn't have to learn so early at such a crucial time."
John will never know if he could have prevailed in the Sarazen flight to make it a father-son sweep, but Rick leaves nationals with a trophy for the family and great pride in his son's honesty.