Crook's strong finish delivers flight win at the Golf Channel Am Tour senior nationals

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – Joey Crook walked off the ninth green of the Stadium course at PGA West deflated after carding a nine.

His Monday final round of the Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championship was trending in the wrong direction. He was sure his front-nine 52 had squandered his one-shot overnight lead in the Senior Snead flight (for handicaps 20.0 and above).

“At the turn, I had the self-talk,” said Crook, a golfer from Minter, Ala., playing in his second Am Tour national championship. “I said, ‘You are fixing to lose this thing. You have to turn it around’.”

That little chat brought back his focus and his game. A back-nine 40 – including 1-under-par over the difficult final four holes – was enough to hold off a hard-charging Curtis Wright by a single shot. Crook’s final-round 92 finished at 363 over the four-day, 72-hole tournament, just enough to edge the 364 posted by Wright, who tied for the flight’s low round of the day with an 87. Neither player knew who had won until the scores were totaled after the round.  

“I knew it was close,” Crook said. “I thought for sure Curtis had won.”

Funny thing was Crook told his wife, Deborah, a month ago that he was going to win the tournament. Crook, who only picked up the game about six years ago, spent a lot of time practicing and preparing.

“He put a lot into it,” Deborah said. “I was like really? (every time he went to play more golf) I’m so proud of him.”

THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM IN THE SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Winning the Senior Championship flight (for handicaps 3.9 and below) was sweet redemption for David Ortego. It helped ease the disappointment for failing to qualify by a shot for his other two national-level tournaments this season, the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Amateur.

Ortego, a resident of Spring, Texas, shot a final-round 73 on the Palmer Private Course at PGA West to finish at 294 for the four-day tournament, six shots clear of Mark Palmer.

“This is the first national event I’ve won. I’ve won some local and state events, but this is a big thrill,” he said.

While out to dinner one night, Ortego said a bunch of strangers thought he was former PGA TOUR player Peter Jacobsen, who works as an announcer for Golf Channel/NBC. He channeled his best Jacobsen impression to win.

Three competitive rounds at the Texas Senior Amateur got his game ready. Ortego, playing in his first Am Tour nationals, said the turning point came in the second round. After starting 3-over-par through seven holes, he finished the last 11 holes in 5-under-par for a 2-under 70, his only round under par for the tournament.

“I was solid (in the final round). Nothing special,” he said. 

HOLE IN ONES

Three golfers landed aces early on the final day of the Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championships. Jack Welch, a resident of Burke, Va., made his first career hole-in-one with a 125-yard pitching wedge on the 17th hole of the Palmer Private Course. Welch, competing in the Senior Palmer flight, didn’t start playing golf until his 40s. The shot slam-dunked into the hole. “It was a nice way to finish the tournament,” he said. “It was special to do it in a tournament not just a casual round.”

Doug Lanier, of Winter Springs, Fla., sank a 141-yard shot on the 15th hole of the Palmer Private Course in the Senior Palmer. Tommy Templin, a Senior Jones competitor from Hurst, Texas, knocked in a 120-yard shot on the most famous hole at PGA West, the par-3 17th hole on the Stadium Course, known as ‘Alcatraz’.