LA QUINTA, Calif. – There are a few magic numbers in golf. Like 59 and 18 – and if you have to ask, you’re probably on the wrong website right now.
At this week’s Golf Channel Am Tour national championship, some other magic numbers were in play.
There were 570 total competitors in the open division flights. They played in temperatures that reached 100 degrees each day. Which meant there were 20,000 total bottles of water consumed and more than 4,000 iced towels distributed.
There was one more magic number, too: Six. That’s how many national champions were crowned on Tuesday. These are their stories:
Paul Erdman knows all about close calls.
“I’m probably the only guy who’s missed the U.S. Open by a shot, the U.S. Amateur by a shot, U.S. PubLinks by a shot and U.S. Mid Am by a shot,” the affable 43-year-old said. “I mean, losing in playoffs and stuff. It’s always been a shot here or a shot there.”
Not this time. Erdman parlayed a final-round 2-under 70 into a three-stroke victory in the Championship Flight, as he was the only player in the 65-man field to break par for the tournament.
Throughout the last day, he always knew what was at stake.
“The heart is pumping, breathing getting heavy – that’s something I’m not used to,” he said. “I haven’t had that much adrenaline going through me in a long time. That’s hard work dealing with that stuff.”
Erdman is no stranger to hard work. He founded the golf program at University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which is now defunct, then worked as a general manager and head professional before regaining his amateur status in 1999.
Now an insurance agent in Erie, Colo., this culminated a perfect season, as he won every single Golf Channel Am Tour event in which he competed – but it was the last one that meant the most.
“This is great, man,” he said excitedly. “I just won something that I’ve been thinking about for years and years.”
As winner of the Palmer Flight two years ago, Patrick Polzin had some words of advice for 54-hole leader Kyle Zeitz prior to the final round.
“It’s tough playing in the lead,” Polzin said from experience. “I let him know that last night. I also told him this is the course I shot 68 on and that he was going to have a hard time sleeping.
“I told Kyle, ‘You know, buddy, I hope I have an opportunity to put some heat on you early and see what you’re made of. I want to make you earn it. If you win and you beat me, I’m fine with that.”
It didn’t happen. Zeitz posted four double-bogeys in his final six holes to turn a five-shot lead into a six-shot loss.
For his part, Polzin, a 45-year-old sheet metal worker from Indian Head Park, Ill., just played solid golf as his playing partner flailed, taking his second title in three years.
“I didn’t think he was going to crumble,” Polzin said, “but I planted the seeds in his head last night. That’s fair game.”
As a golfer, Tim Williams calls himself a “competition freak.” As a solution architect for Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, he calls himself a “geek.”
Great combination, huh?
“Actually,” Williams said with a laugh, “not really.”
The Hogan Flight’s self-described freak-and-geek needed to make a par on the final hole to win his first national championship title.
“I tried not to let the pressure get to me,” said the 43-year-old from McKinney, Texas. “On the outside, you wouldn’t know I was under pressure, but on the inside, I was just in knots. This is one of the first times I’ve ever felt pressure like this.”
After the round, Williams appeared more tired and relieved than triumphant, but maintained it was just a result of all the mental energy he used up on the course.
“It wasn’t a very difficult course, but I made it difficult,” he explained. “I said to myself, ‘This is it. Last group. Let’s just step on the pedal.’ And that’s what I did.”
For a guy who had never played the Golf Channel Am Tour prior to this year, Brad Bishop didn’t realize how nervous he could get.
“I joined it just for the competition. I never imagined coming here, but I qualified, so I came,” he explained. “But from the first tee shot all the way through the round, I was pretty nervous.”
Coming down the stretch in the final round of the Sarazen Flight, Bishop led by just a single stroke with two holes to play, but extended that differential to four en route to the victory.
After opening rounds of 89-85, the Alden, N.Y. closed 80-81 – not far off from his career best of 77.
“Everything went my way, I guess,” said the 31-year-old residential painter. I just kept saying I wanted to hit the fairways and the middle of every green – and I think I only missed one fairway today.”
Just after closing out his Jones Flight victory by a single stroke, Suneil Aggarwal was posing for photographs while kissing the crystal trophy.
“I like the way that sounds,” he said with a laugh.
The sound should be familiar. Aggarwal, 39, successfully defended last year’s title in wire-to-wire fashion, though he needed to make a five-foot bogey putt on the final hole to clinch the victory.
“I can’t say it feels better this year,” explained the Alpharetta, Ga., resident, who works as a vice president of sales for a technology company, “but it does, a little bit.”
Consider this one validation, as last year’s final round was rained out, giving Aggarwal a weather-shortened three-round triumph.
“This puts to rest a lot of people who were questioning whether I could hold it together for four days,” he said. “I know I was questioning whether I could hold it together for four days.”
Bilal Jordan just started playing golf in late-2007. It quickly turned from a hobby to a passion to an obsession.
How much of one? Since qualifying for the Snead Flight national championship in early August, the Houston-based physician and insurance company owner traveled to the Jim McLean Golf School in Palm Springs three separate times to work on his game.
The extra effort paid off, as he posted the best score of the final round – an 88 to secure the title by four strokes.
“I want to get better. My goal is to continue to get better,” said Jordan, 32. “I put in some additional work and it paid off. Hard work pays off.”
It should be noted that he is the first player in quite a long time to win while decked out in a red shirt, black pants and a TW-logo hat.
“I had to represent the Tiger red today,” he said with a laugh. “I had to put on the red and black.”
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