PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Tony Ham of Mesa, Ariz., celebrated his 57th birthday a day late by posting his best round of the week on Thursday to come from behind to win the Palmer Flight in the Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championship.
Ham, whose birthday was Wednesday, fired a 72 on Thursday during his final round, despite bogeying both the 16th and 17th holes. He trailed third-round leader Robert Corbello of Vidor Texas by four strokes going into Thursday's round and played in the second-to-last group. After he posted, he waited for the final group to report their scores. Corbello shot 78, giving Ham (75-83-79-72-309) the two-stroke victory.
Ironically, though, Ham said it was bogey, not a birdie or even a par that was the key to his 2-over-par 72 on Thursday.
"One thing I did smart came on the (par 4) third hole," Ham said. "I hooked my tee shot left and there's one single palm tree by the lake, and I hit that palm tree, and it went down in the rough instead of going into the lake."
Ham still had 194 yards to clear the lake toward the island green. His playing partners wondered if he would go for it. He decided to lay up.
"I ended up with a bogey," Ham said. "But I think ut kind of kept me going. Had I gone for it and made a triple-bogoey 7, my round might not have gone so well."
The bogey helped him survive the front nine with a 38, then he went on a tear on the back nine with four birdies, including one on the finishing hole after the bogeys to shoot 34.
Meanwhile, Corbello got off to a rough start on Thursday, double bogeying the first hole and making three more doubles after that to shoot 78.
Ham, a retired site leader and operations manager for Boeing, overcame another obstacle this week. He fell getting out of the bathtub on Monday night.
"I didn't know it was going to affect me that much, but evidently it did," Ham said. "I was a little stiff, a little sore, and my swing just wasn't feeling right – a lot of Advil, and I played better yesterday and today."
He also gave credit to his group on Thursday, saying they kept him loose and relaxed. He had played with both players -- J.D. Price of Whitney, Texas, and John Todd of Wright City, Mo. -- at tournaments before.
It was Ham's first national championship win in four attempts, but hardly his first win this year. He had already won two majors and eight local events coming into nationals. His national title also means he gets an automatic promotion as well as a spot in next year's championship.
"Now all my buddies in the Arizona group are happy," Ham said, "that I'm out of their flight and in the Championship Flight.