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Southwestern College Duo Knocks Out Top Three Seeds to Win Kansas Four-Ball


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While Burton and Vilkanskas Top the Masters Division

In recent years the Kansas Four-Ball had established a tradition of crowning champions who were current Division 1 collegiate golfers.  In fact, the creation of the Masters Division for those 30 years and older was done to give the “older set” the chance to compete.   Despite Shane Gilbert & Seth Bryanthe small turnout for the 2013 Kansas Four-Ball it was apparent that the “tradition” would likely carry on with one-third of the starting field carrying a college team golf bag.

After a brief two-year departure from Alvamar the Kansas Four-Ball was back at its home since 2000.  Thirty six teams for stroke play qualifying in one of two divisions would make it much easier to earn a match play seeding (16 in the Championship division and 8 in the Masters division), but still just as difficult to advance through the tournament brackets.

Harry Higgs, a member of the SMU golf team, and Park Ulrich, a veteran player for UMKC, had won the Kansas Four-Ball at Sycamore Ridge in 2011.   Their friendship and solid team play through the two rounds of stroke play qualifying earned them the #1 seed while former University of Kansas players Jason Seeman and Kit Grove used their years of knowledge and experience at Alvamar to take the #2 seed.  Any of the other 14 teams in the match play bracket knew they would have to get through one of these teams to become the 2013 champions.

Higgs and Ulrich performed like a #1 seed and notched three victories to advance to the finals, including a close 1 up win in the quarterfinals over KU senior Chris Gilbert and fellow team member Jeff Bell.  They also defeated another college combo team of Henry Simpson (K-State) and Jackson Foth (KU) 3&2 in the semifinals.

On the other side of the bracket, Seeman and Grove stalled in the quarterfinals against Seth Bryant and Shane Gilbert.  The “youngsters”, both members of the Southwestern College golf team in Winfield, Kansas, played a very consistent game over 17 holes to secure the upset of the #2 seed.  That would Bryant/Gilbert into another tough match with the #3 seed, Thane Ringler and Evan Holcomb.

Ringler had just been named to the first team All-American for NAIA men’s golf and hisZac Burton & Tj Vilkanskas partner also brings a strong game.  No problem – Bryant and Gilbert just played their consistent game for a 3&2 win and a spot in the finals against the #1 seed.

The 18-hole final match started predictably with a birdie at #1 by Harry Higgs, but both Bryant and Gilbert birdied the second hole to get the match back to all square.   Ulrich could only par the hole after a lengthy search failed to find Higgs’ drive.   Higgs won the fourth hole with a par but then gave away the lead on the next hole with a bogey.   The sixth hole was halved with pars.

It was at the long par 3 seventh hole that Bryant and Gilbert took over.  Shane Gilbert’s par was the only three made by any of the four golfers.  Then on the reachable par 5 eighth hole Gilbert went solo again with a birdie, giving his team a 2 up lead.  For the next five holes no one could change the status of the match.  So, with only five holes remaining Bryant/Gilbert clung to a 2 up advantage.  Higgs and Ulrich knew that they needed to make something happen.  The 14th hole helped them when Gilbert could only manage a double bogey and Higgs won the hole with a bogey.

The par 3 fifteenth hole was the crucial hole of the match.  Gilbert and Ulrich each had very makeable birdie putts.  Ulrich played first and just missed.  Gilbert seized the opportunity and put is ball in the bottom of the cup to restore the 2 up lead with only three holes remaining.  It might have just as easily been all square, but now the #1 seeds were looking at becoming the next top seed to be “planted” by the Bryant/Gilbert pair.

On the short par 4 sixteenth, a birdie was a must for Higgs/Ulrich.  Both found the putting surface in two strokes with Higgs only 15 feet away.  After Ulrich’s unsuccessful attempt, Higgs knew his putt needed to be made because Seth Bryant had only a couple of feet remaining for his par.  After much deliberation Higgs sent his ball on its way only to miss by the smallest of margins.   Now the #1 seed team would have to win the last two holes to extend the match to extra holes.

The par 5 seventeenth hole requires three good shots to have a chance at birdie.  Seth Bryant played it safe all the way to the putting surface and neither Higgs nor Ulrich could secure the birdie.  Bryant and Gilbert had just accomplished a significant feat – winning four matches, the last three of which against the top three seeds in the bracket – to become the 2013 Kansas Four-Ball champions. eHH

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A four team play-off was needed to complete the last three seeds in the Masters division.   Former champions and KGA officers Gary Lucas and Mike Grosdidier survived the play-off.   Even defending Masters division champions Chris Hutchens and Michael Rack had to earn the 7th seed in extra holes.  The #1 seed went to a pair of non-Kansans – Steve Sassman and Steve Galko.   When Sassman recently moved from Dallas to Colorado Springs, the two native Texans found the Kansas Four-Ball as a way to meet in the middle and play some competitive golf together.   The trip was worthwhile for them as they advanced to the semifinals before losing in extra holes to the Emporia team of Dave Watts and Chad Buchholz.

Conrad Roberts and David Rismiller eliminated the Hutchens/Rack team 5&4 and then faced their strongest test in Zac Burton and TJ Vilkanskas.  In a back-and-forth match it was not until the 20th hole that the Manhattan golfers knocked out Roberts and Rismiller, the #2 seed.  Watts and Buchholz also needed extra holes to earn their spot in the final match.

A quick pace was the order of the day for the Master finals as Burton and Vilkanskas were scheduled to tee off at 1:00 p.m. in Hutchinson for the Prairie Dunes Country Club member guest.  Knowing their plane was waiting at the nearby Lawrence airport, Burton and Vilkanskas added to their 1 up lead with wins on the 15th and 16th holes to secure a 3&2 win for the Masters division title.  Stopping only a few seconds for a photo and a trophy, the two made their way to the parking lot and a smiling exit.