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Kansas Golf Associaition

How Low Can You Go? The Answer is Record-Setting at the Kansas Four-Ball Championship

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With a new venue and a new four-ball partner, defending champion Chase Hanna of Leawood Ben Fernandez & Connor Knabeliked his chances to add another KGA trophy to his collection when the newly formatted Kansas Four-Ball Championship was played in early June at Eagle Bend Golf Course in Lawrence.  With Charlie Hillier, a KU golf teammate from Oregon, Hanna knew that a lot of birdies would be needed to end up on top of a strong field of 45 teams playing in the 36-hole event.

The 28th Kansas Four-Ball had an extra element in 2016.  It was also being used as a stroke play qualifying event for the new Heart of America Four-Ball Championship to be held in August at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park.   The Kansas City Golf Association would determine its top 16 four-ball teams and then host the 16 teams from the Kansas Golf Association in a single elimination match play bracket which will pit the KCGA winner against the KGA winner in a 36-hole final match.

Facing a difficult course set up with tees placed at maximum length and holes cut in challenging spots, Hanna and Hillier were not intimidated.  They birdied the first three holes and then got to five-under par through seven holes when Hanna added an exclamation point with an eagle on the par five #9 hole.  They turned at 7-under par 29.

The scoring duties were evenly divided on the front nine, but on the second nine it was all Hanna.  He birdied 10, 11 and 12 to get the team to 10-under par.  Hanna added three more birdies at 14, 16 and the difficult 18.   His six birdies on the back nine got the team to the eyebrow raising 13-under par 59, a new tournament single round record and the overnight lead.

While the KU Jayhawk golfers were setting records, a team of K-State Wildcats were also having their way with the Eagle Bend course.  Connor Knabe, a senior-to-be from Leawood, and his teammate Ben Fernandez, a Dallas-area product that just finished his first season in Manhattan, used their long-driving and short game skills to post four birdies on the opening nine for a 32.  A birdie at #10 got them to five-under par.  On the par four #11 hole Knabe drove the green 360 yards away and then sank a putt for an eagle.   Not to be outdone, Fernandez on the next hole, a par five, reach the putting surface in two strokes then sank a putt for another eagle.  Now at 9-under par through just 12 holes, the K-State duo managed to add two more birdies giving them an 11-under par 61 for the opening round.

That meant it would be an all “Big 12” final group. There were three teams at 7-under par 65, but with the “go low” four-ball format, the college teams probably had a lead too big to catch.

Starting the final round with a two stroke lead, Hanna and Hillier lost one of those strokes to a Fernandez birdie on the short #2 hole, but then responded with a Hanna birdie on the par three #3 hole.  Knabe then used his length on the par five #4 hole to take the difference back to one stroke with a birdie. The next three holes were pars for both sides, setting up what would prove to be the pivotal holes at #8 and #9.

Eagle Bend’s eighth hole is a long par three typically played into a south wind.  A large water hazard borders the entire right side of the hole and will catch any tee shot that has any left-to-right flight pattern.  With honors Fernandez put his tee shot safely on the green and Knabe put his ball on the back fringe.  Then the unthinkable happened.  Both Hanna and Hillier put their tee shots into the water hazard.  A double bogey was the best they could do on that hole, which gave Knabe and Fernandez their first lead of the day at one stroke.

The ninth hole is a reachable par five but with a new tee that makes the hole close to 600 yards, that same water hazard comes into play on the opposite bank.  Fernandez played three skillful shots to set up his birdie putt.   But again, Hanna found the water hazard and Hillier found some trouble off the tee that made his bogey the team’s best score.  Another two stroke swing gave the K-Staters a 3 stroke advantage with the back nine to play.

Knabe birdied #10 and #13 to extend their lead to five strokes with only five holes to play.   Playing for pride and not giving up, Hanna posted four birdies in the last five holes, including ones at #17 and #18.  But Knabe’s birdies at #15 and #16 were too much to overcome.

Both team shot an impressive 6-under par 30 on the back nine, giving the K-State duo a total of another 11-under par 61 and a total of 22-under par 122.  Knabe and Fernandez now hold the 36-hole record low score, and more importantly, a Kansas Four-Ball Champion’s trophy.

While those two teams were running away from the field, 14 other teams were watching the score board to see which teams would earn one of the 16 spots for the Heart of America Four-Ball.  Those teams after the top two seeds went to Alex Higgs and Park Ulrich, Matt and Max Lazzo, Tavin Dugan and Justice Valdivia, Ben Maskus and Jack Rickabaugh, Seth Wingerter and Cole Gritton, Blake and Garret Allen, Tom Leonard and Ryne Fisher, Sid McKnight and Doug Albers, Turner Wintz and Ronnie McHenry, Brett Iliff and Josh Taylor, Conrad Roberts and Bradley Lane, David Rismiller and Jason Seeman, Jon Hughes and Max Ernst, and Colton Allen and Christian Ghilardi.

A small field of Masters teams was won by Kurt Lorenzen and Ward Zerger at 6-under par 138.