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McKinnis Engineers a Win at the Railer

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51 year-old Tim McKinnis of Lyons, Kansas is making the most of his “senior” golf age in Tim McKinnisKansas.   Last year as a senior rookie in the Sunflower State, McKinnis finished high on the leaderboard at the inaugural Konza Prairie Amateur at Colbert Hills and then dominated in the Kansas Senior Amateur at Indian Hills Country Club in August for his first KGA championship title.  Now he has two wins in less than 10 months!

Taking on a field of 120 single-digit handicap amateurs in the popular Railer Championship conducted annually since 2011 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kansas, McKinnis showed the youngsters how it’s done.  Blessed with a load of athletic talent that was best expressed as a baseball pitcher in his youth and into his twenties, the former minor leaguer confesses he’s never had a golf lesson.  For three consecutive days in the heat of June and the strong winds of the prairie, McKinnis drove it straight, hit most of the greens in regulation and made very few putting mistakes.  And when he needed it, his short game was superb.  In the end, some of the area’s best collegiate and junior golfers had to acknowledge their admiration for the golfer more than twice their age.Tracy Chamberlin

In Friday’s opening round, McKinnis began play at the difficult #10, a par five with water in play on every shot to the green.  He managed a par in the morning’s lead group and then finished the back nine with a birdie at #18, getting him back to just 1-over par.   On the front nine, his final nine of the round, he only made two pars – but shot even par.  Four birdies, two bogies and his only double bogey of the championship made for one of those final scores of 1-over par 73 that felt like it should have been something in the sixties.

Over a dozen players finished ahead of the eventual champion on Friday.  Devin Montague of Wichita took the first round lead with 3-under par 69.  His three birdies against a single bogey made for a consistent round in windy conditions.  Three players finished at 2-under par 70 – Jack Rickabaugh, a K-State golfer, Bradley Lane, the reigning KGA mid-amateur player-of-the-year, and Charlie Hillier, a KU golfer who earlier in June finished as runner-up in the Kansas Four-Ball.  Four players finished 1-under par 71 including Matt Green, the K-Stater who finished runner-up in last year’s Kansas Amateur.   Two-time Railer and defending champion Jack Courington posted an even par 72.  Tied with McKinnis at 73 was a Kansas newcomer in Alex Moorman, a red-shirt freshman at KU who is a Centerville, Iowa native.

McKinnis, like most veteran athletes, had a game plan for the weekend rounds.  He wanted to get back to even par or a little under, not worry about what the others were doing, and then wait until Sunday to make his charge.

Three holes into his second round, McKinnis might have doubted his plan as he recorded two bogeys at #1 and #3.  A “time to get going” pep talk was all he needed at the par five #4 hole where he reached the green in two and made his eagle putt.   From there it was all pars and two birdies to get him 2-under par 70 and a total of 1-under par 143.  At the end of the day, that got him right where he wanted to be – just two strokes from the lead and playing in the next to last group of three.   He would be playing with Moorman who finished at even par 144 and Max Lazzo.

Wichita’s Tyler Chapman shot the low round on Saturday with a 5-under par 67.   No question Chapman had the most fun in the second round.  He started on #10 with a birdie (which gets you a free t-shirt from the host venue!), birdied #12, eagled the drivable par four #15, and then birdied the reachable par five #16 to post a five-under par 31 on his opening nine holes.   Chapman opened and closed the front nine with birdies, bogeyed #5 and #6 in the middle and settled for even par on that side.   His fun day at the links earned him a spot in the final group on Sunday.

Chapman would being seeing a lot of purple on Sunday as his fellow competitors would be the K-State teammates of Green and Rickabaugh.  They were tied for the lead at 3-under par 141.

According to plan, McKinnis brought his A game to Sand Creek Station on Sunday afternoon.  He opened with birdie at #1 and then followed that with another birdie at #2.  Moorman mimicked his elder with two birdies of his own.  At #4, the site of Saturday’s eagle for McKinnis, both passed the leaders playing right behind them by each making their third birdie of the round.  All attention was now focused on the “senior” McKinnis and Moorman, the Big 12 collegian from Iowa decked out in his KU finest.

Moorman bogeyed the par three #7 hole but got that stroke back with a birdie at the par four #9 hole to finish the outward nine with an outstanding 3-under par 33.   But he wasn’t catching McKinnis.

McKinnis avoided any mistakes and added his fourth birdie of the round at #7 so that his 4-under par 32 gave him a two-stroke lead over Moorman and what turned out to be a 4-stroke lead over Rickabaugh with just nine holes left of the 54-hole test of nerves.

Moorman lost another stroke to leader McKinnis at #10 with a bogey but he was able to regain that with at par at #12 when McKinnis made his first bogey of the day on the short par four.   So with only six holes remaining, McKinnis held to a 2-stroke lead over Moorman.   That advantage held up through the next two holes as each of the leaders made pars.   Moorman’s lip out birdie attempt at #14 might have been what McKinnis needed to sprint to the finish line.

At #15, the tees were set back at the usual distance on a relative short but challenging hole with a split fairway lined by tall, thick fescue and a green guarded by mounds all around.   Moorman’s tee shot was not like any other he made on Sunday.   His ball found the left tall grass.  After a brief search, the ball was found in what Moorman judged to be an unplayable lie.  Using his driver to measure two club lengths to take his penalty drop, he found that he had about six inches of “relief” if he could get the dropped ball to stay in the primary rough.   Unfortunately, the slope of that area directed the dropped ball back into the high grass.  Playing his third shot, Moorman was barely able to advance it.  With his fourth made to the putting surface and two putts later, Moorman had a double bogey and losing two strokes to McKinnis, who now had a 4-stroke lead with three holes to play.  No one in the final group was keeping pace with McKinnis.

At the downhill par five #16 hole, both McKinnis and Moorman had eagle putts that resulted in tap in birdies.

McKinnis stayed aggressive at the short par 3 #17 hole by aiming at the flagstick, but a slight misjudging of the wind found his ball in the front bunker, a place he hadn’t seen all day.   Moorman put his tee shot on the green, but not close enough for a birdie.   McKinnis was unable to get out and in for par, so now with a single hole to play, the difference between the two was 3 strokes.

Moorman played first from the 18th tee and saw his ball land in the left fairway bunker.  McKinnis went left as well but avoided the same fate and came to rest in a tough lie in the thick rough.

Moorman, not giving up, hit a bunker shot he won’t soon forget.  Just clearing the high lip of the bunker, his ball sailed to within three feet of the hole and then checked itself on the fringe only 12 feet from the hole.  A definite birdie opportunity.

McKinnis could only send his second shot along the ground, bounding its way to the front lower tier of the final green.  From there he would have an uphill, over a ridge, 40 foot putt.  A two putt would be skillful and a three-putt would be understandable.   After all, he had a 3-stroke lead.

McKinnis studied the line of the putt in great detail trying to gage just how hard would he have to putt his ball so that it climbed the ridge yet didn’t run off the green.  As soon as he hit his third stroke he thought he might have been too bold with the speed, but he did like the line.   There was only one way his ball would stay on the green and that was if it hit the center of the back lip, take a leap and then slam dunk to the bottom of the hole.    And that’s exactly what it did!

McKinnis acknowledged the applause of the gathered spectators and his fellow competitors as he retrieved his birdie ball allowing him to sign for a 4-under par 68.  His 211 total was 5-under par and 4 strokes ahead of Moorman and Rickabaugh who tied for runner-up.

Add up the ages of the two players tied for second and it is still not greater than the age of McKinnis.  At age 51, McKinnis now holds the record for oldest winner of The Railer, which just might be on the books for quite a long time.  Unless, of course, he comes back and wins again next year!

In the actual Senior division and playing for a shorter set of tees each day, Wichita’s Tracy Chamberlin defended his Railer senior title with an impressive 8-under par 208 and a 6-stroke margin over the runner-up, his friend and also former senior Railer champion, Steve Newman.