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Kansas Golf Associaition

Gage Ihrig Takes the Kansas Amateur Title by “Storm”

Please enjoy the compilation of the daily recaps of the 2017 Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship played at The Kansas City Country Club.

Kansas City Country Club and the surrounding neighborhoods looked like a mid-summer Kansas tornado had touched down briefly when the players arrived on site early Sunday morning for the final match of the 107th Kansas Amateur.    But Gage Ihrig and Sam Stevens had a 36 hole contest to play and they were not going to let a few thousand tree limbs on the ground get in their way.   When the 34th hole of the match was finished Gage Ihrig had claimed his second KGA title of the 2017 season and Sam Stevens received his third Kansas Amateur Match Play runner-up trophy.

The 4&2 final result seemed a wider margin of victory than had been the case throughout most of the contest.   Ihrig birdied the second hole of the morning round, a short par three, and then never trailed.    He built a brief 3 up lead on the opening hole of the afternoon session, but Stevens birdied the next hole to reduce the margin to just 2 holes.   The next seven holes were halved with either pars or bogeys setting up Ihrig’s final five hole charge to the finish.   Birdies at #12 and #13 increased the lead to 3 up and by the time the two started the 16th hole, Ihrig was dormie.    Stevens pressed his recovery shot from the right side walnut grove and careened his ball into the left fairway bunker.   With Ihrig safely on the putting surface in two strokes, the match was nearly over.   Caps came off after Ihrig played his third stroke to a makeable position close to the hole.

While the two finalists displayed well placed and long shots from the tee and fairly accurate approaches, it was the putting game that seemed to have abandoned both young collegians.   Stevens, a senior to be at Oklahoma State, in particular struggled with his putting throughout the match, even missing putts that would have been made in earlier matches.   Ihrig managed to make a few more putts and that was the difference.

Loren Breedlove, the Kansas City Country Club superintendent for the last 37 years, had a crew of early-risers who worked to prepare the putting greens and almost all of the its 30-some bunkers so that the championship match could begin Sunday morning after a short delay.   The overnight storm hit the Mission Hills area hard.   Brush Creek did get out of its banks for a time, leaving debris on the golf holes near the club entrance.   One old oak tree that had already been scheduled for removal the week after the Kansas Amateur, was split in two by the strong winds.   It covered most of the first fairway so that the players had a strange sight from the first tee.   The fallen tree was merely an obstacle to hit over.

KGA officials asked Breedlove to give priority to the mowing of the putting greens and everything else could be handled with special rules for the day.   The players and officials walked the morning 18 holes and were then issued golf carts for the afternoon round.   That was fortunate as the skies cleared and the temperatures and humidity made it very uncomfortable for the players and spectators alike.

At no time did the debris play a factor in the outcome of any hole.

For the morning session, Ihrig, a Wichita State golfer and senior to be, played 18 holes 1-under par 69 while Stevens struggled to shoot 1-over par 71.   That was the difference allowing for the 2 up Ihrig advantage at the lunch break.

For the 16 holes played in the final session, Ihrig was 2-under par.   Stevens was 2-over par.  Over the final 10 holes of the match, Stevens had no fewer than six opportunities to make a birdie and win a hole.  His frustration was obvious.   So for a long stretch of seven holes from #5 through #11, Ihrig was matching Stevens hole for hole.  Finally at #12 Ihrig hit his tee shot to within 10 feet of the hole on the 220-yard scenic downhiller and then sank a putt to go 2 up.

At the par four 13th hole the tees had been moved up to the forward tee in order to tempt the players into going for the green that is fronted by a wide water hazard.   Ihrig had the honor and smoothly struck a lofted wood to the front of the putting green.   Thinking he had a better chance to make a birdie from the middle of the fairway, Stevens played an iron to a spot short of the water hazard.   His wedge landed close to the hole put had enough spin that the ball rolled to a position several feet below the hole placed a the back of the green.   Ihrig’s first putt from 50 feet stopped close to the hole for a conceded birdie.   Stevens failed to make his birdie and fell to 3 down again.

Both players missed the green at the par three 14th hole and neither could save par.   And when #15 was halved with pars, it was getting close to the end.

The 16th green was the scene of contrasts.   A joyful Ihrig with his twin brother caddy and family compared to Stevens disappointment of being the Kansas Amateur runner-up for the third time in the last five years.   The beautiful A.W. Tillinghast golf course temporarily was disheveled by Mother Nature.    But soon all will return to normal.  The golf course will be restored to its usual beauty and difficult test of golf while two young athletes will tee it up for their next event.  The joy and disappointment will linger for a time, but it will be a day that will not be forgotten by those who played or witnessed the final match of the 107th Kansas Amateur.

107th Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship Finals Set

Only the young and strong can survive these kinds of conditions.  36 holes a day in oppressive July Kansas heat is not for the faint of heart either.

Chase Hanna will wake up tomorrow and have a new career to start as a professional golfer.   His highly successful amateur career came to an abrupt end in the Kansas Amateur semifinals on Saturday afternoon.   Gage Ihrig played a match he will never forget.

Through the first nine holes Hanna built a 3 up lead.   Inexplicably, Hanna made three consecutive bogeys to start the back nine allowing Ihrig back into the match.   As the two teed off on #13 the match was all square.   Holes #13 and #14 were halved with pars.   Hanna won the 15th hole with a birdie to get back a narrow 1 up advantage.

They say things happen in “threes”.   It had already happened to Hanna with the three bogey run earlier on the back nine.   Now it was Ihrig’s turn.   However, his run of “three” was all birdies.   Hanna could only watch as his lead slipped away and Ihrig put down the exclamation point on the 18th hole for an incredible 2 up win and a berth in the finals.   Hanna had not trailed in a match all day until the 35th hole of the day.

Hanna was gracious and thankful in defeat.   He ends not only a top flight college career but an amateur golf resume that includes a Kansas Amateur championship, a Kansas Junior championship (both won in the same summer, only the second junior to ever win both in the same year), and a Watson Challenge title along with appearances in several USGA national championships.

Gage Ihrig reported that his cell phone is exploding with congratulatory texts.   The Wichita State golfer from Goodland, Kansas is having a Player of the Year summer.   He won the Kansas Stroke Play championship called The Railer at Sand Creek Station in late June.

Sam Stevens will play in his fourth Kansas Amateur final in the last five years after posting a 1 up win over Connor Knabe.   In a back and forth match when neither golfer was ever more than 1 up,  Stevens managed to come back from the small deficit to square the match on the 13th hole with a par.

The next three holes were halved with pars setting up the critical hole of the match - #17, the reachable par five.   Stevens showed his true form with a timely birdie while Knabe stumbled with a par.   The two “sluggers” stood on the 18th tee with Knabe needing to win the hole to have a chance in extra holes.  Stevens played the final hole well enough to make a tying par and end the match victorious at 1 up.

Both of the 107th Kansas Amateur Match Play finalists have a Wichita connection.  Stevens grew up there and honed his skills at Wichita Country Club and Flint Hills National Golf Club.   Ihrig found his way to Wichita on a golf scholarship to play for Kansas legendary golfer and Coach Grier Jones at Wichita State.   These two young men know each other very well.  After their semifinal wins they seemed just as excited for the other as they did for themselves.   It promises to be a final match of great golf and sportsmanship!

The Saturday Quarterfinals are Ready

The KGA’s version of the Elite Eight has been identified.   They contestants are:

Chase Hanna (#1) - The Medalist narrowly escaped the upset bid of James Henderson.  Through 17 holes Henderson was the bunker magician.   He got up and down to save par 6 out of 7 tries.   So, on the short par four 18th hole when Henderson found another greenside bunker, it was reasonable to assume a par was coming.   Not this time.   Henderson’s rare bogey from the bunker allowed Hanna to escape with a 1 up when after making his par.

Park Ulrich (#8) – Short in stature but possessed of a powerful game, Ulrich got to go home early and get out of the heat.   His match against fellow mid-amateur Pete Krsnich only last 13 holes.   Everything went right for Ulrich and nothing went good for Krsnich.  6&5 was the result.   The first quarterfinal match will feature Chase Hanna against Park Ulrich.

Alex Springer (#4) – The Central Missouri grad from Olathe dispatched Thomas Luger with a blitz.  Only 12 holes were needed for the 7&6 win.

Gage Ihrig (#5) -  The Goodland native is having a good Kansas summer golf season.  He won The Railer in late June by an 8-stroke margin.  He advances to the quarterfinals with an impressive even par performance against Bradley Lane from Lawrence.    3&2 was the final result in Ihrig’s favor.   The Wichita State golfer will have the match of championship tomorrow morning when he squares off against Alex Springer.

Charlie Hillier (#2) – The Kiwis are proud if they happen to tune into the Kansas Amateur website.   Hillier needed some 18th hole grit to force extra holes where he won with a two-putt par.   Corey Novascone last won this title 21 years ago and back issues may have hurt his chances for a second title.   But, you would not know it from the way he played against the young collegian.   Neither player was never more than 2 up at any point in the match and they came to the final hole all square.  Hillier’s approach drew too much to a left greenside bunker while Novascone’s wedge caught the left fringe 20 feet from the hole.   Novascone played first and left his putt less than a quarter of an inch from the lip.   The par was conceded by Hillier, who then played from the bunker.   His par putt would be 10 feet from above the hole.   A fist pump signaled a conversion for par.

Connor Knabe (#10) – The K-State grad is the only Wildcat left in the championship.  In his round of 16 match Knabe won seven of the 18 holes played and five of those holes were won with a birdie.  He secured a 2 up win over former Wichita State golfer Alec Heinen of Edmond, OK.   This win sets up the first KU vs. K-State match of the championship – Hillier v. Knabe in the third quarterfinal match.

Justice Valdivia (#35) -  The Topekan and Washburn grad added another career match win to his belt this afternoon with a victory over junior golfer Tate Herrenbruck.  Never down, Valdivia won 3&2.

Sam Stevens (#6) -  With his dad Charlie, the 2010 Kansas Amateur champion, as his caddy and cart driver, Stevens played even par golf for 16 holes to secure his quarterfinal spot with a 4&2 win over Charlie Rhinehart of Kansas City, KS.   It will be Stevens against Valdivia in the last quarterfinal match.

These top eight Kansas amateur golfers will play Saturday morning and the four winners will rest for an hour and then head out in one of the two semifinal matches Saturday afternoon.    It promises to be quite a shootout as 7 of the 8 quarterfinalists sport a seed number of 10 or better.

Sixteen players advance from Friday morning

The tough part of the Kansas Amateur Match Play Championship started this morning with double round days over the last three days of the event.   It will be an extreme physical test for the two golfers that advance to the Sunday finals.  Six rounds over three days in 100 degree plus temperatures will take plenty of water and a strong determination.

Chase Hanna may have dodged a bullet this morning.   It is not often that you can shot over par and win a match.   Spencer Christian struggled as well, but made a birdie when it counted the most.   Playing the 18th hole 1 down Spencer made birdie to force extra holes.   But Hanna returned the volley on #1 with a birdie to take the match and advance.    James Henderson, an Overland Park golfer currently playing for the University of Missouri at St. Louis where former Kansas City CC assistant pro Troy Halterman is the head golf coach, had a refreshing morning round with a 5&4 win over Will Gantz setting up his big challenge of playing medalist Hanna.

Park Ulrich played even par golf for 16 holes and secured a 3&2 win over Cole Christian of Wichita.  He will play fellow mid-amateur Pete Krsnich in the third round.   Krsnich took out KCCC member Travis Holt, who admitted that it was just not his day, by a 4&3 margin.

Alex Springer is quietly advancing through the bracket, but he’s making big noise in the eyes of his opponents.   Springer made six birdies over 16 holes to build a 3&2 win over Kade Brown.  Brown’s two eagles made at the par five 8th hole and the par four 13th hole were not enough to fight off the birdie machine Springer.   KCCC member Thomas Luger managed to advance 3&2 over Kale Reynolds.   He was actually 1-over par for the 16 holes.   He will have a tough time holding off Springer.

Gage Ihrig ended the Cinderella story of last-man-in Max Stucky Halley by rolling in 7 birdies over 16 holes for a 4&2 win.    Ihrig may take advantage of his youth when he plays 2016 KGA Mid-Am Player of the Year Bradley Lane in the third round.   Lane had to spend extra energy to pull out a win on the 19th hole over 2016 KGA Junior Player of the Year Grant Herrenbruck.

New Zealander Charlie Hillier won four consecutive holes on the opening nine, three of which were with birdies, to take a 4 up lead over Mark Terranova and then he just held on for a 4&3 win.   Hillier, who returns to KU in the fall, will play 1996 Kansas Amateur champion Corey Novascone from Wichita.   Novascone advanced 2&1 over former K-Stater and KCCC member Henry Simpson.  Novascone closed out the match with an eagle 3 on the par five 17th hole.

The upset of the second round was pulled off by 39th seed Alec Heinen.   The former Wichita State player defeated the 7th seed Andy Spencer 2&1.    Spencer played over par for 17 holes and fell victim to Heinen’s six timely birdies.    The long-hitting Connor Knabe from Leawood will be Heinen’s next opponent.  Knabe won 3&1 over Conrad Walcher on the strength of four birdies.

Justice Valdivia from Topeka might have more Kansas Amateur match wins over the last four years than anyone who did not become champion.  He added another win to his record by defeating seed-planter Kevin Quinley 5&4.    Valdivia made six birdies in just 14 holes for the strength-preserving win.    He will meet the younger of the Herrenbrucks in the third round.   Little brother Tate Herrenbruck took 2012 Kansas Amateur champion Kyle Smell out on the 20th hole.   Smell had a 3 hole lead after parring the 11th but let it get away with three bogeys over the next four holes.   The youngest player in the field at age 15 is showing no fear and impresses onlookers with long drives and a confident stride.

Sam Stevens has been in the finals of this event three out of the last four years.   His early exit last year has him motivated to get back to the Sunday finale.    He had defeated Conrad Roberts in 2014 at Mission Hills and managed a 1 up win over him today with 1-over par golf.   He will face Charlie Rinehart of Kansas City, KS who posted a 3&2 win over Witchayapat Sinsrang.

First Round of Kansas Amateur Matches Recap

Starting at 7:30 a.m. the march of matches began from the first tee at The Kansas City Country Club.   The 32nd match began at 12:40 p.m.  The parade had its usual good performers hitting their marks and advancing.   The more compelling performances came from the “under studies” who managed to upset the opponent with the higher seed.

Medalist Chase Hanna had to play 17 holes in order to get a 3&1 win over 1999 Kansas Amateur champion Sean Thayer who earned the 64th seed last night in the 3 for 2 spot sudden death playoff.    Hanna will continue his march for his second Kansas Amateur title at 7:00 a.m. Friday when he meets Spencer Christian of Wichita.   This will be a tough test for Hanna.  Christian advanced to the semifinals last year at Southwind and he has been a top performing mid-amateur for several years.

Will Gantz of Perry, Kansas chipped in for birdie on the 19th hole to take out hard hitting senior Greg Goode of Salina.   Goode had already won two KGA titles this year – the Railer senior division and the Senior Four-Ball with partner Eric Sexton.   Gantz will next meet James Henderson of Overland Park who defeated K-State golfer Ben Fernandez from Southlake, Texas 1 up.

Bryan Norton experienced an unusual first round loss against Fairway’s Travis Holt, 4&2.   Holt will meet another seasoned match play opponent in the second round.   Pete Krsnich from Wichita won a routine 3&2 match over Jared Burns of Wichita.

Alex Springer of Olathe earned the 4th seed on the strength of his first round stroke play score of 66.   He has been a talented collegiate golfer for several years and he appears ready to make his mark in this championship.   K-State’s Jack Rickabaugh from Garnett, KS gave Springer a real scare, forcing the decision to the 20th hole where Springer birdied.   He will meet Kade Brown from Oberlin tomorrow morning.

They call the last player picked in the NFL draft “Mr. Irrelevant”.   You can’t say that about the last man into this year’s Kansas Amateur field.   Max Stucky Halley of Topeka played to the 28th seed and breezed to a 5&4 win over TJ Vilkanskas of Manhattan.   Gage Ihrig, the 5th seed won a 3&2 match over Jack Lee and he will need to be on his best game against Stucky Halley.

KU’s Charlie Hillier impressed with his 5-under par 135 to take the #2 seed.   But Brian Fehr who had to survive the sudden death playoff to get the 63rd seed took Hillier to the 20th hole where Fehr’s bogey let Hillier off the hook.   The New Zealand golfer will meet Mark Terranova in the second round.

1996 Kansas Amateur champion Corey Novascone from Wichita won his match 1 up over Jake Theiss of Leawood.   He will next take on Kansas City CC member Henry Simpson. Two other former Kansas Amateur champions also advanced out of the first round.  Kyle Smell of Overland Park, who was recently reinstated to amateur status after a brief professional career, took out K-State golfer Trent Evans 2 up.   Oklahoma State golfer Sam Stevens, the 2015 champion, defeated South African Shayne Allen 5&4.   2009 champion Matt Ewald was not so fortunate.  Conrad Walcher from Oklahoma City won 3&2.

A player to be reckoned with will be Andy Spencer from Prairie Village.  Last month he won the Watson Challenge over a field of professionals including legend Tom Watson and some top amateurs at Milburn Country Club.  Today he met Matthew Quandt, an Overland Park lawyer who only recently took up the game.   Quandt held a 2 up advantage after the opening nine holes.   Spencer made a comeback over the back nine to square the match and then won on the 19th hole when Quandt suffered a bogey.  He will not take any future opponent lightly, including Alec Heinen from Edmond, Oklahoma who advanced with a 1 up win over Tracy Chamberlin, the reigning KGA Senior Player of the Year.

Jackson Foth looked like a man on a mission to establish himself as a player to be feared.  He had the #3 seed.   But he stumbled today in his opening match against 62nd seed Kevin Quinley of Salina where the result was 3&2 in Quinley’s favor.   Quinley will meet Justice Valdivia from Topeka who won the all-lefty first round match over Zach Sokolosky of Wichita 3&2.

The youngest player in the field, 15 year-old Tate Herrenbruck from Salina, took out Travis Mays 4&3.   His big brother Grant Herrenbruck, the 2016 KGA Junior Player of the Year, won his match over Sam Humphreys of Edmond, Oklahoma in 20 holes.   The brothers are on opposite sides of the bracket, so it is possible that they would meet in the finals on Sunday.   If that happens, the course will be filled with family and friends from Salina.

Defending champion Blake Allen, the Washburn sophomore to be, was dormie 2 on his opponent Bradley Lane of Lawrence.   Ironically, the reigning KGA Player of the Year drew the reigning KGA Mid-Am Player of the Year for the opening round.   Lane kicked in his POY talent to birdie the next three holes to surprise Allen with the win on the 19th hole.    Lane will meet reigning KGA Junior Player of the Year Grant Herrenbruck in Friday’s second round.

The par three 4th hole was the exciting scene of a 220 yard hybrid shot played by Witchayapat Sinsrang of Thailand.   The shot landed 10 feet below the hole and rolled directly to the bottom of the cup for the championship’s first ace.   His opponent, Caleb Haight of Wichita was unable to halve the hole.  Sinsrang had the momentum and won the match 4&2.