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Close finishes rule Wallace Shootout

Published 8/8/2011 in Pro-Am

By KEVIN THOMPSON

sports@gctelegram.com

The final event of the 2011 Southwest Kansas Pro-Am lived up to its name of shootout Sunday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.

The Wallace Electric-sponsored event drew 22 amateur teams paired with a professional.

Both divisions were won by a single stroke.

Jeff Howard of Austin, Texas, won the professional division by shooting a 68 on the par-72 course, edging out Deerfield native Jason Eslinger's 69.

Andy Connell of Denver finished third by carding a 70.

On the amateur team side, a 121 by Justin Shaddix, Jered Salas and Kevin Blackwelder won by a stroke over Marv Kramer, Sam Marlin and Steve Orlando.

In the "shamble" format for this event, each group could choose the best tee shot — including the pro's — and each player played his or her own ball the rest of the hole. A net and gross score for each hole with handicaps figured into the team scores.

For Howard, the $1,250 he won was worth sticking around for. He missed the cut by one stroke in the main Pro-Am event and this check was a small measure of redemption.

And it was a good thing this was played at Buffalo Dunes this year instead of Southwind, where he said he doesn't play as well.

Howard said he really enjoys the feel and layout of Buffalo Dunes.

"Every year I've been (in Garden City) I've really played well here. It just fits my eye a little better and it plays a little shorter," he explained.

Howard said he's headed to Alabama this week and making a concerted push for the PGA Tour qualifying school near the end of the season in October.

For Deerfield's Eslinger, currently a professional on the Long Drive Association tour, got to return to his "home course" of Buffalo Dunes and play a round of competitive round of golf in the meantime.

For the man who holds the two longest drives on the LDA tour (447 and 446 yards), getting his short game to work was a challenge.

"This was my first competitive round in about five years," he said. "I'm just getting my touch back after hitting drives all day."

Fortunately, the driving showman didn't have to rely on any of his trick shots on this round.

"I had a few squirrely shots, though," he joked. "But I didn't have to hit it off the high tee or through a watermelon."

Because of the number of teams, four local golfers assumed the role of "professional" to round out the pairings, led by Carlos Prieto's 74.

Kevin Blackwelder, a member of the winning amateur team, said the scoring and "shamble" format of Sunday's contest made the event competitive for each group, especially by adding the handicap element.

"It's different from a scramble, which is nice," he said. "You had to be accountable for all your own shots, that's for sure."

Steve Orlando of the second-place team echoed Blackwelder's sentiments.

"It's a really fun format," he said. With the modified score for handicaps, he said that equalizes everything for everybody.

For sponsor Alex Wallace, the Shootout was a great way to end a busy week, especially after the two-day scramble format of the main event.

"It's competitive. It's friendly. But you can still give each other a hard time, have fun and play competitive," he said.

Many of the funds raised in this event also go to St. Catherine Hospital's Newborn Intensive Care Unit, he added.

When the chance came to be the sponsor, Wallace said his company jumped all over it several years ago for that reason.

Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, the Pro-Am's tour affiliate, provided most of the paychecks for the professionals, while Wallace Electric covered the pro shop merchandise for the amateur winners.

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