Derek Tolan has made the trek from Denver’s mile-high altitude to the plains of western Kansas and Garden City six times over the past eight summers to play in the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am.
As anyone who bounces back and forth between the Mountain and Central time zones knows, the clock moves forward heading east, and backward going to the Rockies.
Thursday morning, Tolan was on the road again to make it to The Golf Club at Southwind for the 1 p.m. shotgun start of the Legacy Corporate Shootout, the first event of the four-day Pro-Am that concludes Sunday.
Quite simply, Tolan forgot that the time change was moved ahead, and he rolled into the parking lot at Southwind just 20 minutes prior to the start of the 18-hole event that saw three-person amateur teams paired with a professional.
“It was a rookie mistake, and I should know better than that,” said Tolan, who overcame an abysmal start of a triple bogey and bogey (4-over-par) in his first two holes (the par-4 17th and 18th holes) before settling into a rhythm.
That rhythm eventually saw Tolan get red-hot on an otherwise cool, calm day of early August weather to play the final 16 holes in 7-under-par, resulting in a 3-under-par 68 to capture the $750 first-place check for the pros.
The amateur team of Trent Specht, Kevin Bascue and Herb Swender garnered top honors in the scramble competition by shooting a 12-under-par 59, two shots clear of the team of Mike Harris, Grant Harris and Gil Wohler.
Tolan, who has challenged on more than one occasion during the three-day Pro-Am event, said he chowed down on a hamburger, hopped on the cart and headed to the 17th, his group’s first hole of the day.
“It was right into the teeth of the wind, and I hit it into the gunch (native grass), and two shots later I got out and made triple,” Tolan said of his inauspicious start. “I’m 31, and it takes a little longer for me to warm up.”
He followed that tough opening stretch by making pars at the first and second, before launching a birdie barrage at the third, fifth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th holes and finishing off with pars on the 15th and 16th holes.
“The iron game and wedge game for sure were the big reasons for the score,” Tolan said. “I had a couple of tap-ins, had a two-footer on 11 and hit it close on No. 5.”
Tolan said he has come to enjoy both the courses (Southwind and Buffalo Dunes) utilized for the Pro-Am.
“You know what to expect when you get here,” he said. “There’s no surprises. If you screw it up, it’s not because of lack of knowledge.”
Tolan said he had been playing consistently well for most of the 2017 season, with a recent sixth-place finish at the Long Beach (Calif.) Open being among his best efforts where he had four rounds in the 60s.
“It’s the first time in nearly five years that I’ve been healthy,” said Tolan, who took off the last part of the 2016 season and the early months of 2017 to rest and rehabilitate an injury. “Just spent time on the coach, physical therapy and doing a lot of chipping and putting.”
That work on his short game has paid off for the Coloradoan.
“I’m able to hit balls now with no pain, and it’s the first time in three years where I could spend the time I wanted on practicing,” Tolan said.
As any veteran of playing high-level tournament golf, Tolan said his score Thursday was all about perspective.
“It’s a positive because I played well today,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough to know that what I did today doesn’t have anything to do with what will happen on the first tee tomorrow. It’s always a new day.”
Tolan’s 3-under was the lone under-par round of the day for the 15 pros in the field.
Jess Hutchins and Ryan Hogue shared runner-up honors with 1-under 70s while Clay Devers, Andy Connell, Todd Rosetti and Will Paulsell were log-jammed in a tie for fourth at even-par 71.
The winning team of Specht, Swender and Bascue were red-hot, with Specht saying the team made a good number of putts, but most of them inside of 10 feet.
“We did make a few,” Specht said of the team’s putting performance.
Swender played on the winning team for the second straight year, after playing with his sons H.J. and Austin in 2016.
“I had some really good partners who could hit it a long way and could make a bunch of putts,” Swender said. “I was just along for the ride.”
Ace of the day
In what may well be the most ironic and humorous moment of the day, Ryan Kirchoff (Burtis Motors) went to the tee box on the 152-yard, par-3 ninth to start his round, being paired with Roger Ratliff and Andy Taylor. The pro in the group was Scott Petersen of Denver.
Hitting third, Kirchoff rifled a pitching wedge to the green, where it bounced once, curled to the left and dropped into the hole for his first hole-in-one.
“I got to the course late, never hit a practice ball, never hit a practice putt,” Kirchoff said. “I just got up there and hit it.”
Legacy Auto Center was sponsoring a Hole-in-One prize for the event, a Dodge Charger, and the twist is that Kirchoff’s Burtis Motors (Ford) had sold the Dodge portion of their dealership to Legacy in September of 2015.
“I was calling my wife, asking her to get me in touch with our accountant so I could figure out what we needed to do as far as sales tax, tagging the car, and whatever else,” Kirchoff said afterward. “At first, she just didn’t believe me, but after several phone calls, I think she finally realized I was serious about making the hole-in-one. It’s quite the deal to be honest.
“The neatest thing about the hole-in-one is that I saw it go in. That’s pretty special.”