Perhaps it was in the cards from the beginning of the 38th Southwest Kansas Pro-Am for Coloradoan Derek Tolan.
The first clue that it might be his week at The Golf Club at Southwind and Buffalo Dunes Golf Course came when he shot a 3-under-par 68 to capture the Thursday Legacy Shootout.
And then the prognostications only strengthened when he opened Friday’s 54-hole event with a 4-under-par 67 on the same layout to share the first-round lead with Josh Weems.
Things got even better on Saturday when Tolan blitzed Buffalo Dunes with an 8-under-par 64 to jump into a two-shot lead over Ryan Hogue, who also was red-hot at the Dunes with a 63 on Saturday.
Then, it came to Sunday’s climactic round at Southwind, and while Tolan’s round was not that of the earlier under-par scores, his even-par 71 was good enough to hold off Hogue, a Mesa, Ariz., native, for a two-shot victory and capture the $10,000 winner’s check for his first pro win in five years.
“I have to say, it feels better than I thought it would,” said a relieved Tolan afterward. “It was the kind of day where I just did not have much rhythm. Nothing felt comfortable.”
His Sunday start was shaky, making bogey from the rough. He righted his ship with birdies at both par-5s on the outgoing nine, the third and fifth, and then laced a short iron into the 166-yard par-3 ninth to two feet and dropped his birdie putt.
That outgoing 2-under 33 was enough to provide him that two-shot margin heading to the back nine. At that point, no other player besides Hogue was within four shots of Tolan, so it became a two-man shootout down the stretch — at least for a few holes.
Both Tolan and Hogue struggled through the early back nine, with Hogue making bogeys at the 11th and 12th while Tolan had to make a saving par at the 11th and a two-putt par on the 12th.
That provided him with a four-shot pad over Hogue, and it looked to be a cruise-in to the finish line for Tolan, whose best previous finish in five Pro-Ams was a tie for second in 2011.
But the game can be fickle at times, and it turned sour for Tolan at the par-3 13th, where his tee shot was way left into the native plum thickets. Forced to take an unplayable lie penalty, Tolan then left his third shot in the fringe and it took him two more shots to get down, resulting in a double bogey to Hogue’s par. That comfy four-shot advantage was cut in half.
The 14th also was a struggle for Tolan, who hit his approach shot into the par-4 hole to the back of the green, where he faced a difficult long putt down the hill. Hogue, meanwhile, missed the green but pitched to five feet and made par. Tolan’s first putt of about 40 feet slid four feet past the hole, and he missed the par attempt. The lead was now a shaky one shot.
Both players missed make-able birdie putts at the par-5 15th, before each dropped in birdie putts at the par-3 16th. Hogue ran in about a 20-footer for his birdie and then Tolan knocked a six-footer in on top to maintain that one-shot edge.
“Probably one of the two key shots of the day,” Tolan said of his 7-iron from 188-yards to a tight right hole location. “The other was on 12 (tee shot into the native grass, pitch out, and then a wedge to one-foot for a tap-in par).”
Coming on strong in the group ahead was former Kansas University All-American and four-time Pro-Am runner-up Chris Thompson, who began the day seven shots back of Tolan. But by the time he arrived at the 17th tee, he had closed to within one by shooting 2-under 33 on the front, but then ripped off birdies at the 12th, 14th and 15th holes.
A wayward drive off the 17th tee ended up proving costly to Thompson, who ended up making double bogey and effectively knocking him out of contention. The former Jayhawk star did birdie the 18th, leaving him three shots behind Tolan at the end. It was too little, too late. His search for his first Pro-Am triumph continues after second-place finishes in 2009, 2010, 2014 and 2015.
For Tolan, the win ended a long drought of battling injuries the past three seasons, and to get back in the winner’s circle was an unfamiliar position.
“If I’m taking anything away from this, it was like I was a little worm struggling and I managed to get home,” Tolan explained. “It’s a lot harder to win when it’s been so long. Just to get a win, no matter where it was or how much the check was, is a good feeling. The people here have been so supportive. It’s nice to be able to get it into the house.”
Tolan said his summer had seen him play consistently well, but was not getting the high finish results he had hoped for.
“I wasn’t getting a whole lot out of my game,” Tolan said. “This week, I felt more comfortable and was zoned in.”
Hogue, meanwhile, said he was just trying to hang close to Tolan and looked for some opening to make it a race.
“I was happy to be just two back at the turn, but my wayward driver caught up with me on the back nine,” Hogue said. “The 11th and 12th were horrendous drives, and I had horrendous lies. Making bogey-bogey there just killed me.”
But then Tolan opened the door at the 13th and 14th, where Tolan drew within a single shot.
“He gave me a chance, but it’s so difficult to come from behind,” Hogue said. “This course plays tough on the back nine. Not making birdie at 15 was costly, and then when I made the long putt on 16 I thought, 'Maybe just maybe, he might not top me,' but he did.”
The 18th wayward tee shot to the left also caused him problems, where his approach shot was right of the green, in deep grass and his pitch shot sailed over the flagstick, and over the green. A pitch back up and a made bogey putt gave Tolan the added insurance for the triumph.