Sports Golf

Hickok wins in dramatic fashion at National Pines

 PETER ROBINSON, Special to the Examiner

Kramer Hicock raises the Ontario Championship trophy alongside Jim Harris, head of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Simcoe County branch. The CMHA was the local charity beneficiary of the tournament.CLAUS ANDERSON/MACKENZIE TOUR PHOTO

Kramer Hicock raises the Ontario Championship trophy alongside Jim Harris, head of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Simcoe County branch. The CMHA was the local charity beneficiary of the tournament.CLAUS ANDERSON/MACKENZIE TOUR PHOTO


The best players were indeed the best players on Sunday at the Ontario Championship at National Pines.

In the end, the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada’s best player, Kramer Hickok, capped an incredible weekend, winning in a playoff over Johnny Ruiz on the fourth extra hole to cash the $31,500 first-place cheque.

Hickok, a 25-year-old from Dallas, torched National Pines over the weekend going 64-64 (16-under) after an indifferent start on Thursday and Friday for a 19-under, 269 total.

Hickok said he had 16-under in mind entering the weekend out of necessity, even if he didn’t think it was too realistic at the start of play on Saturday.

“Being able to set that goal (and meet it) was pretty awesome,” said Hickok, who was college teammates with Jordan Spieth at the University of Texas and lives at the reigning British Open champion’s house in Dallas when he’s not travelling to golf tournaments.

“I’ve never done that before (shot consecutive 64s), not even close.”

He could have been lower: Hickok missed an 11-footer on 18 on Sunday that would have pushed him to 20-under and eliminated the need for the playoff.

That miss opened the door for Ruiz to make a 25-footer from the fringe on 18 to move to 19-under-par and force the playoff. Ruiz was the overnight leader after a 65 on Saturday but a triple-bogey on 12 – he lost a ball on his second shot – put the 23-year-old Californian on the defensive until his dramatic birdie on the 72nd hole. He had a two-shot lead to start the day and was understandably disappointed.

“You’re always going to give it a run,” said Ruiz of the birdie on 18 to force the playoff. “…it’s just (unfortunate) not to finish it in the playoff, but Kramer was great out there.”

Todd Baek, a South Korean-born golfer from San Diego, matched Hickok’s 64 to finish third at 18-under. Patrick Newcombe of Murray, Ky., who won last week in Cape Breton, shot 65 and joined fellow Americans Robbie Shelton and Lee McCoy in a tie for fourth at 17-under.

Vancouver’s Seann Harlingten was the top Canadian, tying for ninth after a 68 on Sunday. One slot down the leaderboard, Canucks Stuart MacDonald of Vancouver and Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., tied for 12th after rounds of 72 and 68, respectively.

It was an impressive showing for Gligic, he came into the week the 60th player on the money list and moved up to 43rd, earning his 2018 Mackenzie Tour card and get a spot in next week’s Freedom 55 Financial Championship in London awarded to the top 60 at the close of play on Sunday.

At the top of the money list, Sunday action started with four of the Mackenzie Tour’s top six money leaders in seventh-place or better. With Ruiz playing in the final group and Hickok two groups ahead, the final few holes became a battle between No. 1 and No.4, with Shelton, the tour’s second-leading money winner, failing to keep the pace after a 72.

Hickok now has a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot with almost $118,000 in earnings and the inside track to earn full Tour status next year. With his runner-up cheque for $18,900, Ruiz now moves up to No. 3 on the money list behind Shelton. Newcombe drops to No. 4 and McCoy moves up to No. 5.

“It’s not why I play but it’s nice,” said Hickok with a smile, of the money.

Hickok said that he will consider following Spieth, who will defend his Australian Open title in that country in November, down under if he locks up the No. 1 and can by-pass qualifying school for the Tour.

“That would be pretty cool,” he said.

Ruiz, Newcombe, Shelton and McCoy will get status to start next year if they can maintain their position after next weekend. Beyond the top five, players six through 10 get a pass to the final stage of qualifying later this fall and Nos. 11 through 20 get to skip the first of three stages. It may not sound like much but all of those cut-offs are virtual gold for a young touring pro.

“That’s why we’re out here,” said Chad Ramey, a 23-year-old from Fulton, Miss., who finished in a tie for 22nd this week and is currently 14th on the money list.

Sanctioned by the Mackenzie Tour, the tournament was conducted by the Canadian Junior Golf Association. Not announced until late June, the event not only had to face a tight lead-up to get organized locally, the area was deluged with rain earlier in the week.

“In my time in event management, I’ve never seen a tournament come together like this,” said event director Reegan Price, praising his team and the local volunteers who pulled off a very difficult task to make the tournament possible.

The Mackenzie Tour is looking to add two more tournaments to its 2018 schedule, one each in Western and Atlantic Canada. If local organizers can solidify enough local support, the Ontario Championship could return to the area.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be back in Barrie and at National Pines,” said Mackenzie Tour VP Scott Pritchard in his closing remarks on Sunday.

Two local golfers participated in the tournament with Eric Hawerchuk of Barrie and Drew Nesbitt of Shanty Bay missing the cut on Friday.  

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