Aug 08, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Three short years ago, Bill Lunde was out of golf. Now, at 34, he has broken through for his first PGA Tour victory at the Turning Stone Resort Championship.
Capping a wild, exciting week of ever-changing weather conditions and low scores at Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, Lunde nearly missed the cut, then charged on the weekend to a one-shot victory over a fast-closing J.J. Henry.
Lunde fired a 17-under-par total of 271, pouring in what proved to be the winning birdie on the 16th hole of Sunday’s final round. Of course, just being in that position was remarkable, given what happened to Lunde’s golfing career.
A top amateur player coming out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Lunde first made his mark in Upstate New York by advancing to the semifinals of the 1998 United States Amateur played at Oak Hill near Rochester.
Soon after, Lunde turned pro, but he said years of struggles on the big tours left him tired of golf and hating the game. So, after falling short at the 2005 qualifying school, he quit and went to work in the housing industry, only to lose his job there when the market collapsed.
Lunde said it took that time away from golf to reclaim his love for the game. And so he returned in 2007, first succeeding on the mini-tours in the West, then going to the Nationwide Tour in 2008 and winning a tournament there, ultimately finishing fifth on the money list to earn his PGA Tour card.
After he kept his card in 2009 (with a best finish of a tie for fourth in Nevada), Lunde was again struggling this year, never finishing better than a tie for 10th in two events in Puerto Rico and Reno-Tahoe. Despite this, he said he felt good about his game heading to Turning Stone, though early on it sure didn’t work.
Bad drives and worse putting on a steamy Thursday produced a 73, one over par, and eight shots back of co-leaders Omar Uresti and Rory Sabbatini.
It was a long day for everyone at Atunyote, as morning rains caused a delay of nearly three hours. It also pushed back the PGA Tour debut of 15-year-old Gavin Hall, a star amateur from Pittsford. Hall struggled to an opening-round 78, but recovered nicely on Friday to shoot 71 before heading home to get ready for the U.S. Amateur later this month.
Friday had, by far, the toughest conditions all week, as winds gusted to 30 miles per hour. Still, it took a two-under-par total of 142 to make the cut, and Lunde was on the wrong end of it until he birdied three of his last four holes to sneak into the weekend at 141, seven shots back of 36-hole leader Alex Cejka.
That saving surge was just the beginning. When the winds died down for Saturday’s third round, par was under assault as the field averaged close to 69. And Lunde joined in, going birdie-birdie-eagle on the 3rd through 5th holes, turning in 32, then adding four more birdies on the back nine for a 64. It was just one off the course record Charles Warren and Chris Couch matched on Saturday.
More importantly, Lunde’s low round moved him up to 205, 11 under, just four back of Cejka, who birdied his last three holes on Saturday to break out of a crowded group to lead Couch by two and Billy Mayfair by three heading into the last round.
The wind picked up a bit on Sunday, but Lunde remained on fire. He birdied the first two holes, then the par-5 5th before dropping a long birdie putt on 6. On the par-5 8th, Lunde reached in two and two-putted for a fifth birdie, then went to the 9th and drained a nine-foot downhill putt to make it six birdies and a 30 to take the outright lead.
All those red numbers were needed, because far ahead Henry was setting an imposing target.
The Connecticut native started the final round at six under, went through the front nine in 32, then went five under over a stretch of five holes (12 through 16) to seize the lead at 16 under.
But Henry missed a great birdie chance at the par-5 18th to break the course record, so he finished at 272, and nearly saw that score hold up for the remaining three hours of play.
As soon as Lunde moved ahead, he stepped back with a bogey on the par-3 11th. Then it got volatile, as all kinds of players, including Steve Elkington, Richard S. Johnson, Josh Teater and Brett Wetterich, got near or even tied for first place, only to fall apart in the stretch.
Cejka, who fell back to 12 under, used four birdies in five holes to claim a piece of the lead, only to pull his tee shot into the creek at 14, make bogey, and parred the rest of the way. Mayfair, too, could not advance further than 15 under, ending up in a tie for third with Cejka, Teater, Jerry Kelly and Michael Sim.
That left Lunde, who made steady pars on 12, 13 and 14, then missed a nine-footer for birdie on 15 to remain even with Henry. One more birdie was needed.
And it came on the par-3 16th, 177 yards over a marsh to a pin tucked back left next to a bunker. With a gorgeous six-iron, Lunde hit his tee shot to four feet, then made the birdie to lead Henry by one. Now he had to hang on.
On 17, Lunde’s approach was 67 feet short, but he made a deft two-putt for par. Thus, he only needed to par the reachable 18th, and he got to the front left bunker in two, left his explosion shot 18 feet below the hole, and
carefully two-putted to win.
And that win gave Lunde much more than the $720,000 for first place. He also earned a two-year Tour exemption through 2012 and a berth in this week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Lunde also improved his FedEx Cup position so that he’ll be in the PGA Tour playoffs that start later this month.
Above all, it assured that Lunde won’t need to consider other career options — at least for a while.