Sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good.
On Sunday, Tommy Craft was both, and at the right times too.
A fortuitous ricochet off a cart path on No. 16, a sand save tap-in for par on 17 and a comfortable three putt for bogey on 18 brought Craft in with a one-stroke advantage over eight-time champion Matt Steddom for victory in the 21st annual Times-Republican City Golf Tournament Sunday at Elmwood Country Club.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
Times-Republican City Golf Tournament champions Emily Allison and Tommy Craft pose with their trophies Sunday at Elmwood Country Club. Allison won by six strokes in the women’s championship flight, while Craft finished one shot ahead of eight-time champion Matt Steddom to take the men’s championship flight.
Marshalltown High School junior-to-be Emily Allison joined Craft as a first-time champion, finishing six shots ahead of Whitney Schrader for the women's title.
Having set the tournament course record at the American Legion a day earlier, Allison survived the sultry conditions and an up-and-down round to beat a two-time former champion and springboard her golf career into the next level.
"I knew I was at the top of my game this summer, I knew I was capable of driving the ball as far as Whitney does, and that gave me confidence," Allison said after her 74-84-158 perched her on top of the women's field of 15. "I just wanted to see how it played out."
Craft's consistent round of 35-34-69 included three birdies and two bogeys, dodging along the way what could have been disaster for the MHS graduate playing in his first 'final four' at the City event.
A 1-under 69, paired with Saturday's even-par 70 from the American Legion Golf Course, left Craft at 1-under 139 for the tournament and one stroke better than Steddom (68-72-140).
Joel Ethington carded another furious finish, charting birdies on three of the last five holes to end up 1 over for the day and 70-71-141 for the tournament. Brian Fields rounded out the top four, shooting 72-73-145 to edge Tim Rohde and Bill Benda (146).
Benda beat Rohde on the first playoff hole, No. 1, with a par to claim his first 50-and-over championship since 2005.
The last time the top three players finished sequentially was in 1999 when Steddom (138) held off Bill Benda (139) and Rob Christensen (140).
"It means a lot, I didn't even know it was possible until today," Craft said of unseating Steddom, who had won the prevous four City titles. "It actually became possible on (hole) 14 when he made bogey and I made par."
Steddom had carried the lead the entire day, going up on Craft by as many as four strokes after a 2-under 33 on Elmwood's front nine.
But one bad shot, Steddom said, started his string of uncharacteristically unsteady play on the back side.
Steddom's second shot on the par-5 13th needed less than 200 yards to clear the creek in front of the lower-level green, but he got too much turf with his swing and the ball found the water hazard.
Craft, conversely, carded his second straight birdie while Steddom bogeyed to slim the margin to just one stroke between them.
"No. 13 was a pretty key hole," Steddom said. "That's a two-stroke swing right there."
Steddom followed up with bogeys on 14, 16 and 18, giving way to the talented youngster destined to golf for Marshalltown Community College in the fall.
"It was going along pretty decent, then all of the sudden it went bye-bye," said Steddom. "On 12, when I chunked it and knocked it in the creek, that was it."
Craft took a one-stroke lead with a little help from the golf gods. His tee shot on the par-3 16th started right and landed 15 yards off the green - but right on the cart path. One big bounce and a couple small hops later, and Craft's ball had trickled onto the front edge of the green.Steddom then flew the green and finished with a bogey, while Craft tapped in his putt for par.
"Hole 14 definitely swung it to my favor, but I got lucky a lot," Craft confessed. "On 16 when I hit off the cart path and it managed to hit the green somehow, that was lucky."
On the next hole, Craft showed how good he could be too.
When his drive on 17 left him with almost no chance of pitching uphill to the green, Craft clubbed down and tried to chip his 7-iron out of trouble. Instead his shot rolled into the bunker.
Steddom two-chipped, however, and Craft blasted out of the sand and to within 2 feet of the cup. A 15-foot putt saved par for Steddom, and Craft kept the one-shot lead heading into the home hole after sinking the gimme.
"It was both of those shots," Steddom said of Craft's run on 16 and 17. "That sand shot was awesome. For him to hit that shot coming down to crunch time, he hit a great shot and it spun a little bit and it was a tap-in."
Craft stepped to the 18th tee box with his 4-iron, content with trying to keep the ball in the fairway and out of trouble. He ended up two paces into the right rough, about 130 yards from the green.
Steddom pounded his driver toward the gallery of fans watching from the 18th green, but it caught a tree along the left side and left him a 30-yard pitch at the bottom of the valley.
Craft's approach found the front of the green with nearly the hole putting surface left to conquer, but another two-chip for Steddom gave Craft enough space to three-putt safely for a bogey and for the win.
"On the last hole I didn't mind the three-putt," Craft said. "I really wasn't going after that last putt (for par). On holes 15-to-17 I just wanted to par, and I got lucky that I did.
"That sand shot on 17 was better than I ever hit a sand shot before."
Allison said it was simply a day of survival, enduring the elements and the grand gallery around the women's final foursome.
"I knew at the beginning it'd be close, but I was in a groove and I didn't really think much about the other people I was playing with, just my score," she said.
"My driver was going the best it has. I was at the top of my game with my driver today."
Allison birdied holes 4 and 15, sharing the day's best round of 84 with Emily Gray, who ended up fourth at 88-84-172. Lori Veld remained in third after finishing Saturday in the same position, carding 81-89-170.
"On 15, Whitney tried to go over the trees and I pulled my drive a little left, but I hit my 5-iron 3 feet from the pin," Allison said. "So I birdied it and she got a 7, so that's when I knew I could get it."
Three-time women's champion Terri Craft (87-89-176) finished in fifth, followed by Renee Bryngelson (87-91-178) and Barb Vovos (87-93-180) to round out the championship flight.