Soon after he picked up a club, Ben Wollam started dreaming.
Six years and countless rounds later, his vision became reality.
Holing five birdies and playing bogey-free throughout the final 18 holes, Wollam ran away from the field with a 5-under-par 65 to claim the 26th annual Times-Republican City Golf Tournament at American Legion Memorial Golf Course Sunday.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Ben Wollam poses with his Times-Republican City Golf Championship trophy after shooting a 36-hole score of 5-under-par 135 this weekend at Elmwood Country Club and the American Legion Memorial Golf Course. It is the first-ever city golf title for Wollam, who will begin his second season at Grand View University this fall.
The former Bobcat followed Saturday's even-par 70 at Elmwood to close at 135 - five strokes ahead of runner-up and senior champion Tim Rohde (69-71-140).
"I've wanted to win this tournament ever since I started playing out here when I was 13," said Wollam, whose spent his summers working at the Legion's golf pro shop and squeezing in some time on the course whenever he got a chance.
"I watched my buddy's dad (Matt Steddom) go around and win it once. I thought, 'That's what I want.' Once I saw the atmosphere and how everyone goes around to watch, I always dreamed about winning it - so this is awesome."
Wollam was simply awesome Sunday.
Combining powerful drives with clutch chips and precision putts, the Grand View University sophomore-to-be sensed it might be his day after regrouping from a couple early scares.
"I left a couple putts way short," said Wollam of the opening two holes. "I struggled to get pars on the first two but then I birdied 3. I just kept giving myself chances for birdies. After I made a few I kind of got the confidence that I was going to continue it throughout the day."
Wollam added birdies on 6 and 8 for a three-under 32 at the turn. He closed the back nine in 33 with birdies at 12 and 15 - the last of which he used a 9-iron on the par-5 to reach the green as the title moved closer to his grasp.
"I knew it was important to get it on because the pin was tucked in the back right. Once I hit that shot I knew it was going right at the center," said Wollam, who led by five with three holes to go after placing third last year and ninth in 2011.
"I two-putted for birdie and then to save par on the next hole, I really felt confident that it was my thing to lose."
Entering the final day tied for third with Sam Zoske - the champion of the last two City Opens to close at Legion - Wollam overtook the lead at 6 and extended his cushion to three at the turn, before sealing it with sand saves on 16 and 18.
"(Ben) didn't let up," said Zoske, who carded a 3-over 73 to finish fourth at 143, while Matt Estabrook inched ahead from the second group for third with a 72-71-143.
"Once in a while you wait for the bad shot to come and give you an opportunity. Until 16, he never hit one. He didn't hit a bad shot to make you feel like you've got a chance."
Opening round leader Troy Underhill entered Sunday with a three-stroke lead, though it quickly evaporated with a triple-bogey on 4 where his drive landed out of bounds. Underhill's second attempt sprayed off to the right behind a tree as he followed with bogeys at 6 and 8 for a 41 through nine.
"Posting a 7 early, mentally you just try to move on and play a little better, but I just couldn't get in a rhythm," said Underhill, who finished fifth carding a 67-78-145. "I putted well both days. ... I just couldn't get it going. That's golf."
Playing in the championship flight for a record 23rd time, Rohde closed with birdies on 15 and 18 for a 35, earning his second runner-up finish and his first senior title.
"It was a little bit of a struggle today, but I held it together," said Rohde, who also took second in 2001.
Trying to claim his first overall title, Rohde fell off the pace with a bogey on 6 to come through in 36. He bogeyed twice on the back nine at 11 and 16 to finish in with a 35.
"It would have been real tough catching Ben, he made absolutely no mistakes today," Rohde said.
Alex Ward split 73s to take sixth at 146, and Todd Weaver completed the top seven at 72-75-147. Bill Benda (72-79) and Mike Ward (74-77) both came through at 151.
While Wollam waited six years for his title, J.P. Howard endured 60 for a first-time feat of his own - a hole-in-one. Howard drew one of the loudest cheers of the day when he aced the ninth hole with a 7-iron.
"I changed clubs right before I hit because the wind was swirling a bit," said Howard, who carded a 71 Sunday for a two-day score of 150. "I hit it, it went towards the middle of the green with a little draw, rolled up and went in the cup."
Lee Van Cleave fired a 77-71-148 to hold off Howard by two strokes for the first flight title.
While six years ago it was Wollam drawing inspiration from nine-time champion Matt Steddom, the 19-year old left his own impression on others Sunday, while sparking the fire for next year's tournament.
"I'll be out tomorrow playing a league and who knows what I'll shoot, but I'll keep playing," said Underhill - who played in his eighth championship flight. "I was happy to be in that final group. Next year I hope to be there again, have a little more experience and do it, but it was fun watching Ben. He's a heck of a kid, a heck of a player and he's going to be very successful. I'm proud of him."
Michael Schrempf won the second flight in a playoff (81-77-158) over Chris Cooper and Tom Weis. Travis Stewart (84-74-158) and Andrew Tuttle (87-72-159) claimed the third and fourth flights, while Mel Koch (88-74-162) and Darren Bacon (91-75-166) followed suit in the fifth and sixth. Dick Woolridge (94-76-170) captured the seventh flight and Dean Lawthers (97-87-184) claimed the eighth. ... Wollam became the second-youngest player to win the T-R City Golf Tournament behind Tommy Craft who claimed the 2008 title at 18. Jay Gianetto was 20 when he captured the trophy in 2002.