By Chris Whitfield
Facing a one-stroke deficit heading into the final round of the three-day Clay Dykes Invitational, two-time defending champions Jerry Hudgins and Mike Rice knew they needed a solid score to claim another win.
They did solid a few strokes better.
The duo claimed their third straight victory and fourth in the past five years, turning in a 7-under-par 65 on Friday at The Farm Golf Club in Rocky Face to win by eight strokes in the Championship Flight of the best ball tournament. The field was made up 120 of the best senior golfers from around the nation competing in two-man teams.
The Houston golfers easily outpaced second-round leaders Larry Clark and Don Marsh, who shot a 74 on Friday and claimed second for the tournament with a 211 over 54 holes. Rice and Hudgins finished at 203, with their big round coming on a day when The Farm’s greens were registering 14 on the stimpmeter in speed.
By comparison, the United States Golf Association recommends a 10.5 for the U.S. Open.
“Ahh, it wasn’t as bad as people were making it out,” Hudgins said after the winning round was posted. “It was about like it was all week. This course is nice, and the greens are fast.”
The winning duo found a way around the fast greens — get it close to the pin.
“We putted so well today, but the secret was that we didn’t have many long putts,” Rice said. “I’d say we didn’t have anything longer than 15 feet all day on the greens.”
Their closing round included a birdie on the par-4 18th. Rice and Hudgins birdied the finishing hole in all three rounds.
For Rice, this marks his fifth title in the tournament’s 12-year existence.
Rice won in 2002 while playing with Columbus’ Bill Ploeger, and he has even fonder memories of the course from a win in the 2005 USGA Senior Open.
“It is a special place for me,” Rice said. “It is a place I love coming to as often as I can. It is a great place, and all of the people are just so pleasant here, and it kind of a special place for me.”
While the talk amongst the players was the speed of the greens, things will likely be tougher next season. Deck Cheatham, The Farm’s director of golf, said the course will be undergoing a renovation in coming weeks as the bent grass greens of the course will be re-sodded with a new hybrid of Bermuda.
“We will be regrassing the greens from bent grass to MiniVerde Bermuda,” Cheatham said.
“Bermuda was a slow grass that held up better, but now they have made it where there isn’t a whole lot of difference between it and bent grass, except for the maintenance. It doesn’t take as much water and the greens will look a lot healthier during the summer months.”
However, Cheatham said the greens will take time to soften after the installation, and he expects scores on the course to rise until the greens soften and can hold approaches better.
Either way, Rice and Hudgins plan on returning.
“We are going to have to go out and recruit some competition for those two,” Cheatham said. “Some of these other guys need to practice if they want to take the trophy from them. Mike and Jerry really like this place and always play well here.”
In the second flight, the team of Stephen Schwartz and Walter O’Leary finished with a 216, two strokes ahead of Jimmy Chapman and Don Slater. Fred Peel and Ronnie Tumlin were third at 219, followed by Larry White and Julian Saul (222) and George Coker and Ron Savastano (223).
Dave Crocker and Bill Zachary finished with a 215 to win the third flight, with Kevin Gennarelli and Gary Friand second at 223. Bill Rogers and Mike Chambless shot a 224 for third, followed by Lanny Bailey and Tom Miller, who won a scorecard playoff over Ken Stewart and Marc Tate for fourth at 228.
In the fourth flight, Scott Northey and Billy Hatton were first with a 218, four strokes ahead of Bill Patrick and Mike Steed. Edsel Davis and Malcolm Burgess Jr. finished third at 223, followed by Jud Cutttino and Paul Parker (230) and Mike Towson and Mike McAdams (234).
Don Wood and Max Mathews won the super senior flight with a 215, while Paul Cobb Jr. and Charlie Busbee were second at 218. Richard Tatum and Bob Hullender finished third at 220.
The event is played in memory of Dykes, a friend of tournament founder Bob Shaw and a charter member of The Farm who died in 1997.