Steve Priest knew a few of the closing holes at Tallgrass Country Club weren’t ideally suited for him against Jack Courington during the Wichita Golf Association’s city match-play final on Wednesday.
So when the 41-year-old Priest rolled in a downhill 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th to take a two-hole lead, he ignored the mid-morning heat and celebrated with a little extra gusto.
“I didn’t make much of anything outside of five feet the first two days (of the tournament),” Priest said. “The greens were putting pretty slowly and it was tough to get it to the hole. It was nice to make a couple.”
Priest, the No. 6 seed in the championship flight, was steady in all phases, outlasting the reigning Tallgrass club champion Courington 2 and 1 to win his second city match-play title. The 15-year gap since Priest’s previous championship in 1998 at Clapp Park is the largest for a multi-year winner in the tournament’s 68-year history.
Courington, a 24-year-old who played at Southeast High and Missouri State, led after two holes. But Priest sank a 25-foot birdie at the par-4 third to tie the match, then maintained the upper hand after winning the par-4 sixth and par-3 seventh holes with pars.
“I hit it pretty much like I did all week,” said Courington, the tournament’s 2010 champion. “I shot even or 1 over in those matches. Fortunately, it was good enough to win those matches, but it wasn’t going to be good enough to beat Steve.”
Priest shot a 1-under 34 on the front nine and took a 2-up lead to the par-5 10th. Courington sliced his deficit in half with a 20-foot birdie on the 535-yard hole, while Priest failed to counter from six feet.
But Priest made the match’s most pivotal putt three holes later after his approach shot from a fairway bunker settled at the back of the green. His third and final birdie came after Courington hit a good bunker shot that provided Priest with a similar read on his putting line.
“I hit that putt really good and it went right in the middle,” Priest said. “I fist-pumped because I was telling myself I’ve got to get back to 2-up before we go to the par-5 (14th). The 15th and 16th didn’t set up well for me either because they’re draw holes. I knew I was going to have to work hard to get pars.”
Neither golfer took advantage of birdie opportunities at No. 14, which proved more costly for Courington. Courington got within one hole after a solid approach set up a 6-foot birdie at the par-4 15th. But Priest went 2-up again at the par-4 16th after Courington’s approach sailed left of the green, and he couldn’t save par after his pitch from tall rough rolled 15 feet past the hole.
Courington conceded the match at the par-3 17th after Priest’s 20-foot birdie attempt from the fringe hit the back of the hole and stopped near it. It was the seventh individual city title for Priest, who has won the stroke-play event four times and the 1990 city junior.
“He doesn’t make many bogeys,” Courington said. “His short game is so good. You know he’s just going to par you to death and make a few birdies.”