(Cal Athletics Photo)
MARICOPA, AZ (January 4, 2017) -- The first championship of the year has been decided and it was California's Tanner Hughes winning the Saguaro Amateur in walk off fashion at the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club. Heading to closing hole Hughes was trailing playing partner and 36-hole leader Daniel Connolly by a shot and figured that he needed at least a birdie to tie.
However, when Connolly bogeyed the 54th hole Hughes stepped up and rolled in the winning birdie putt. Looking to put the pressure on Connolly, Hughes stuck his 18th hole approach shot to nine-feet to set up his final stroke.
“I knew it was close to win or tie but wasn’t too clued in as I was taking it one shot at a time. Based on where everyone was I knew the putt meant something, whether it was the tie or the win," Hughes told Tournament Director Roy Edwards. "I think it is a big indicator in my game as I am putting in work and haven’t been playing in a lot of competitions. It was good to come out and see where my game was at."
After starting the day four-strokes off the pace Hughes had closed with his best round of the week, a 4-under 68 to finish 9-under and one in front of Connolly and Smith.
Hughes had a steady 1-under 35 on the front nine with two birdies and a bogey but as the final group turned for the second nine he still trailed Connolly by three-strokes after the SMU freshman turned with an even-par 36 that kept him at 9-under. Throughout the back nine Connolly couldn't get anything going and he remained where be had began the day until he bogeyed the final hole.
While Connolly struggled to pull away it was Hughes, a former AmateurGolf.com Player of the Year, who surged. He rolled in birdies on Nos. 11, 12 and 14 to tie for the lead at 9-under. Once Hughes moved even it was an up-and-down trip to the finish that went bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie. The final birdie, his seventh of the day, proving to be the tournament clincher.
Zach Smith tied Connolly for second place at 8-under and had a back nine run of his own that came up just short. Playing one group ahead of the lead group, Smith bogeyed the 10th and 12th holes to fall to 4-under but he then put together a mad dash to the finish with birdies coming on Nos. 14-16 to draw within two shots and then one more birdie on the 18th to post 8-under. Smith fell just short with his Wednesday 4-under 68.
Rounding out the top-5 were the fourth place duo of Branson Davis and Spencer Painton (Colorado) at 7-under.
Defending champion Wes Artec ended up in a group that tied for sixth. After shooting a 1-over 73 on Monday Artec rebounded with two under-par rounds to close out his week. Artec was 6-under for the tournament.