Al Fry had never won an individual stroke-play golf tournament in his life.
Having played the sport since his early twenties, Fry, now 68, has finished third before. He's even been runner-up.
Never a champion, though.
Owning a one-shot lead in the Master's Division First Flight after play on Friday, Fry finished what he started, shooting a Master's-best 80 on Saturday in capturing the low-gross title with a 161 in the two-day, 18th Annual Birch Ridge Golf Association Grainge Memorial Senior Tournament at Birch Ridge in Soldotna.
"Sixty-eight years is a long time to wait for the first one," Fry laughed. "It feels pretty darn good. You're playing against equal people, your peers and what-not, so there's no doubt about it, it's nice to win."
Out of 17 golfers competing in both Master's divisions, Fry recorded the lone round in the 30s for nine holes, shooting a 38 on the back nine Saturday in propelling himself to the championship.
His longtime friend and playing partner on Saturday, Vince Mee, posted a double bogey and bogey on hole Nos. 16 and 17, respectively, in falling seven strokes shy with a 168.
"He had one bad hole back there," Fry said. "It kind of hurt him."
Dave Keating won the net title in the Master's First Flight after a card-off, shooting an 82 in finishing with a net-141. In the Master's Division, Second Flight, Sid Cox followed his opening-day 90 with a 93 in taking the gross championship with a 183, while Dan McGhee (97-90) took home the low net crown.
Mike Chenault (77-78) was named low-gross champion in the Men's Junior Division, while Mike Hollingsworth (81-75) earned the low-net title; Linda Murphy (97-99) took home low gross of the Ladies Master's Division and Barbara Mee (100-102) won low net; and Tanna Chenault (93-99) won Ladies Junior Division low-gross honors, while Sue Stein (98-102) claimed low net.
Tanna Chenault and Brown both agreed the back nine nearly cost them their honors.
"The front nine wasn't bad, the back nine, none of us played good the back nine," said Chenault, citing a 10 on the par-5 16th, a hole she struggled with after recording a seven on it the first time around. "I pulled it in the woods a couple times. It was awful."
Murphy shot a 46 on the front on Saturday before picking up a 53 on the back.
"The front nine was a lot of fun because I played well on the front nine. Unfortunately the back nine was not the same story," she said. "My game fell apart on the back nine. The back was a struggle. But at the end of the day it was still enough to win."
Fry had more than enough to claim his first win.
Following his opening-round 81, he birdied No. 1 on Saturday, the lone birdie of his round.
"But there was only one direction to go after that and that was down," he said. "And that's what happened."
He then bookended a bogey with a pair of doubles in dropping to 4-over after the first four holes.
Maintaining his composure at that point, he said he basically started over.
He dropped two more strokes on back-to-back bogeys but finished with pars in two of his final three holes in making the turn at 7-over with a 42.
"I figured, OK, I'm kind of still in there. So play decent on the back and play it safe," he said, adding he may have been thinking too much of being the leader after the first round. "That's probably what happened on the first couple holes. I may have been thinking about that a little bit.
"Even in a tournament like this, it's the pressure."
He again had trouble to begin his final nine, bogeying three of the first five holes, but salvaged a par on the par-4 12th, using an 8-iron to escape the rough following a wayward tee shot.
"The pin was fairly close and because of the lie in the rough, chances are you're not really going to get a good lofted shot," he recalled, "so I decided to keep it low and bump it up on the green.
"I'm happy if I walk off with a bogey and just thrilled if I walk off with a par."
Following the bogey on No. 14, Fry parred out the final three holes in finishing with a 38.
"That felt awfully good," he said. "The swing came together on the back and it just started happening, putting the ball in the fairway and on the green and two putts. I had one three-putt green in two days, so that's pretty good. That's good for me."
After an off-day for his driver on Thursday, Fry had it zeroed in Saturday.
"The driver was working very well today," he said. "That's almost my automatic club, the driver."
Murphy, who won the tournament a couple of years ago, said it's always nice to finish on top, but it really doesn't matter.
"I never enter one of these thinking that I'm going to win," she said. "Because I don't have that kind of game."
She did on Saturday.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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