Kenai Golf Course fired back with a pair of young guns of its own on Friday in the second day of the three-day, fifth annual Twin Cities Walker Cup at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna.
The contest pits the best from Kenai against the best from Birch Ridge in a day of alternate shot, a day of best ball and a day of singles matches.
On Thursday, Birch Ridge won the alternate shot 5-1 to take a commanding lead, but Friday Kenai came back to take the best ball 4-2 and cut Birch Ridge's lead to 7-5 heading into today's 12 singles matches, which start at 1 p.m. at Birch Ridge.
"I was looking to get back two points," Kenai captain Gordon Griffin said. "We're only two down and there are 12 points to be decided on Sunday. I do believe we're back in it."
Birch Ridge has a 2-1-1 edge in Walker Cup history thanks in part to its sterling junior program, which usually contributes three or four of the better players to the team. This year, Kenai also is getting crucial points from young players. The pairing of Derek Crowder and Truckee LeMay earned Kenai its only point on Thursday and picked up a dramatic victory on Friday.
Crowder and LeMay said they had to convince Griffin to pair them together.
"Gordon said that pairing us together was either going to turn out really good or really bad," said Crowder, a recent graduate of Kenai Central who will play golf at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore. "It feels good being 2-0."
Griffin said that the 1-up victory Crowder and LeMay notched against Nolan Rose and Rusty Weaver was Kenai's biggest upset on Friday.
LeMay and Crowder were up four holes heading into the back nine before the Birch Ridge duo started fighting back. Rose and Weaver won Nos. 11, 13 and 14 to move within one of Crowder and LeMay. On the par-4, 325-yard 14th, Rose, a graduate of Birch Ridge's junior program, drove onto a gravel road, but picked his second shot cleanly off the stones and put it within 4 feet for a stunning birdie.
"That snapped us back into it," said LeMay, who will be a senior at Kenai Central this year. "We gave up too much. We had to start playing again."
LeMay and Crowder had their one-shot lead going into the par-3, 180-yard 17th. Rose stuck his tee shot into the blind green within a foot, but Crowder answered by chipping in from the fringe from about 7 feet.
"Nolan was just playing incredible. He's a good friend and this was a great match," Crowder said. "This is the kind of match you dream about."
On the par-4, 350-yard 18th hole, LeMay got into the act by chipping in from the fringe from about 7 feet for a par. Rose had a birdie putt from about 10 feet that would have halved the match, but he missed it.
"I got a little nervous putting them together, but they definitely pulled it out," Griffin said.
The LeMay-Crowder win put Kenai up 3-2 for the day. The only match left on the course was between Kenai's Doug Jung and Todd Eskelin and Birch Ridge's Mike Chenault and George Stein.
Chenault tightened up the match on No. 16 by making a par to move his team within one hole. On the 17th, both Eskelin and Stein had long birdie putts that just missed. On the 18th, Eskelin closed out the match by sinking a 20-foot, double-breaker for par.
"I saw it, picked a path for the line and got lucky with the speed," Eskelin said.
Kenai's two other victories came from Jim Bradford and Rene Alvarez, who defeated Eddie Sibolboro and Mike Edwards six holes up with five to play, and Chris Morin and Bob Sizemore, who defeated Mike Hollingsworth and Jay Kriner 5 and 4.
"Bob played really good for 10 of the holes, and I had good holes when he didn't," Morin said. "We ham-and-egged it."
Birch Ridge's two victories came from Gary Stackhouse and Paul Zimmerman, who defeated John Dahlgren and Jerry Norris 4 and 3, and Zac Cowan and Taylor Jackson, who defeated Tommy Carver and Craig Jung 6 and 4.
Both Griffin and Birch Ridge captain Tom Walsh said the victory of Stackhouse and Zimmerman was an upset. Stackhouse is now 2-0 in this Walker Cup.
"Gary Stackhouse was shooting phenomenal golf," Zimmerman said. "I play with him all the time, and he played really well today. We leaned on each other."
In the Cowan and Jackson victory, Kenai ran into the full force of Birch Ridge's junior program. Cowan and Jackson moved to 2-0 in this Walker Cup. Aaron Andrus, the team's fourth graduate of the junior program, did not play Friday but won on Thursday.
"We were the sacrificial lambs today," Craig Jung said. "Taylor was good, but Zac was phenomenal."
"I'd hit it within 10 feet, then he'd go within 2 feet," he said of Cowan. "When we hit the fairway, we were going to win the hole."
In the alternate shot and best ball, handicaps are not taken into account. Handicaps will be used today, but Walsh said that does not mean an advantage for either team.
"We have the only advantage, and that's that we're up two heading into Sunday," Walsh said.
After losing the Walker Cup at Kenai Golf Course last year, Kenai players know it will be tough to repeat the feat of two years ago by taking the cup back at Birch Ridge.
"Soldotna has a lot of young players that are very good," Eskelin said. "On any given day, most of them would beat us. It's a grind playing against them on their own course."
Twin Cities Walker Cup
Friday at Birch Ridge
Kenai 4, Birch Ridge 2
Truckee LeMay-Derek Crowder, Ken, def. Nolan Rose-Rusty Weaver, 1-up; Jim Bradford-Rene Alvarez, Ken, def. Eddie Sibolboro-Mike Edwards, 6 and 5; Chris Morin-Bob Sizemore, Ken, def. Mike Hollingsworth-Jay Kriner, 5 and 4; Gary Stackhouse-Paul Zimmerman, BR, def. John Dahlgren-Jerry Norris, 4 and 3; Doug Jung-Todd Eskelin, Ken, def. Mike Chenault-George Stein, 1-up; Zac Cowan-Taylor Jackson, BR, def. Tommy Carver-Craig Jung, 6 and 4.
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