Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Three rounds of golf weren’t enough to decide the 56th Navajo Trail Open at Durango’s Hillcrest Golf Club.
After an incredible par save on the 18th hole, Jere Pelletier worked his way into a playoff with recent Western New Mexico graduate Calum Hill. The duo matched each other shot for shot on the first two playoff holes, but Pelletier made a birdie on No. 3, the third playoff hole, to win the 2017 Navajo Trail Open title.
“It means a lot to me because Calum is such a great player and this is always a tournament that attracts some accomplished players,” Pelletier said with his trophy in hand. “I didn’t play well here last year so that makes it even more special. My wedge game was a bit underwhelming for most of the day, but it came through when I needed it most.”
Pelletier was tied for the lead at 7-under heading down the 18th fairway. Hill was already safely in the clubhouse, but Pelletier flew his approach shot over the green into a tough spot.
“I didn’t think I hit it that far,” he said. “I thought I’d be pin high just right of the flag. I got up there and I didn’t have much.”
The only chance he had to get up and down was to land the ball in a small area in the fringe and let it release to the tricky hole location. It worked out as well as he could have hoped and Pelletier drained an uphill 4-foot putt to shoot 2-under-par, 69 on the 7,100, par-71 course and send the tournament to a playoff.
Hill played in the second to last group and with playing partner Tom Kalinowski who birdied 14, 16 and 17 to pull into a three-way tie. However, the local favorite was unable to save par on 18 and finished in third place at 6-under.
Hill narrowly missed a 15-foot birdie try on the last hole, but saved par and came in with the clubhouse lead after a final-round 68. The two met at the scorer’s table, signed their cards, and went directly to the first tee for the playoff.
Pelletier nearly holed out from 98 yards. His tap-in birdie forced Hill to make an 8-footer to stay alive – and he did.
After both players hit poor wedge shots into the second playoff hole, it was Pelletier who needed to make a putt to stay alive after both players hit poor wedge shots – and he made a 15-foot, downhill, right-to-left slider to keep the playoff going.
“I just told myself to give it enough speed because if I missed I knew it was over,” Pelletier said. “I tried to convince myself that there was nobody around and make a stroke like I was just practicing. It worked out perfect.”
Both players found the fairway bunker on the par-5 third hole. Pelletier hit his ball up the hill just short of the green, but Hill’s lie in the trap wasn’t pretty.
“It was close to the lip so I couldn’t get my left foot planted very well,” Hill said. “I had to play it off my left toe instead of more toward the middle of my stance and it just went left.”
The ball found the water hazard left of the No. 3 green. Like a true competitor, he was able to get the ball up and in after taking a penalty stroke, which forced Pelletier to make his 4-foot birdie putt to win.
“That just speaks volumes about how good of a player Calum is,” Pelletier said. “He made that putt and I looked at mine and it looked like it was twice as long as it was before. I just trusted it and it went in.”
Pelletier walked away with the $5,500 first-place prize and Hill took home $3,500 for second place. Though Pelletier came away as the winner, there was also another winner this week: Hillcrest Golf Club.
“It’s great to see some of these young kids just coming out of college and turning pro get tested on a golf course with these greens the way they are,” Hillcrest head professional John Vickers said. “They were so tough, but they were fair and in perfect condition. Every year the golf course isn’t that long tee to green, but if you go back in the records you see the place holds up. So, thanks to the players, volunteers and staff for another great year.”
Joe Fries/Durango Herald