A very special day at TPC Summerlin, home of the PGA Tour Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, was a year in the making. Six players of the year were honored and eight other golfers kicked off the 2021 season with a victory in the prestigious Tournament of Champions. J.J. Gresco (Championship), Steven Fink (Senior), Doug Pool (Silver), Kim Braaten (Women’s), Jason Berton (Net), Freddie Sarno (Senior Net), Steve Liggett (Silver Net) and Debbie Love (Women’s Net) came away with titles. The Players of the Year were Kenny Ebalo (Championship), Trevor Coss (net), David Golder (senior net), Kelly Knievel (senior gross), Dario Gonzales (silver net) and John Turk (silver gross). –by Bill Bowman, Las Vegas Golf Insider staff.
The tournament, which is by invitation only, had a field of 75 players tee it up. Included were SNGA, WSNGA, NSGA and club champions.
J.J. Gresco used a five-birdie, one-bogey round to win the Championship Division, beating Grant McKay in a scorecard playoff.
Gresco, a senior at UNLV who is coming off winning the 2020 Clark County Amateur late last year, said his play at a recent UNLV event was a big factor in his victory.
“We actually just got back from Tucson and I had a top-25 at the University of Arizona event,” he said. “I was kind of struggling going down to Tucson but was managing my game. I started off well the first day but when it came to the third day I figured something out on the range and things clicked and I transferred that to today and it’s all been good.”
He said his overall play at TPC Summerlin was solid.
“I didn’t make many mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t have any three putts and managed my game really well. When chances came to make birdies, I made a lot of them.”
He wasn’t sure about the victory until they got into the clubhouse after the round.
“I had a putt on 18 that lipped out and I thought we were going into a playoff,” he said.
He said he knows exactly how McKay feels when a player loses in a scorecard playoff.
“Trust me, I’ve been there,” he said. “The one that still haunts me was in high school. I made a 20-footer on the last hole and thought I was going into a playoff but then learned I lost in a scorecard playoff.”
J.J. Gresco, 68
Grant McKay, 68
Greg Horodesky, 71
Jason Berton put seven net birdies on the scorecard and held on for a one-stroke win in the Net Division.
Berton won two net titles in 2020 and said to win this early in 2021 was the ideal way to start the year.
“It’s really nice to win but I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” Berton said. “I didn’t play well the last few holes so I had no idea where I stood.”
In the end, he said his game plan appears to be working.
“I’m just trying to play smarter golf,” he said. “I’m trying to minimize the damage. I really don’t like going into the arroyo looking for a golf ball.”
He said his group also helped him out…a lot.
“I was watching them the whole round,” he said. “I made choices knowing I was playing with golfers who are much smarter than me. I just want to keep getting better and by learning as much as I can from watching others it’s going to help me in the end.”
Jason Berton, 72
Steve Johnson, 73
James Kim, 73
Steven Fink played a five-hole stretch (9-13) four-under-par with an eagle and two birdies and cruised to a seven-shot victory.
For the day, Fink had five birdies and an eagle to go along with a pair of bogeys.
“I played extremely well on the front nine,” Fink said. “It played as a pretty short course today and I hit my high-launch 3-wood where it needed to be, struck some good irons and made some putts. Everything you need to do to give yourself a chance.”
He added even his bogeys, on the 16th and 18th holes, didn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“On the 16th (a par-5) I was 225 yards out,” he said. “I didn’t have to go for it but felt like I would have no problem getting there. The shot hit on the other side and went back into the water and I made a bogey. I also bogeyed the 18th but it was no problem. I still played a very good round of golf. I played to my ability and that’s good.”
Steven Fink, 68
Gary Carpendale, 77
Jed Shreve, 78
A one-under-par back nine gross score helped Freddie Sarno breeze to an 11-stroke victory in the Senior Net Division.
“I putted extremely well,” he said. “And I managed my game well. I haven’t been playing much and I haven’t been playing well so it was nice to play a solid round.”
To showcase his recent play, he said he played a practice round the day before the tournament.
“I shot an 86 and just played horrible,” he said. “But I used it as preparation and played good today and had a good time.”
He added playing TPC Summerlin was a bonus.
“I’ve played TPC Summerlin a bunch so I know a lot of the nuances and that helped as well,” he said. “Plus the tees were up and the course played short. I had a lot of wedges in and took advantage.”
Freddie Sarno, 67
David Golder, 78
Brian Freymueller, 79
Doug Pool put three birdies on the scorecard, along with a lone double bogey, and won the Silver Division by three strokes.
Pool won twice last year including the 2020 Nevada State Senior. He birdied the first hole, added birdies on six and 13 and was off and running.
“It was a pretty smooth day,” Pool said. “I hit it down the middle and then hit it close. I just didn’t make many putts. When you’re hitting a wedge into most greens you can get it close.”
He said his double bogey on 17 was tough to swallow.
“I just missed my spot on 17 and the ball wound up in a downhill lie,” he said. “I couldn’t go at the pin with my second shot and wound up with a double. That was disappointing.”
But in the end, he knows there’s still work to be done.
“I hit some horrible bunker shots,” he said. “In fact I’m going out there (Tuesday) to see if I can figure it out.”
Doug Pool, 71
Chris Boyer, 74
John Turk, 76
Steve Liggett, who won his first SNGA title early last year at the 2020 SNGA Championship, recorded a natural birdie and six net birdies in posting a one-stroke victory in the Silver Net.
“I had never played the course before but the more the round went on the more comfortable I got,” he said. “I really like the course and the greens. It was just a solid day.”
He said his goal off the tee was simple: hit fairways.
“I played pretty conservative and hit more fairway woods off the tee just trying to keep the ball in play,” he said. “There’s some trouble out there so I tried to play smart and give myself better looks off the tee.”
His putting topped off the day.
“I putted pretty well all day,” he said. “My speed was good and I didn’t leave myself much stress on second putts. I had about a 50-footer on No. 8 and got it to within a foot so I was really comfortable on the greens.”
Steve Liggett, 71
Dario Gonzales, 72
Scott Walker, 73
Kim Braaten said two swings helped her win the Women’s Division.
“I had two shots that really were pretty good and helped me a lot,” she said. “My second shot into 16 (a par-5 with water fronting the green) was scary. I had 170 yards in and was between clubs. I even backed off the shot and tried to control my breathing.”
It all worked out as she left herself eight feet for eagle.
“I missed the eagle putt but made the birdie,” she said. “I was just happy to be able to execute that second shot.”
The other one was a hit-or-miss shot. This one she hit.
“On No. 5 I had a plugged lie in the bunker but was able to get it up and down for a par,” she said. “It was one of those shots you just never know what might happen.”
Overall, she said her putting was also a big factor in the win.
“I drove the ball pretty decent and that helped for sure,” she said. “But I made enough putts to save me. I love putting these greens.”
Kim Braaten, 78
Renee Rocco, 81
Ronda Henderson, 82
Debbie Love had a net eagle and three net birdies to win the Women’s Net.
Love recorded an eagle on her 12th hole (No. 3) and finished off the round with a net birdie on her 18th hole (No. 9) for the win.
“I played pretty consistent,” Love said. “I had two bad holes. One of them was 18 where I had a triple. And I didn’t even hit it in the water. I just had a couple of dumb shots. I had two good shots and then hit a bad chip that rolled back to me. Then when I got on the green I three-putted. That just wasn’t a good hole.”
But it got better.
“I had a 15-footer for birdie on No. 3 and wound up with a net birdie and then had a net birdie on No. 9 so I finished pretty well,” she said.
She said her overall play was consistent…but she’s looking for better.
“I hit the ball pretty consistently but missed some putts,” she said. “In reality, with the chilly weather, I played OK. But there’s always room for improvement.
Debbie Love, 77
Theresa Prospero, 80
Sherry Jackson, 80