Featured photo: Ross Sinclair strolls off the 18th green after winning the 79th-annual Greater Albuquerque Men’s City Golf Championship on Sunday at Los Altos (Mark Smith).
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
After a monster drive and easy 2-putt birdie on the par 5 16th hole, Ross Sinclair seemingly erased any possible closing drama in the final round of the 79th-annual Greater Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship.
Until he didn’t.
However, after nearly seeing all of a four-shot lead evaporate on the final two holes, the University of New Mexico senior golfer steadied himself with a pair of clutch putts to take a one-shot win over Aidan Thomas and Aiden Krafft on Sunday at Los Altos Golf Course.
Krafft set the tournament record with a 12-under 60 and nearly pulled off an unimaginable comeback.
Neil Parasher and defending champion Simon Miller were two back.
“It’s crazy,” said Sinclair, who closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the 54-hole event at 12-under 204. ” It’s golf. This game is great.”
Sinclair was having a great event after a 68 in Friday’s opening round at Ladera and a 66 in Saturday’s second round at Arroyo del Oso. He had a two-shot lead over Parasher heading into Sunday.
Sinclair looked to have another sub-70 round in his hip pocket, as well as the title, when his birdie on 16 left him 14-under and a fat four shots ahead of Parasher and Thomas with just two short par 4s remaining.
Miller, also playing in the final foursome, made birdie on 16 but was six shots out.
Then came a wild 10-minute stretch that tossed Sinclair’s apparent cakewalk home into a mixing bowl.
“I was feeling comfortable,” Sinclair said with a laugh. “It’s funny, because I was talking to Aiden Thomas’ dad after 16th hole and he said, ‘It’s not over yet.’
“I said, ‘I know it, it’s never over.’ Then I made a really big mistake in that tree. Things changed in a hurry.”
As Sinclair and the rest of the lead group stood on the tee of the 340-yard downhill 17th, they received word that Krafft — playing two groups in front of them — had just birdied 18 and finished 11 under.
Because there were no scorekeepers following Krafft and his group, it was the first any of the leaders had heard about how he tearing up the course.
That reduced Sinclair’s lead to three.
Sinclair caught a break when his tee shot had actually landed just in-bounds, but was in dirt and behind a tree.
He wasn’t as fortunate with his second shot.
“I was trying to chip out an 8-iron to the back part of the green, but I was kind of blocked out by the tree,” he said. “I got too cute with it, trying to hit a draw to the back of the green. It’s such a short shot, you’re not going to get it to turn.”
Scorekeepers said the shot hit the tree, ricocheted back and this time did land out of bounds.
After the one-stoke penalty, Sinclair then played his fourth shot from the same spot behind the tree.
It was game on.
Sinclair punched his ball around the tree, but it ran all the way through the green and about five yards past.
Parasher and Thomas both had birdie opportunities that could have moved them to 11 under and put even more pressure on Sinclair, but both missed their putts after Sinclear chipped about 4 feet past the hole.
Sinclair drained the nail-biter — but for double bogey — and dropped to 12 under and just a shot ahead of Krafft.
Sinclair found trouble again with his tee shot on 18, pulling it into the deep rough and close to more trees. Parasher and Thomas blistered drives and were both within 8 feet for birdie after great approach shots.
Sinclair hit his approach to the back of the green, about 40 feet above the hole. He then ran his birdie putt 3 feet by the cup.
Thomas made his birdie putt to go to 11 under, but Parasher missed his less than an inch to fall out of the title chase.
Sinclair then took a deep breath under his face mask — which all players were required to wear per Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s COVID-19 restrictions — and took his turn. A miss, and there would have been a three-way, sudden-death playoff.
“My putting is definitely one of the weaker parts of my game,” Sinclair said. “I made a good 4-footer on 17 to help settle my nerves a little, but I still was really nervous on 18.
“Things were happening, my mind was running. But I could still calm myself enough to hit that putt.”
He did just that, and took another huge breath — and the title.
“Relief and excitement,” he said.
Parasher, a junior at Academy High School, who shot a 7-under 65 to grab the first-round lead at Ladera, said he felt good for Sinclair.
“He’s a good guy, and I had a lot of fun playing with him,” said Parasher, who had to get home and cram for a pair of tests on Monday at Academy. “I had my chances, but I missed some big putts in the final holes and had the problem on 15.”
Parasher was 12 under when he “tried to muscle” a 6-iron on the par 3 15th, and flew it way over the green and into the dirt. He eventually made double bogey.
Thomas never got closer than two shots of the lead until the final hole, but nearly found himself in a playoff .
“I had a pretty good round,” said Thomas, who is a sophomore at New Mexico State and won two state high school titles at St. Pius. “But I didn’t capitalize on enough opportunities.”
Thomas had rounds of 70-68-67.
Miller birdied his final three holes for a 68. He shot 70-68 the first two days.
“Too little, too late,” said the 27-year-old Miller, a former Albuquerque Academy star who birdied the final three holes. “I had a solid tournament, but didn’t get it going soon enough today.”
Krafft didn’t have such issues, making birdie on the par 4 second hole and eagle on the par 5 third.
Had it not been for some misfortune during the opening round at Ladera, the championship could have very well been his as well as the one-record record.
“I played really well that first day, and could have been 6-under,” said the 16-year-old Krafft, a state high school champion as a freshman and a close friend of Parasher’s. “I had a 74, but hit it a lot better than that. I had three lost balls.
“After that round, I said ‘I’m going to have the greatest comeback of all time.’ But (Saturday) I didn’t do as good as I thought I would.”
After a 71 on Saturday at Arroyo, he was 11 shots off the lead.
“I still thought I could get up there with the leaders if I really shot a good round,” he said. “I always have the thought that I can win. But I’m really happy with what I did. I gave it a good run.”
Krafft made seven birdies, three eagles and just one bogey (the par 3 13th).
He had eagles on both par 5s on the front 9, birdied the par 5 14th and missed a 10-footer for birdie on the par 5 16th.
He hit his drive to the green on the par 4 17th — missing the cup by a foot on the fly — and drained a 6-footer for the eagle.
Tournament director David Muttitt and Los Altos director of golf Colby Reddoch said Krafft’s score probably will not officially be the course record, because the course was wet and the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway.
But they believe it will stand as a tournament record, breaking the previous mark of 61 set at least three times.
Shaun Payne (71-71-67) finished sixth at 7-under 209 with Josh Walker — the runaway winner of the President’s flight — seventh at 4 under.
Walker, whose 2.1 handicap left him just shy of qualifying for the Championship flight (1.9-below), shot 69-72-71 for a 212.
Eric Archuleta and Scott Blank tied for second at 227.
“I’m playing in the Championship flight for sure next year,” said Walker, who was eligible for the overall title because of playing from the same tee boxes. “I would have liked to have played with the leaders in the championship flight in the final round. Maybe next year, I will.”
Ryan Sierra and Dean Lacoursiere tied for fifth at 5 over and Mike Taylor was seventh at 6 over.
First flight: Darren Arnold led all three rounds and shot a net 2-under 214 to win. Mel Patterson and Marcos Infante tied for second at 3 over.
Second flight: Felix Madrid, Jr. closed with a net 71 to finish at 1-under 215 and a five-shot win over Don Ortega.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is covering the Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Championship for the 41st straight year.
See this link for some of his memories after he covered the event for the final time in 2017 for the Albuquerque Journal.
Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him atmark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.