Tournament of Champions
Sun Valley Resort stood tall this fall as it debuted not only the new White Clouds nine, but also welcomed (by invitation only) amateur golfers from around Idaho to compete in the 2008 IGA Tournament of Champions last September.
On a bright sunny day, 98 golfers took on the two-day challenge at the prestigious course and, by the end of the tournament, a vigorous youth movement dominated the field.
Ali Thompson and Chris Byrne, both of Boise, were crowned the 2008 Overall Champions. Thompson, 17, is a senior at Timberline High School in Boise and Byrne, 20, is a sophomore at Boise State University.
While Byrne’s win was a dominant one (shooting a 70 on the first day and a 71 on the second for a score of 141, and never trailing the entire tournament), Thompson struggled at the beginning. At the end of the first day she shot a 78 and trailed the leader by six strokes; however, Thompson’s dexterity came through in the end and she rallied with a 71 on the second day for an exciting come-from-behind round to win the crystal trophy.
Denise Oliver led through the first day of the women’s division while shooting a 72. Oliver couldn’t match her start on the second day and the course took a toll as she fell off the leader board and finished fifth with a score of 91.
The first day Thompson found herself knee-deep in hazards. The fast greens were tough to get hold of and also played a major part in Thompson’s slow start. With her determination to play better, combined with the experience of her caddie, Thompson was able to control the greens on the second day.
“The second day I stayed out of trouble and began putting better,” says Thompson, who has already competed in more than 100 tournaments in her young golfing career. “I did everything a little bit better. The first day the speed of the greens took me awhile to get used to, but on the second day I got them down.”
With tight fairways to give the long ball some trouble, the short-game didn’t give golfers much of a break either, due to the mercilessly fast greens. Thompson was able to tweak her game to accommodate the Sun Valley greens, but others were not so lucky.
Thompson adds that one of her main concerns while trying to make her comeback was to focus on getting the ball close to the pin. With a perfect swing, comfortable putting and the advice from her caddie, it wasn’t any wonder why Thompson succeeded.
“I just got in my regular mindset and got pretty intense,” says Thompson about the second day. “I just took one shot at a time and focused the entire round. Everything started going well for me.”
Winning is nothing new for either Byrne or Thompson. Byrne’s resume is an impressive one, indeed. He shot 12-under par to win the Wapati Open in John Day, Oregon, in July, and won the Boise Ranch Club Championship a month later by nine strokes. He was a 5A SIC District Champion while a senior at Borah High, and also represented Idaho at the 2006 Trusted Choice Big “I” Junior Classic in Odessa, Texas. He was also namedthe 2005 Rocky Mountain Section Junior Player of the Year.
While still in high school, Thompson has already shown flashes of greatness. At the age of 15, the Idaho Golf Association ranked her third in the state and, at the age of 16, she won the 2007 Idaho State Junior Championships, where she had the lowest round of the tournament with 75. She finished the 2007 year as the top-ranked girl in the state by the IGA. She is also a Big “I” Qualifier and a Junior World Qualifier.
Caldwell’s Cali Hipp was steady and consistent, coming in second in the tournament. Hipp also started off a bit sluggish, shooting an 83 on the first day, but quickly rebounded on the second day with a 70, which turned out to be the second day’s best score.
Byrne dominated the Men’s division. Byrne, whose average is a 69 with a +2 handicap, primarily used his 3-iron and says the course’s narrow fairways were one of the more difficult aspects. During the tournament, golfers learned that it is more valuable to keep the ball straight, rather than to try to muscle the ball down the fairway.
Byrne also says he kept to his game the entire way and because he played with more irons than usual, he was able to keep the ball in play. Byrne made it look seamless by the end of the tournament, winning by 10 strokes in front of the runner-up, Ken Spraker.
“I just stuck to my game plan,” says Byrne. “I tried to stay focused and tried to control what I could control, like my game and my thoughts. I wasn’t worried about the other competitors.”
In a much tighter division, Christopher James and Gordon Barry tied for the Senior Men’s division with a score of 150. The two golfers had an identical score card on both days, shooting 77 on the first day and 73 on the second. Joe Malay was close behind with a score of 151.
Lynne Davies won the Senior Women’s easily with a gross score of 160 as she split both days with a score of 80 each. Davies never trailed during the tournament.
While skill and mental focus usually govern the game of golf, a little luck can add to the excitement. On the par-3 fourth hole from 160 yards out, Mark Dance nailed the tournament’s only hole-in-one.
Sun Valley local Matt Meador of Hailey was the only Blaine County resident to compete in the tournament. With a 72 in the first round, Meador trailed by just one stroke behind Eric G. Peterson after the first day. Peterson was a tough golfer to catch up to as Meador eventually dropped to third place after shooting a 76 on the second day for a total of 148. Lee Reed came in second with 146.
Sun Valley is a very unforgiving course, so the smaller the mistakes the better and, in Meador’s case, one bad hole can mean the tournament. Meador, 32, who is originally from Pocatello, says he got a bit greedy on the second day on the eighth hole, which kept him from making any progress on Peterson.
“I tried to hit my driver and got a bogey,” says Meador. “I ended up making a double bogey and couldn’t recover for the rest of the day. I really felt like I could win that tournament. I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t at least finish second.”
But the field of players was far from mediocre. Meador adds that the tournament featured the best of the best amateur golfers in Idaho, which added to the challenge and fun. Most golfers would say the course is one of the toughest in Idaho because there is hardly any margin of error, which requires great precision.
Concludes Meador, “It’s not a course that you can bang your driver around and get away with it.”
Photography Tim Brown
Text Jon Mentzer