A display of guts and skill paid off for Chase Hanna on Sunday.
Hanna fended off Tom Watson by 1 stroke and won the Watson Challenge golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club. Hanna, a 20-year-old who plays for the University of Kansas golf team, became the first amateur to win the tournament in its nine-year existence.
All afternoon, it seemed that Hanna would escape from wherever on the course he was.
“I was confident all day,” Hanna said. “I was striking the ball really well.”
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Hanna exuded that confidence on No. 18 where, leading by a stroke, he drove the ball straight down the narrow fairway. That set himself up for a tournament-clinching par when Watson, a five-time tournament champion who was tied for the lead going into Sunday, couldn’t convert a tough birdie putt.
“It really sealed the deal right there,” Watson said of his opponent’s final drive. “It was a gutsy play and he played a great shot.
“He had a lot of ‘get up and go,’ and in my age, I’ve got a lot of ‘no go.’ ”
The harrowed 17th hole almost proved disastrous for Hanna, as his second shot fell well below the green next to a creek. From the high weeds, his approach shot left him within 6 feet of the pin, and he made par.
“I just wanted to give myself a chance,” said Hanna. “Fortunately I started out with a great first round and say ‘Keep setting the pace, keep setting the pace.’ I just finished it off well today.”
Hanna birdied holes 8-10 to put him at 4 under par and gave him a lead he would never fully relinquish. He finished the tournament 4 under par after a final round 69, while Watson shot an even 70 Sunday to finish at 3 under par.
Hanna bogeyed No. 14, but Watson bogeyed the next hole, giving the lead back. Hanna kept it the rest of the way.
On No. 16, Hanna sank a 25-foot birdie put that crept in the front edge of the cup.
“I was making the putts when it mattered,” he said.
Watson countered with a lengthy birdie putt of his own to keep himself 1 stroke back.
“Today was kind of a struggle all day,” Watson said, who added he thought he was in control only during the front nine Saturday.
Michael Letzig, the third member of the leader group starting Sunday’s round, fell to 1 under par on the tournament by shooting a 2-over 72 on Sunday. He finished third.
None of the leaders putted well in the beginning, squandering birdie chances and opportunities to establish a lead. That is, until Hanna got hot.
For Hanna, the win was redemptive. He was unhappy with his performance in the semifinal of the 2014 Kansas Amateur at Mission Hills but definitely pleased with this outing.
“It meant a lot to come out and be successful here,” Hanna said.
All proceeds from the tournament go to First Tee of Greater Kansas City, an organization that encourages child involvement in the game. This year, between donations and ticket sales, the tournament raised a record $95,000. Over nine years now, the Watson Challenge has raised more than $500,000 for the organization.
“It gives us an opportunity to increase our outreach in the community,” said Robert Sweeney, program director of First Tee. “We can train more coaches, offer more scholarships, create some programs in the urban core as well build some First Tee sites around the city.”