As he stepped to the tee box on the 18th hole of Sunday’s final round of the Rosauers Open Invitational golf tournament, Kyle Kelly had an inkling his lead might not be as safe as those in the gallery following the final threesome might have thought.
But it wasn’t until he completed his long walk up the steep fairway at Indian Canyon Golf Course’s 449-yard, par-5 finishing hole and got a glimpse of the scoreboard that he realized it was more precarious than even he had figured.
At that time, the 32-year-old Spokane native and head professional at Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., was at 15-under-par and three shots clear of playing partner and defending champion Corey Prugh, who was thought by many to be his closest challenger.
Yet there, on the scoreboard, was the slap-in-the-face notice that Brandon Kearney, playing a couple of groups ahead of Kelly, Prugh and Bellevue amateur Derek Berg, had posted a final-round 7-under 64 to finish 14 strokes under par for the tournament.
Kelly, after pushing his tee shot on 18 into the right rough, had just yanked his second shot short and left of the green and was looking at having to get down in three from 60 yards out and make par to secure the championship he had coveted since turning pro.
“And that’s a really tough shot when you’re about to puke on your shoes,” said the North Central High School graduate, who played collegiately at Eastern Washington University.
But Kelly managed to knock his third shot to within 30 feet of the hole and then two-putted for a par 5 that put the finishing touches on the uneven final round of two-under par 69 that earned him his first Rosauers title, along with the $11,000 check that goes to the winner of the $135,000 Pacific Northwest PGA event.
“It’s been a dream of mine to win the Rosauers since I first became a club pro,” said Kelly, who worked as an assistant at the 6,255-yard, par-71 Indian Canyon layout and The Creek at Qualchan before leaving the area eight years ago and hiring on at Tamarisk, where he spent four years as an assistant before being promoted to head professional.
“And it’s probably even more special now that I don’t live here any more, but get to come back and do this in front of all my family and friends. I’ve said before that this is my favorite time of the year, and winning today made it even better.”
Kelly finished the 54-hole event at 15-under par 196, a stroke ahead of Kearney, a pro playing out of Bend (Ore.) Golf & Country Club, and two strokes up on Prugh, an assistant pro at Manito Country Club. Prugh, who entered Sunday’s final round in second place, but trailing Kelly by four strokes, took advantage of Kelly’s timid putting and a front-nine 32 to tie for the lead.
And he went a stroke up on the par-4 10th, when Kelly drove it into the woods and made bogey. But when he missed a 2½-foot birdie putt on the par-5 12th – which Kelly birdied – and then made a tacky bogey on the par-4 16th, his hopes of successfully defending the title he won with a record score of 192 last year were dashed.
Kelly, after booming his drive more than 350 yards on the downhill 16th and making birdie, was suddenly three shots up on Prugh.
“But I had heard Kearney was at 12 under with 17 and 18 still to play, so I figured he still had a chance to get to minus-14,” said Kelly, who admitted to battling some nerves early on that affected his putting.
“I just couldn’t let it go,” he said of his balky putting stoke, “and I was leaving everything short.”
Prugh took advantage of Kelly’s putting woes to forge his short-lived one-stoke lead, but couldn’t match Kelly’s birdies at No. 12 and No. 13 and eventually fell out of the title chase.
“Disappointed probably isn’t the right work to describe how I feel,” Prugh said. “I felt good about getting back in contention after that front nine and wish I could have had a putt at the end to win it. But that’s golf.”
Kelly said losing the lead probably worked in his favor.
“Honestly, I’m probably more comfortable trying to come from behind that I am trying to protect a three- or four-shot lead,” he said. “And after I lost the lead, it became kind of a nine-hole tournament.”
Berg, who won this year’s Oregon Open, finished in a tie for fourth place at 202 and claimed low amateur honors.
Following the event, tournament organizers presented the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery with a check for $130,000.