A young newcomer and a crafty veteran proved to be a formidable combination in the 41st annual Rheem Firecracker 4-Ball, held Saturday and Sunday at the Morehouse Country Club.
Alex Malmay and Dale Cagnolatti started fast and never let up en route to carding a 130 to win the championship flight by five strokes over Bob Cooper and Tanner McDonald. Bret Munson and Eric Hsu finished third with 137, followed by Brett Clausing and Chase Bostick with 138.
Malmay, who turns 22 Monday, made his first Firecracker a memorable one. His spectacular performance was highlighted by an eagle on No. 8 during Sunday's round.
“I played high school golf here in the Prairie View Tournament, but this was my first Firecracker,” said Malmay, a senior from Mangham who prepped at Riverfield and is entering his senior season with the ULM golf team. “Hopefully, this will be the start of some good success here.”
Cagnolatti had to endure a string of near misses before experiencing success at the MCC. A three-time runner-up in the W.T. “Bill” Carpenter Memorial and a two-time runner-up with Frank Maxwell in the Firecracker, Cagnolatti won championships in the club's two most prestigious tournaments in a span of 28 days.
On Sunday, Cagnolatti deflected the credit toward his partner.
“Talk to Alex, he carried me all weekend,” Cagnolatti said as he came off the course Sunday.
That may be a bit of a stretch, but Cagnolatti definitely knew what he was doing when he invited Malmay to join him for the Firecracker.
“Alex is a very good partner,” Cagnolatti said. “He's a college athlete who doesn't rattle under pressure. It's kind of unusual for someone that young to be able to handle the pressure the way he does.”
Though it may have been their biggest tournament win together, it wasn't their first.
“We've had decent success together,” Malmay said. “We've won a few 4-ball tournaments and a few scrambles. We play well together. Dale's knowledgeable and has helped me a lot with my golf game, especially with my short game and wedges.”
By sharing his knowledge of the game with Malmay, Cagnolatti is following the example of those who helped him in his younger years.
“Don Sims and some of the older players did the same for me,” Cagnolatti said.
Malmay and Cagnolatti tore threw the front nine with a five-under-par 31 en route to a first-round score of 64 on Saturday. Malmay, who is entering his senior season with the ULM golf team, inflicted a substantial portion of the damage with his putter.
“I had a real hot putter Saturday,” said Malmay, who needed only 26 putts in the first round. “I left a couple of putts dead in the center (Sunday), but we didn't lose any ground.”
Cooper and McDonald, who began the day two strokes back, joined Malmay and Cagnolatti in the final group.
Cagnolatti and Cooper traded birdies on No. 1. Cooper and McDonald cut the margin to a single stroke on No. 3, gave the shot back with a bogey on No. 4 and again reduced the deficit to one with a birdie on No. 7.
Cooper and McDonald also birdied No. 8, but actually lost a shot as Malmay eagled the par-5, 504-yard hole.
“I hit a good solid drive up the left side and it settled right,” Malmay recalled.
Malmay's second shot, from a distance of 218 yards, landed just 10 feet from the cup.
“I was trying to hit an easy 5-iron and drive it off the bunker,” Malmay said. “I hit it perfect and drew it in from right to left off the bunker. The putt was about 10 feet. I was lucky to get it to drop that good.”
Still nursing a two-shot lead at the turn, the frontrunners saw their lead shrink to one after a bogey on 10 for their only below-par hole of the afternoon.
Cooper and McDonald, however, returned the bogey on No. 11 and Malmay and Cagnolatti saw their lead swell to three shots with a birdie on 12.
“We wanted to maintain a two-shot lead and keep Bob Cooper at bay because we knew he would be hard to put away if he got any closer,” Malmay said. “The goal at the beginning of the day was to keep the momentum going and not make any silly mistakes.”
Though less glamorous than the eagle putt, Cagnolatti said Malmay's par-saving putts which protected the lead were equally crucial.
“Alex made a couple of par-saving putts that were huge,” Cagnolatti said.
Both teams birdied 14, before Malmay and Cagnolatti gained another stroke with a birdie on 16.
After all four players teed off on 17, the tournament was briefly interrupted by a thunderstorm. When play resumed, Malmay put an exclamation point on the victory with a birdie on 18.
“The birdie on 18 was icing on the cake,” Cagnolatti said.
Icing on the cake of a sweet summer for Cagnolatti.
“I've had a good time up here the last month,” Cagnolatti said.
In the lower divisions, David Hester and Bruce Black won the first flight with 140; Boo Waller and Brendan Tubbs took the second flight with 142; Rick Bozeman and Dell Bozeman ruled the third flight with 145; Chad Tolar and Rusty Stozier shot 151 to claim the fourth flight; and Rudy Bertsch and Timothy Bertsch captured the fifth flight with 190.
In the senior groups, Jim Bennett and Jerry Johnson were tops in the championship flight with 135 and David Leonard and Kenneth McLarrin set the standard in the first flight with 153.