43rd annual Firecracker 4-Ball
Fittingly, an American flag played a role in the defining moment of the 43rd annual Firecracker 4-Ball at the Morehouse Country Club over the weekend.
Henry Cole's astonishing recovery shot on the second playoff hole proved to be the pivotal moment as the ULM marketing professor teamed with Bob Cooper to defeat former local high school standouts Landon Caldwell and Justin McMillan in a two-hole playoff on Sunday afternoon.
Cole and Cooper were both relieved to find out their tee shots from No. 18 on the second round of sudden death were playable. Both thought they were facing a one-shot penalty for hitting the ball out of bounds.
“I know that one's out of bounds,” a dejected Cooper muttered to himself as he watched his tee shot slice to the left.
Instead, both golfers were informed their shots were in bounds. Still, neither was in an inviable position.
Like Cooper, Cole set up from behind the sidewalk to the left of the green. As Cole studied his recovery shot from 138 yards out under a pine tree, he turned to his partner for advice.
“Bob kind of gave me the line,” Cole said. “I lined up with the American flag (in the background) and hit it. It was a lucky shot.”
Lucky or not, his 7-iron shot was perfect. Had Cole's shot occurred on a PGA Tour event, it would have made ESPN's Top 10 plays list.
Choking up on his club, Cole placed the ball within eight inches of the cup, wooing the onlookers stationed on the clubhouse porch.
“I knew if I got it up high, it would hit the tree limb, so I had to start it low,” Cole said.
The normally reserved Cooper let out a cheer as he rushed over to congratulate his teammate.
“That was a miraculous shot,” Cooper said. “It's only right that we were able to pick out an American flag on the 4th of July weekend to help us win the tournament.”
Despite striking more favorable tee shots than their opponents, Caldwell and McMillan struggled on the final hole. After carding bogeys, leaving Cole with two chances to sink an eight-inch putt, they conceded the match.
With both teams finishing regulation play at 11-under-par 133, the foursome returned to 18 for the first playoff hole. Both teams settled for par, though Cooper and Cole had to overcome less-than-satisfactory tee shots. Just as they would on the second hole, Cooper and Cole pushed their tee shots to the left.
“We played No. 18 pretty good during the tournament, but neither one of us could hit the fairway (in sudden death),” Cooper said.
Cooper's golf talent speaks for itself. A two-time former national lefthanded champion, he won the Firecracker for a record 11th time. He's also quite shrewd when it comes to choosing partners, having won the event with eight different teammates.
Besides Cole, Cooper has won the Firecracker with Stan Humphries (2013), Jody Moss (2011), Hubert “Hook” Chaffold (2008-09), Scott Sills (2000-01), Tom Bryant (1994, 1996), Mike Creighton (1989) and Terry Peddy (1980).
“There's so much tradition here and the people just embrace you,” Cooper said. “The history, the fun and camaraderie makes it all worthwhile. Winning's great, don't get me wrong, but just being here and celebrating every year is what makes this tournament to me.”
Cooper and Cole grabbed the first round lead by shooting 67 on Saturday. Joseph Ederington and Justin Larson played their way into the lead group with 68.
Caldwell, the reigning MCC club champion and former Prairie View standout, and McMillan, who played at Bastrop High where his father, Danny McMillan, is the golf coach, began the day in third place, two shots back.
With Caldwell and McMillan shooting a tournament-low round of 64 Sunday, Cooper had to drain a pressure-packed, par-saving, eight-foot putt on the final shot of regulation to extend the tournament.
“That was just a great shot by Henry Cole on the second playoff hole,” McMillan said. “The first (playoff hole) is where we should have won it, but neither one of us hit it good and we struggled to make par.”
As tempting as it was to think of what might have been, McMillan couldn't be entirely disappointed.
“We shot 64 to get in the playoff, so it's hard to be too upset,” McMillan said. “We had to Sunday charge it. We got on a run on the back nine and birdied two of the three bad greens.”
Above-average rainfall has left the MCC and most other area golf courses battling to maintain their greens. Holes 10, 11 and 13 have proven troublesome at the MCC.
McMillan birdied No. 10 from the back of the green and Caldwell sank a 10-footer for birdie on No. 11. Closing out a bogey-free round, the duo birdied 12 and 14.
Caldwell birdied Nos. 1 and 3, offsetting three consecutive bogeys by McMillan.
“Landon carried me on the first three holes,” said McMillan, who recovered from the rocky start to close out the round with four birdies.
Caldwell and McMillan finished the front nine with birdies on Nos. 6 and 8.
Cooper and Cole got off to a slow start with birdies on 1 and 8 and a bogey on 7. Heating up down the stretch, they birdied 12, 13, 14, 16 and 18 to finish the round at 6-under.
“Henry made a great birdie putt on 16,” Cooper said.
Following a par on 17, Cooper and Cole weren't sure where they stood.
“We didn't know how (Caldwell and McMillan) had finished, but I told Henry when we were going to 18 that we had to birdie to have any kind of chance and he agreed,” Cooper said.
Randy Bailey and Phillip Thompson shot 67 on Sunday to move into third place at 137. Ederington and Larson and Mike Rasco and Don Scott tied for fourth at 138.
The championship group was one of three flights to require a playoff.
Mack Mansfield and Sherman Robinson bested Daniel Wood and Larry Foster in a playoff on No. 9 to win the second flight. Both teams shot 143 in regulation.
Jim Bennett and Jerry Johnson won a four-hole tiebreaker over Ed Nelson and Jack McCormack in the senior championship flight. The two teams finished tournament play at 137.
Heath Hines and Jacob McCrary put together a strong second round of 66 to win the first flight at 136.
Overcoming a four-stroke, first-round deficit, Kevin Riles and Heath Eppinette fired 70 on Sunday to win the third flight with a final tally of 145.
Zack Brister and Josh Gerache took the fourth flight with 159.
Following up a 73 on Saturday with a two-under 70 on Sunday, Charles Bostick and Don LeGrand totaled 143 to win the senior first flight by six strokes.