For Chris Elia, winning the 46th annual Firecracker 4-Ball at the Morehouse Country Club brought back memories of longtime friend and former Bastrop resident Tim Zimmerabner.
Chris Elia and Billy Blackburn overcame the elements and some treacherous greens to win the 46th annual Firecracker 4-Ball at the Morehouse Country Club.
Teaming up for their third Firecracker appearance, the El Dorado duo shot 133 to edge out locals Brandon Hall and Joseph Waller by two strokes. The father-son team of Mark and Darren Sutton and 2016 tournament runner-ups Randy Bailey and Dusty Green tied for third at 139.
For Elia, winning the Firecracker carries extra significance because of his ties to former Bastrop resident Tim Zimmerabner, the son of former MCC pro Bill Zimmerabner. Tim Zimmerabner died unexpectedly several years ago while in Florida for a senior tournament.
"Tim Zimmerabner was the club pro in El Dorado forever," Elia said. "He grew up here as a kid. He had so many stories about this tournament and this course. When Tim played here on the Hooter's Tour, I used to caddie for him."
Elia and Blackburn have won their share of tournaments throughout north Louisiana and Southern Arkansas, but this one meant more than most. Teaming with Blackburn made it that much better.
"Because of Tim, the history here and the great people, it's special to win here," Elia said. "To win a tournament with my best friend in Tim's hometown means a lot. Billy was a great tennis player. I used to beg him to start playing golf, and he ragged me about it. If he had started playing golf back then, I would have been caddying for him."
Blackburn, a former Arkansas state tennis champion at El Dorado High School, eventually put down the tennis racket long enough to join Elia on the golf course. It didn't take long for Blackburn to catch on.
"We used to play in the old Belt 4-Ball in El Dorado, and we won some of them," Blackburn recalled.
Elia and Blackburn were in the hunt in last year's Firecracker after shooting a first-round 65, but eventually finished third after a disappointing 71 over the final 18 holes.
Starting strong, once again, Elia and Blackburn put together four consecutive birdies on 11 through 14 to go eight-under before a thunderstorm set in. Forced to stop twice due to lightning, they were more than content to finish Saturday's round with four straight pars.
"We kind of kept our head above water, literally," Blackburn said. "We had two delays, both of about 20 minutes. We just tried to brother-in-law and finish strong with no mistakes."
Elia and Blackburn were pretty much mistake free until finishing up with a bogey on 18 Sunday.
"We kept a clean sheet until the 36th hole," Blackburn said.
By then, they could afford a hiccup.
Hall and Waller finished strong with a 67, but could only cut the four-stroke deficit in half.
Elia and Blackburn started Sunday's round with a birdie on No. 1, followed by 10 straight pars, and birdies on 12, 14 and 15. Blackburn's 15-foot birdie putt on No. 15 all but sealed the tournament.
"The birdie on 15 kind of catapulted us," Blackburn said. "That was probably the turning point."
An additional rain storm early Sunday morning left water standing throughout the course. Even before the rain, golfers found the greens challenging.
"It was different, but it was different for everybody," Elia said of the greens. "There is just so much history here with this club and the 4-Ball. The course may not have been in the best shape it's ever been in, but this is always such a good tournament. This is one tournament we always put on our calendar."
As tournament champions, Elia and Blackburn are now part of Firecracker lore.
NEW CHAMPS: Elia and Blackburn are the tournament's first first-time winners since Alex Malmay and Dale Cagnolatti in 2012.
STRONG FINISH: After a tough start with a 73 on Saturday, Luke Cook and Chase Sebren matched Hall and Waller's 67 for the low score on Sunday.
LOWER FLIGHTS: Danny McMillan and Sonny Nason tallied 138 to edge brothers Kevin and Keith Reynolds by a single stroke in the first flight.
Eric Moree and Patrick Harrell carded 138 to run away with an eight-shot victory in the second flight.
Nathan Randall and John Odom prevailed in the third flight with 148.
SENIOR FLIGHTS: Hubert "Hook" Chaffold and Mike Sebren posted the lowest score of the tournament with a 63-63—126 in the senior championships flight.
A former Bastrop resident who now lives in Las Vegas, Chaffold won back-to-back Firecracker titles with Bob Cooper in 2008 and 2009.
David West and Rocky Harris won the senior first flight with a score of 144, while Glenn Hendrix and Bubba McDuffie took the second flight with 150.