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48th Annual NCGA Four-Ball Championship

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May 11, 2014

Danny Paniccia and Mike Stieler always wanted to win the NCGA Four-Ball Championship. They’ve now done it twice in a row.

Paniccia and Stieler shot a final round 69 Sunday at par-72 Spyglass Hill to finish at 9-under 207, edging the co-runner up tandems of Cameron Champ and Gary Dunn and Jeff Gilchrist and Steve Woods by one stroke.

Paniccia and Stieler, who used to work together at Riverbend Golf Course in Madera, become the first team to repeat as Four-Ball champions since Taylor Travis and Ryan Sloane nabbed back-to-back title in 2008 and 2009.

“It feels good,” Paniccia said. “It was close all day. It was pretty nervous coming down the stretch.”


2014 NCGA Four-Ball champions Danny Paniccia and Mike Stieler (left to right).


The first step for Paniccia and Stieler was catching Champ and Dunn in the second round. They’d achieve that with a second round 67 on a day when only 10 teams managed to break par due to gusty winds.

On Sunday, Paniccia and Stieler entered the 18-hole finale tied with Champ and Dunn. It became a duel to the last putts.

Paniccia and Stieler wouldn’t clinch the title until the 18th, when both Dunn and Champ’s birdie attempts didn’t fall in.

“The position we were in (being tied) coming in made things tight right from the get go. But we really played well off each other,” Paniccia said.

The turning point came on Spyglass’ shortest hole, the 120-yard par-3 15th. Up by only a stroke, Paniccia sank a 7-foot birdie putt. Champ’s 10-foot birdie try, meanwhile, stayed one roll out of the cup. Instead of remaining down by just one, Champ and Dunn saw Paniccia and Stieler’s lead grow to two strokes with three to play.

“It just hung there right on the lip,” said Champ, an 18-year-old home schooled senior who’s headed to Texas A&M University in the fall. “That was huge. Biggest moment of the day to me.”

Still, Dunn and Champ didn’t give in. Down by two after both teams made bogey on the 16th, on the 305-yard 17th Champ smoked a 3-wood that landed just off the green but pin high. He’d get up and down for birdie, cutting Paniccia and Stieler’s lead back to one with one to play.

On the 18th, both Dunn and Champ’s birdie tries just missed, and Paniccia and Stieler made pars to seal the victory.

“They made the putts and we didn’t,” said Dunn,  39-year-old medical salesman from Granite Bay. “You’ve got to be good but also a little bit lucky out there, and they were a little more lucky.”

A huge break came for Paniccia and Stieler on the par-4 10th. While Paniccia mishit his drive, Stieler’s drive went right and hit the cart path, bouncing even further right. Stieler, who works at Spring Creek Golf and Country Club in Ripon, recovered beautifully though. Despite a poor lie, he’d knock his approach to within 15 feet of the flagstick before sinking his birdie putt.

Yet Stieler pointed to Paniccia as the motor that made them go. Paniccia had five of the team’s six birdies in the finale.

“I obviously have a horse that I ride,” Stieler said. “I wasn’t very good today. Danny is just so solid.”

In a sign of things to come, both the Paniccia/Stieler team and Champ/Dunn squad went 1-under through their first nine. The surprise birdie for Pannicia and Stieler came on No.2 when Pannicia’s sand wedge chip from off the green ran straight into the cup.

“We were confident. Last year, we had been sniffing that title and then finally got it so it took the pressure off,” Paniccia said. “We love this event, and now we’ve got it twice.”


2014 NCGA Four-Ball champs Mike Stieler and Danny Paniccia and co-runner ups Cameron Champ and Gary Dunn and Jeff Gilchrist and Steve Woods (left to right).

The Gilchrist and Woods tandem had their own experience to rely on. Last year, the duo won the NCGA Master Division Four-Ball title.

They’d make a big early push with four birdies on their front-nine to catch both the Stieler/Paniccia and Champ/Dunn squads at 7 under. On No.10, Gilchrist made things even more interesting by holing out for birdie from the greenside bunker. Over their final eight holes though they’d only play even par thanks in part to a critical bogey on the 15th.

“It’s tough to get shots close out there,” Gilchrist said. “We were taking anything we could get.”

Finishing in fourth place two strokes back at 209 after a final round 68 was the tandem of John Sawin and former Stanford star Rob Grube. Sawin and Grube, who had a brief stint on the PGA Tour before being reinstated as an amateur, were also right in the mix before a crucial bogey on the 16th.

Due to Saturday’s blustery conditions, only five teams managed to break par each of the three rounds.

As for the possibility of a three-peat in 2015, Stieler said there’s no reason to think it won’t happen.

“Absolutely, why not?,” said Stieler with a smile. “I think Spyglass Hill is the greatest course I’ve ever played. I’ve got a pretty good partner, too.”




May 10, 2014

The wind picked up at par-72 Spyglass Hill on Saturday, leaving the annual NCGA Four-Ball Championship completely up in the air.

Coming off a stellar opening 6-under 66,the best first round leaders Cameron Champ and Gary Dunn could muster in the second round blustery conditions was an even par 72. That opened the door for among others defending champions Danny Paniccia and Mike Stieler, who shot 67 to tie Champ and Dunn at the top of the leaderboard at 6-under 138.

A day after shooting a bogey-free 66, Champ, an 18-year-old home schooled senior who hails from Sacramento, and Dunn, a 39-year-old medical salesman from Granite Bay, struggled straight from the start.

On the par-4 1st, Champ, who’s headed to Texas A&M University in the fall, had his approach shot get stuck in a tree. The ball never came down. On No.2, Champ tried to drive the green but his ball went right and hit the cart path, sending it further right into the dunes  for a second straight bogey.

A Dunn birdie on No.3 after sticking his tee shot to within 15 feet of the flagstick finally stopped the bleeding.

But the two never really recovered. Despite three other birdies, they’d card two more bogeys on No.8 and No.16 to bring themselves back to the pack.

“We just got off to a rocky start,” Dunn said. “We had some great chances to make up ground on the back-nine but we missed some easy putts.”

While Dunn and Champ scrambled to stay even, Paniccia and Stieler made a huge push by playing their last eight holes at 5 under.

Paniccia and Stieler, who used to work together at Riverbend Golf Club in Madera and had entered the day five strokes off the lead, penciled in birdies at Nos.11, 13 and 15 before closing out with back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th.

Paniccia got the pair going on No.11 by pitching in after his approach shot bounced through the green. On the 17th, it was Stieler’s turn as he knocked in a birdie putt.

“It was an epic last eight holes,” Paniccia said.

Coming in at 141, just three behind Saturday’s early leaders, was six tandems including the teams of Steve Woods and Jeff Gilchrist and former Stevenson School teammates Michael Decker and Seb Crampton.

Woods and Gilchrist, the winners of last year’s NCGA Master Division Four-Ball Championship, also opened with a bogey on No.1. From there though, they’d epitomize steady, carding 14 pars and three birdies for a 70.

Decker and Crampton, who helped Stevenson School in Pebble Beach win its first California Interscholastic Federation State Championship title in 2013, had five birdies but also slipped with a double-bogey on the par-3 12th for a 71.

Crampton will be a freshman at Cal in the fall, while Decker now plays at Vanderbilt University.

Also coming at 141 after a second round 72 was the tandems of Rob Grube and John Sawin and Michael Lee and Jeff Hoffman.

Grube, a former standout at Stanford, briefly competed on the PGA Tour before regaining his amateur status. Sawin is the defending champion of the annual Stocker Cup and played in last year’s U.S. Amateur.

Hoffman and Lee, who were just a stroke back entering the day, were limited to two bogeys and 16 pars en route to a 74.

The next closest team is Jon Peterson and Eddie Davis, who are four behind at 142 following their second straight 71.

Conditions were so difficult that only 10 teams managed to break par in the second round, despite the event featuring a format where both players play their own ball and the lowest score of the two is counted on each hole.

The last team to repeat as champions of the event was Taylor Travis and Ryan Sloane, who bagged back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.



May 9, 2014

The team of Gary Dunn and Cameron Champ is the one to chase after the first round of this weekend’s annual Four-Ball Championship at par-72 Spyglass Hill.

Dunn and Champ took a one stroke lead in Friday’s opener, carding a stellar, bogey-free 6-under 66 that featured six birdies in a format where both players play their own ball and the lowest score of the two is counted on each hole.

The pair, who finished tied for fifth in last year’s championship, got going early.

Starting on the back-nine, Dunn and Champ opened with back-to-back birdies on No.10 and No.11. They’d also pencil in back-to-back birdies on holes No.16 and No.17, with another birdie on the par-5 14th sandwiched in between.

On the oceanside front-nine, they’d tack on another birdie on the par-3 5th.

Just a stroke behind the leaders is the tandem of Michael Lee and Jeff Hoffman.

The Lee-Hoffman team,  who went off Spyglass’ back-nine in the morning wave of Friday’s tee times, carded a solid, bogey-free 5-under 67.

On the pair’s front-nine, they’d open with a birdie on No.10. Later, on their front-nine the two, who qualified at tough Darkhorse GC in Auburn, got to work carding birdies at No.1, No.4, No.5 and No.9.

Meanwhile, two guys who are no strangers to Spyglass Hill are just a stroke behind.

Veterans Casey Boyns and William Moore, both of Monterey, posted a bogey-free 68 that featured two birdies on their front-nine (No.5 and No.7) and two on their back-nine (No.11 and No.17).

Boyns, who won the Senior title at last weekend’s Alameda Commuters Championship, is a two-time winner of the Four-Ball, having won in 1994 and 1996 playing with Joey Ferrari. Moore won the 2009 NCGA Public Links Championship.

Coming in at 69, three of the pace, was six teams including the tandem of former pro/turned amateur again Rob Grube and John Sawin and team of Dash Lindsell and Andrew Tilton.

Sawin and Grube, a former star at Stanford, carded five birdies on their round but were tripped up by bogeys on No.4 and No.12.

Tilton and Lindsell, who finished tied for fourth at last weekend’s Alameda Commuters, racked up six birdies but were slowed by a bogey on the 14th and a double-bogey on the difficult par-4 4th.

Finishing at 2-under 70 was four squads including Michael Decker and Seb Crampton. Decker currently plays at Vanderbilt University, while Crampton is headed to Cal this fall. In 2013, the pair helped Stevenson School in Pebble Beach capture the California Interscholastic Federation State Championship title. It was the first State title for Stevenson, whose alumni includes Bobby Clampett and European PGA Tour standout Christian Cevaer.

Six-time NCGA Player of the Year Randy Haag and partner Jim Knoll, who won the recent NCGA Senior Championship, are five behind after a 71. Also trailing by five after a 71 are defending champions Danny Pannicia and Mike Stieler. Paniccia and Stieler stumbled a bit with three bogeys. Last year, the duo had zero bogeys en route to capturing the title.

Saturday’s second round will begin at 7 a.m. Following the second round, a cut will be made with the low 40 teams advancing to Sunday’s 18-hole finale.



May 5, 2014

It takes two to make things happen at the annual NCGA Four-Ball Championship, as Danny Paniccia and Mike Stieler showed in 2013.

While Paniccia did most of the heavy lifting over the first two rounds, on Sunday it was Stieler’s turn to shine.

Stieler came roaring out of the gates at par-72 Spyglass Hill, carding birdies on three of his first four holes to give the Paniccia-Stieler squad enough breathing room to hold off runner-ups Jim Knoll and Randy Haag by a stroke.

A par on the 18th sealed the deal for Paniccia and Stieler, who finished the 54-hole event at 16-under 200, tying the fourth lowest score in championship history.

“That was the only hole I was nervous on all day, the 18th,” said Stieler, who knew along with Paniccia that Knolls and Haag were lurking just a stroke back.

As for working together, Paniccia and Stieler only had one bogey over their 54 holes, the lone miscue coming on Spyglass Hill’s par-4 16th. Other than that, it was either pars or birdies.

“Danny played flawlessly last year days one and two, and I got hot on day three,” explained Stieler.

Starting this Friday, Paniccia and Stieler return to defend their title. Since their win last year, there’s a big difference too. The pair no longer works together when off the course.

Last year, both were employees at Riverbend Golf Club in Madera. Stieler has since relocated to Spring Creek Golf and Country Club in Ripon.

Suffice to say, the two are itching to reunite at Spyglass Hill.

“Since I don’t work with my partner (Paniccia) anymore, this year’s Four-Ball will be more special than ever,” Stieler said.

“The key to success in this tournament is to have an awesome partner,” Paniccia said with a laugh. “Mike and I only had one bogey last year which was the key to me. Pars aren’t bad out there. We always had momentum going.”

While the Four-Ball is all about teamwork, Paniccia and Stieler (and everyone else for that matter) will also tell you that what makes the event special is simply getting the chance to compete at Spyglass Hill.

Stieler calls the Four-Ball the “greatest amateur event in the state.”

“Along with a partner, you can share the experience, not only by being able to rely on him, but also to feel and hopefully thrive under the championship’s pressure of not letting your partner down,” Stieler said. “And the course is always impeccable. Kudos to Bob (Spyglass Hill superintendent Bob Yeo) and his staff and (course architect) Robert Trent Jones for his unbelievable use of the site.”

Paniccia calls Spyglass Hill one of his favorite courses anywhere.

“It doesn’t get much better than spending a weekend at Spyglass,” Paniccia said. “The even in my mind is one of the best of the year. It (Spyglass) can be so brutal in a hurry, but so rewarding when you play well.”

The duo will have plenty of challengers, including the tandems of Casey Boyns-William Moore, Austin Roberts and brother Andrew, 2013 NCGA Public Links champ Nick Moore-Matt Cohn, Scott Hardy-Rick Reinsberg and 2012’s winning combo of Russell Humphrey and James Watt.

Austin Roberts won the NCGA Public Links Championship in March. Boyns just won the Senior title at the Alameda Commuters Championship.

Both Friday and Saturday’s action will see two waves (morning and afternoon) of tee times with 184 competitors overall. At the conclusion of Saturday’s second round, a cut will be made with the low 40 teams advancing to Sunday’s final round.

Author: rfarb

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