April 26, 2016
After a few years of watching cohorts Bobby Bucey, Robby Salomon and pal Nick Moore win, San Francisco resident Matt Cohn kept wondering when his turn would come.
“It wasn’t on the back of my mind. It was on the front of my mind,” Cohn said. “I consider those guys my peers.”
For the 35-year-old Cohn, the wait is over.
The runner-up to Maverick McNealy at last year’s NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship, Cohn sank a 5-foot putt for par on the first hole of a sudden death playoff Tuesday at par-71 Poppy Hills Golf Course to beat Brian Helton and win the 51st annual NCGA Public Links Championship. Not only was it Cohn’s first NCGA win, it was his first victory since the 2013 Santa Clara County Amateur.
“This has to be my biggest win,” said a relieved Cohn. “It’s relief, but it’s happier than that. It’s been on my mind for a long time.”
After opening his round with two straight bogeys, it appeared early on that Cohn would only go backwards. Instead, he’d play his next 12 holes at 1-under thanks in part to back-to-back birdies on the par-5 9th and 10th. On No.9, he’d knock his 3-wood approach to within 12 feet leading to a tap-in birdie.
There was also a great up-and-down par on the 14th, where after coming up short of the green, he’d bump a 6-iron from 70 feet away to within 4 feet of the flagstick.
“Those were the important holes,” said Cohn, who finished with a 74 to come in at 147 and tie Helton after regulation. “I knew coming into the day that things could change quickly.”
While Cohn did his part to hang in there, Helton saw a three-shot lead evaporate. A day after a brilliant 70 in the wind at Bayonet GC, the 39-year-old former UC Santa Barbara star slogged his way to a front-nine 41. It wouldn’t get any easier from there, as Helton went 1-over on his back-nine after carding a double-bogey on the 16th. His saving grace, and what got him into the playoff with Cohn, was a crucial birdie on the 18th for a 77.
In the playoff (hole No.1), however, Helton mishit his second shot, leaving him 35 yards from the green. His third shot then checked too soon on the green, leaving him a 17-footer for par. That too missed, leaving Cohn to calmly sink the winner.
“I chunked it. There’s no other way to say it,” said Helton of his approach shot. “I was like a newborn pup out there today. I was fortunate to be in a playoff.”
A former pro who competed for two years on the Hooters Tour (2001-2002), Helton got his amateur status back in 2011. He’d abandon his pro quest due to family obligations and “just not playing enough.” Having recently moved to Shandon outside of Paso Robles, the Public Links was not only Helton’s NCGA debut, but also his first competitive event since last year’s Paso Robles City Championship, which he won.
“I’d taken some years off. Once my kids got older, I started playing more again,” Helton said. “I plan on playing as many NCGA events as I can. I’m looking forward to doing it again. You have to re-learn these things. I’ll handle myself better next time.”
For Cohn, who was playing in his first event of the season, the win hopefully will act as a kick-starter for the rest of the season. He’ll next compete in the NCGA Four-Ball Championship with Moore. Then he’ll play in a U.S. Open qualifier at Pasatiempo GC before heading to New York with Moore to play in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Winged Foot. The pair got into the championship as alternates.
Moore, who won last year’s Public Links and nearly joined the duo in a playoff after carding a day-low 71 to finish at 148, stuck around to watch Cohn make his winning putt. Following the win, he was one of the first to congratulate Cohn.
“Welcome to the club,” Moore said.
April 25, 2016
On a day where a number of other players saw their chances literally blow away, Paso Robles Golf Club member Brian Helton was a rock.
The 39-year-old Helton, a former standout at UC Santa Barbara, made the difficult look easy, taking the lead in the annual NCGA Public Links Championship with a stellar 2-under 70 in Monday’s first round at windy par-72 Bayonet Golf Course.
How good was Helton’s 70? The stroke average for the rest of the field was 83.189.
Despite gusts up to 40 mph, Helton, a past winner of the Santa Barbara City Championship, posted five birdies to go against just three bogeys. The only player to shoot at least par, he’d do his best work on the back-nine where he posted a 32 with four birdies.
Three players–Matt Cohn of San Francisco, Darkhorse GC member Taylor Daniels and E-Club East Bay member Andy Nevin–are tied for second place after coming with matching scores of 73.
Cohn, the runner-up to Maverick McNealy in last year’s NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship, posted three birdies and four bogeys. He’d start his round with bogeys on the 10th and 12th holes but almost just as quickly got things back in order.
“I started my season by bogeying the easiest hole on the golf course,” Cohn said. “The wind was draining. When we finished our front-nine, it was at an entirely different level.”
Daniels’ crazy day included five birdies, four bogeys and a double-bogey. Nevin hung in there by posting 13 pars, two birdies and three bogeys.
Justin Woo of Riverwalk GC is alone in fifth place after a 74. Defending champion Nick Moore of Monterey opened with a 77.
The hardest hole was the par-4 2nd, which played to a stroke average of 5.075. Only two players managed to birdie the hole.
April 22, 2016
It ended up being a big difference maker for defending NCGA Player of the Year Nick Moore.
Following a self-described “disappointing” 2014 winless season, a re-energized Moore first righted the ship last year with an early victory at the annual NCGA Public Links Championship.
The win wasn’t just a confidence booster. It’d also play a pivotal role in Moore capturing NCGA Player of the Year honors. An epic win at the NCGA Valley Amateur later in the fall helped the Monterey resident hold off Maverick McNealy, Robby Salomon and Jason Anthony in the points standings.
“This feels really nice,” said the longtime Cypress Point caddie, who sealed last year’s Public Links victory (a two-stroke win over co-runner-ups Scott Hardy and Wes Sandroni) by posting a 1-under final round 71 at Spyglass Hill. “I missed that feeling of being a winner.”
As for just how huge the 300 points Moore earned with his win at the Public Links ended up being, the Monterey resident defeated McNealy, the winner of the 2015 Amateur Match Play Championship, by 60 points in the Player of the Year standings. Salomon, who won the NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship, finished 170 points behind Moore.
Starting Monday at par-72 Bayonet Golf Course in Seaside, the Public Links title (and 300 points) will again be up for grabs.
Again, Moore will be a favorite. Along with his win last year, the 33-year-old also won the Public Links title in 2013. Bayonet/Black Horse GC, which takes over for Spyglass Hill in the championship’s two-course rotation, also happens to be Moore’s home course.
Still, there’s plenty of other talent who could end up getting the win. Among others in the field are 2015 NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship runner-up Matt Cohn, St. Mary’s men’s golf coach Scott Hardy and Morgan Creek GC member Juan Gonzalez.
Cohn, of San Francisco, was also in the running for 2015 Player of the Year honors, while Hardy is a three-time winner of the Public Links Championship (2007, 2010, 2011). Gonzalez, meanwhile, currently holds the No.12 spot in the race for 2016 NCGA Player of the Year honors.
Whoever ends up hoisting the trophy, don’t look for them to go too low. The scoring record for the championship remains 6-under 138, set by Ryan King in 1999.
Following Monday’s first round at Bayonet GC, the championship will move over to par-71 Poppy Hills Golf Course for Tuesday’s final round.