Sept. 13, 2019
Due to his travel schedule, Straight Down Clothing CEO Mike Rowley admittedly doesn’t get to play that much.
As for winning a golf tournament, Rowley had no recollection of the last time he’d held a trophy.
“I won our Straight Down Classic in 2017, but other than that I don’t know,” Rowley said.
The 57-year-old San Luis Obispo resident will have a quicker answer next time. On Friday, Rowley captured the prestigious NCGA Senior Championship thanks to a clutch birdie on the 18th that helped him hold off runner-up Tony Padilla by a stroke.
The birdie on 18 gave Rowley a round of 68 and three-day total of 2-under 211. Padilla, the event’s champion in 2017, came in at 212 following a 69.
“It feels great to get the monkey off my back,” Rowley said. “I really swung the club well each day. I’m very humbled.”
In what turned out to be a thriller, on the pivotal par-5 18th, Rowley’s second shot—a 3-wood from 233 yards out—landed on the right-side slope and slowly trickled down onto the green, eventually almost hitting the flagstick with his ball stopping about 10 feet from cup.. He’d miss his eagle try, but easily tapped in for birdie, which turned out being huge.
Playing in the group ahead, Padilla just moments earlier had also nearly made an eagle. His second shot did the same thing, but hit the cup and bounced out. Had his ball fell in, the two would’ve went to a sudden-death playoff.
“I tried,” said Padilla, a basketball referee who has worked the NCAA FInal Four. “I lost my timing in the middle of the round. Then I just kind of decided that I had to make some good shots, and I did.”
So too did Rowley. The San Luis Obispo CC member took over the lead early with back-to-back birdies on holes No.2 and No.3. While he’d bogey the 6th, he’d bounce back with a birdie on No.9 for a 33.
From there, it became a dogfight between Rowley Padilla, Mark Morgan and Bobby Schaeffer. Morgan, the winner of this year’s NCGA Senior Valley Am, had his chances but had to settle for pars on the 17th and 18th. Schaeffer, who finished T-3 with Morgan, also was in the mix until a bogey on No.17.
Second round leader Randy Haag, who was in search of his first NCGA Senior Championship title, slipped to a 78 and T-7 finish. “Mike played awesome. It was fun to watch,” said Haag, who competed despite a bum ankle. “It was too many days in a row on my ankle. Today, I knew I’d have to rely on my putter, and it didn’t come through (he’d have five 3-putts).”
Helping Rowley stay calm through it all was his good friend and caddie, John Mitchell, a 3-handicap who’s famiiar with Poppy Hills.
“He (Mitchell) knows this place pretty well. Poppy Hills is definitely a course where course knowledge is valuable,” Rowley said. “He helped me there and helped keep me calm all day.”
Sept. 12, 2019
Olympic Club member Randy Haag (above) remains in the lead, but things are hardly over.
Haag, who’s aiming for his first NCGA Senior Championship title, held on to the lead at this week’s event by posting a 2-over 73 thanks in part to a hole-out eagle on the tough par-4 3rd hole on a balmy Thursday at par-71 Poppy Hills GC.
The 73 gives Haag, who later had birdies on the 16th and 18th, a two-day total of even-par 142.
Thing is, there’s a who’s-who of NCGA greats right on his heels.
In a three-way tie for second at 143 are three players—Tony Padilla, Mark Morgan and Mike Rowley. Padilla, who won the event in 2017 by draining a 70-foot eagle putt on the 18th and final hole of regulation, had a second round 74.
Morgan, winner of the this year’s NCGA Senior Valley Amateur, and Rowley, the CEO of Straight Down Clothing, both made moves up the leaderboard with rounds of 70.
At 145, just three shots behind Haag, is the tandem of Bobby Schaeffer and Steve Donnelly, who each shot 74. Casey Boyns, the last back-to-back champion (2015-’16), is alone in seventh place at 146 following a 74.
Should Haag win, it would mark his fifth career NCGA Senior crown (two Senior Four-Ball and two Senior Match Play) and 21st overall NCGA crown. The victory would also help Haag in his pursuit of a second NCGA Senior Player of the Year title.
Entering the event, the 2017 winner was 126 points behind 2018 Senior POY Jeff Wilson. Wilson is competing instead at the U.S. Mid-Amateur in Colorado. The NCGA Senior Championship is a 500 point event.
Morgan also could make things interesting. He entered the event 257 points behind Wilson.
The cut (low 30 and ties) came at 12-over 154.
Friday’s final round will tee off at 7:30 a.m.
Sept. 11, 2019
Despite battling an ankle injury, Olympic Club member Randy Haag has his eyes set on winning NCGA Senior Player of the Year honors.
His pursuit of winning his second Senior POY crown got off to a good start.
Haag, who won the honor in 2017, grabbed a share of the lead at this week’s annual NCGA Senior Championship by posting a solid 2-under 69 on a spectacular Wednesday at par-71 Poppy Hills GC. He’ll enter the second round tied with Tony Padilla, who’s no stranger to Haag.
While Haag went on to win Senior POY honors in 2017, at that year’s Senior Championship, Padilla broke Haag’s heart by draining a 70-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 18th and final hole of regulation for the victory.
In Wednesday’s first round, Haag, whose ankle forced him to withdraw from August’s NCGA Senior Amateur Match Play Championship, posted seven birdies to go against three bogeys and a double-bogey.
Padilla, a college basketball referee who has worked the Final Four, carded seven birdies and five bogeys.
The two have a slew of pursuers. Bobby Schaeffer, Chris Miller and Steve Donnelly, who won the 2018 NCGA Senior Four-Ball, all are just two shots back after opening with 71.
Only three shots behind the leaders are John Mack and Casey Boyns, who won back-to-back titles in 2015-’16. Others in the immediate hunt include Mike Rowley, Mark Sowlakis and recent NCGA Senior Valley Am champ Mark Morgan (73).
Entering the event, Haag was in second place in the race for Senior Player of the Year honors at 1,524 points. He trailed leader Jeff Wilson (1,650 points) by 126. Wilson is competing at this weekend’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
Also in the mix is Morgan. He entered the event 257 points behind Wilson. He’d need to win and have both Wilson and Haag not play well.
Thursday’s second round will tee off at 7:30 a.m. Following play, a cut will be made with the low 30 (and ties) advancing to Friday’s final round.
September 9, 2019
First played in 1962, the NCGA Senior Championship is the association’s premier event for players aged 55 and over. Hundreds of players at multiple sites around the region attempt to qualify for the championship each year. Traditionally, the final field has played 36 holes of stroke play at a different venue each year; however, beginning in 2009 the tournament has been played annually at Spyglass Hill. In 2016 it moved to Poppy Hills.
The tournament record was set in 2008 by Jeff Burda who beat the previous record by five strokes with a 135 at Saddle Creek GC. The low tournament score at Spyglass Hill GC was Michael Brannan’s 142 in 2012, the only under-par 36-hole total since the tournament has been played there on annual basis. Jim McMurtrey has won the championship a record five times (1990, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 2000). Cornelius Bertolone (1963, 1964 and 1966), Jim Knoll (2011, 2014 and 2018) and Kai Thomsen (1988, 1989 and 1991) are tied with second most victories, each winning three times apiece.