By Murray Evans
EDMOND – After two years of toiling on the PGA Tour Canada, Josh Creel decided to relocate his base of operations in 2015 to Edmond, closer to family and friends from his days as a star at the University of Central Oklahoma. That decision proved wise on Sunday.
Creel outdueled Chris Gilbert down the stretch, pulling away for a three-shot win in the Oklahoma Open at Oak Tree Country Club’s East Course. Creel, who’s officially from Cheyenne, Wyo., finished the three rounds at 9-under-par 201 after firing a 5-under 65 on an overcast day with unseasonably cool temperatures in the low 80s and a light south wind.
It was Creel’s second pro win, with the other coming in the Cypress Lakes Open in Cypress, Texas, on the Adams Tour’s Winter Series in January. But Creel said the Oklahoma Open ranks as his most special win, motioning toward the sizable gaggle of folks who came out to watch him, many with connections to UCO, where Creel won the NCAA Division II individual title in 2012.
"It’s a better win, for sure," Creel said. "It’s a better field. I’ve got my friends and girlfriend here to watch. It’s a better check, too."
After he won the Division II title at the Cardinal Club in Simpsonville, Ky., and received the Arnold Palmer Award as the national player of the year, Creel bypassed his final year of college eligibility to enter the pro ranks, pushed to do so by his UCO coaches.
Success has come in fits and spurts so far. He played eight events in Canada in 2013, posting one top-10 finish and earning $8,277. He made the cut in six of 11 Canadian events in 2014, but earned only $4,069.
On the Adams Tour so far this year, he’s earned $4,561 during the Winter Series and $15,847 during the regular season, a good chunk of that coming after a third-place finish earlier this month in the Buffalo Run Casino Classic at Peoria Ridge Golf Course in Miami, Okla. And although it won’t count toward his Adams Tour total, Creel will take home $10,000 for winning the Oklahoma Open.
"I won’t lie," Creel said. "Mini-tour life is tough. You’re busting your butt for not a whole lot of money. It’s tough. But hopefully the end result is a big payoff."
Creel began the day in a three-way tie for fourth, two shots behind Gilbert and Sallisaw High School senior Ty Stites and one shot behind Nathan Hughes of Bartlesville, the 2013 Oklahoma State Amateur champion.
Birdies on the par-5 No. 4 and the par-4 No. 5 and No. 7 put Creel at 7-under and into a tie for the lead with one of his playing partners, high school junior Ryan Grider of Lewisville, Texas.
Grider – who won the Byron Nelson Junior Championship in Dallas earlier this summer – and Creel made the turn still tied at 7-under. Creel made a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 10, while Grider found a sand trap with his second shot and made bogey. At No. 11, Grider’s tee shot sailed out of bounds to the right and he had to play a provisional ball. The resulting double bogey put him four shots back.
Creel bogeyed the par-5 No. 12, though, opening the door slightly for Gilbert, who was playing steady golf in the final group, just behind Creel. Gilbert birdied No. 13 to pull even with Creel at 7-under. Creel made a 14-footer for birdie at No. 15, and Gilbert followed with a 22-foot birdie putt to remain tied for the lead.
But two water holes proved to be Gilbert’s undoing. What he called a bad tee shot led to a bogey on the par-4 No. 16, which has water along the length of its left side, and his tee shot on the par-3 No. 17 – also bordered by water on its left side – found the bunker and resulted in another bogey.
Creel didn’t know he had a two-shot cushion, though, and thought he needed a birdie on No. 18 to assure a playoff. Sure enough, he got it, hitting an approach shot to 10 feet and sinking the putt to cap his 65.
"I figured there was a score out there today," Creel said. "Someone had to shoot it, so I’m glad it was me."
Despite his late-round issues, Gilbert, a former University of Kansas standout who turned pro in 2013, recorded his best pro finish after his even-par 70.
"It’s getting better," Gilbert said. "There is a positive in that."
Grider hit into the water on both No. 16 and No. 17, but survived to finish as the low amateur, in fifth place overall at 4-under 206 after a final-round 70. Hughes and Kyle Robbins of Bedford, Texas, tied for third at 5-under. Stites tied for 12th after shooting a 76.
Creel said he’ll play in the first stage of Q-School for the Web.com Tour in Lantana, Texas, in October, in hopes of perhaps qualifying for that tour for 2016.
"Hopefully we can keep it in tip-top shape and keep it rolling," Creel said.
Oklahoma Golf Association
Oak Tree Country Club – East
August 21-23, 2015
Josh Creel, Cheyenne, Wyo. – 68-68-65–201
Chris Gilbert, McKinney, Texas – 67-67-70–204
Nathan Hughes, Bartlesville, Okla. – 67-68-70–205
Kyle Robbins, Bedford, Texas – 67-69-69–205
Ryan Grider (A), Lewisville, Texas – 68-68-70–206
Austin Eckroat (A), Edmond, Okla. – 67-73-68–208
Matt Mabrey, Tulsa, Okla. – 69-70-69–208
Blake Trimble, Houston, Texas – 63-74-71–208
Colton Staggs, Tulsa, Okla. – 69-72-68–209
Scott Kelly, Austin, , Texas – 64-73-72–209
Wesley McClain, Bastrop, Texas – 69-69-71–209
Ty Stites (A), Sallisaw, Okla. – 66-68-76–210
Michael Gellerman, Sterling, Kan. – 67-72-71–210
Jason Meece, Newcastle, Okla. – 69-70-71–210
Joe Migdal, Ballwin, Mo. – 70-70-70–210
Mike Hearne (A), Yukon, Okla. – 70-69-71–210
Preston Stanley, Katy, Texas – 70-71-69–210
Sam Johnston (A), Edmond, Okla. – 69-70-72–211
Cole Howard, Burleson, Texas – 70-69-72–211
Dylan McClure, Trophy Club, Texas – 69-70-72–211
Robby Ormand, Austin, Texas – 69-73-69–211
Scott Verplank (A), Edmond, Okla. – 69-69-74–212
Ryan Hybl, Norman, Okla. – 68-73-71–212
Anthony Marchesani (A), Oklahoma City, Okla. – 68-70-74–212
Alasdair Dalgliesh, Edmond, Okla. – 67-73-72–212
Julio Vegas, Austin, Texas – 67-74-71–212
Britt Pavelonis, Harrisburg, Ill. – 70-71-72–213
Joseph Juszczyk, Dearborn heights , Mich. – 69-71-73–213
Clark Dennis, Fort Worth, Texas – 68-74-71–213
Hunter Sparks, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 69-73-72–214
Sean Romero, Texarkana, Ark. – 69-73-72–214
Tanner Owens, Tulsa, Okla. – 70-70-75–215
Austin Hannah (A), Jenks, Okla. – 70-72-73–215
Drew Page, Waynesville, N.C. – 70-72-73–215
Trey Herring, Austin , Texas – 71-68-76–215
J.T. Taylor, Conroe, Texas – 70-68-77–215
Phillip Bryan, Oklahoma City, Okla. – 69-69-78–216
Sam Humphreys (A), Edmond, Okla. – 71-71-74–216
Cameron Meyers, Edmond, Okla. – 67-75-74–216
Brody King (A), Tulsa, Okla. – 69-73-74–216
Colby Shrum, Perry, Okla. – 68-73-75–216
Eli Armstrong (A), Edmond , Okla. – 68-73-75–216
Greg Mason, Jenks, Okla. – 74-68-75–217
Preston Crawford (A), Tulsa, Okla. – 72-70-WD–WD
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