By Murray Evans
NORMAN (June 17, 2022) – Three breaks over two holes – including what can only be described as a “Caddyshack” moment – settled Christopher Laughlin’s nerves on Friday and helped propel him to his first Oklahoma Golf Association title.
Laughlin, an oil and gas landman from Edmond, took the lead midway through his title match against Dr. Jonathan Valuck of Oklahoma City and held on for a 3 and 1 win in the final match of the OGA Senior Amateur Championship on a still, sunny morning at The Trails Golf Club.
Laughlin, a former Oklahoma City University standout who will turn 51 next week, was overcome with emotion after Valuck conceded in the middle of hole No. 17 and Laughlin had to compose himself before returning to the scorer’s tent to accept the trophy. His road to the title wasn’t easy, as he defeated 2019 OGA Senior Amateur champ Blake Gibson in a 21-hole marathon in the semifinals before downing Valuck, the 2020 winner, in the final.
“Today was more or less about trying to minimize your mistakes and really just trying to stay in play most of the day,” Laughlin said. “I had a couple of bad swings, but I was lucky to kind of get it together and still get up and down.
“This year, my goal was to get to the final. Driving in this morning, I felt like I’d already achieved my goal. I wanted to play well today and didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted to go have fun. I was able to keep my heart rate down, which is rare for me.”
With cottonwood and mosquitoes both thick in the air and little to no wind, both players shined from tee to green at The Trails. Neither one hit into water or a bunker and their combined number of mishit shots could be counted on one hand.
Laughlin three-putted from 25 feet on the par-3 No. 2, allowing Valuck to take the early lead, but Laughlin hit his approach shot on the par-4 No. 3 within five feet and made the birdie putt to tie the match.
In somewhat unlikely fashion, the match turned on the par-4 No. 7. Laughlin’s tee shot went so far right he was about to hit a provisional shot before an OGA official located Laughlin’s ball, just a few feet from an area in which it would have been unplayable. That was his first break.
The second came after he hit his second shot short and left of the green, then chipped in for birdie. Valuck, on the green with his second shot, couldn’t convert on a 40-foot birdie putt and Laughlin took the lead, never to trail again.
“The chip-in was huge,” Laughlin said. “That gave me some momentum and really helped shake off the nerves a little bit. I got a little hesitant there and left the tee shot hanging out right, but I told myself all day just to try and be free. That was my whole swing thought. … That was the only swing all day when I didn’t end up doing that.”
On the par-4 No. 8, Laughlin’s tee shot appeared headed dangerously close to the hole’s water hazard, but instead ended up embedded in a pile of dirt created by a gopher hole. He was allowed to take relief and ended up with a routine par, matching Valuck, but it could have been much worse.
“That was pretty crazy,” Laughlin said. “Luckily, someone was over there to actually see it in the middle. I don’t know if I would have found it, because it was pretty well covered in dirt. … It was not a good tee ball.
“You’re inches away sometimes from disaster. I’ve had two or three of those situations this week and those are the type of breaks that happen in golf that really keep you in the hunt. If you don’t get a couple of those breaks, you lose your match in the second or third round and you’re done. Really I was very fortunate with keeping it in play.”
Laughlin hit an 8-foot par putt on No. 9 while Valuck bogeyed. Laughlin went 3-up at No. 10 when he sunk a 12-foot birdie putt and Valuck missed a 10-foot birdie opportunity.
Valuck won No. 15, a par-4, with a two-putt par after Laughlin left his second shot short of the green, mishit a subsequent chip shot and then missed a 25-foot par putt. Both men parred the par-3 No. 16 before disaster struck Valuck on No. 17. After his tee shot went into a grove of trees to the right and his second shot failed to escape that grove, he conceded the hole, ending the match.
“I was hitting the ball real well all week, but my putting was just mediocre,” Valuck said. “Today, and even yesterday, I didn’t make much. It was a struggle. (Laughlin) played well tee to green and putted well, so he’s a deserving champion. He was under par after No. 2, so it’s tough to catch someone (like that) when you get behind.”
Senior State Amateur Championship
June 14-17, 2022
Trails Golf Club
Match Play Results
Christopher Laughlin, Edmond def. Jonathan Valuck, Oklahoma City 3 and 1