By Murray Evans
SHAWNEE (July 11, 2017) – Jon Valuck of Oklahoma City received a putting lesson in March from his pro at Gaillardia Country Club. What Ryan Rody told Valuck after the lesson was simple – stick with it and trust the changes that needed to be made.
Valuck said he hasn’t always done that in the ensuing months, but with nothing to lose on Tuesday in the Oklahoma Golf Association Senior Stroke Play Championship, he thought again about Rody’s advice and took it to heart. The strategy worked, as Valuck rallied with a 1-under-par 70 and then won a two-hole playoff with a birdie on No. 2 at Shawnee Country Club.
Valuck finished the two-round event at 5-over 147, the same as Michael Hughett of Owasso and Jeff Smith of Edmond. It was Valuck’s fifth OGA title, with the other four coming in 4-ball events in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014, the latter three in senior competition with partner James Reid.
“That putting lesson really helped with my alignment and I’ve been focusing on that,” Valuck said. “Ryan told me that if I stuck with it, I would find that it would pay dividends eventually. I have had a tough year putting but I did have a good round today. I’d say it was my best putting round of the year and that’s what carried me through.”
Valuck entered the final round six shots behind the state’s top senior players in recent years, Hughett and Kirk Wright of Oklahoma City, who both shot even-par rounds on Monday.
On Tuesday, Wright was 1-under for the tournament after rolling in a 14-foot birdie putt on the par-4 No. 6, but after that he had five bogeys and a double bogey – on No. 9 when his tee shot hit a tree – and eventually posted a 77, missing a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 No. 18 that would have put him in the playoff.
Hughett, a 19-time OGA champion, also had more issues than he’s used to and needed to curl in a 12-foot par putt on No. 18 to save par – after hitting his tee shot into a bunker – and make the playoff.
“It was a struggle today,” Hughett said. “(Valuck and Smith) played well and we didn’t. It didn’t surprise me when I found out that the putt on 18 wasn’t good enough to win. That was the only putt I made all day.”
Playing two groups ahead of Hughett and Wright, Valuck and Smith posted the rounds of the day. Smith had a Nick Faldo-esque round, with only one birdie (on the par-5 No. 13) and one bogey, at No. 18, when he missed a 4-foot putt.
Valuck, meanwhile, birdied a pair of par 5s – No. 8 and No. 13 – and had his only bogey on No. 15 when he missed a short putt.
“This course is not as easy as you’d think to score on,” he said. “There are lots of angles, lots of trees, lots of water, especially on the back nine. Those finishing holes are really tough, especially 14 and 15 into the wind. There are a lot of good holes out here. Scores are higher than I thought they would be and I’m lucky to have played well today to catch the leaders. Obviously they had to come back to us.”
In the playoff, Valuck hit his tee shot at No. 1 into the left round and his second shot wasn’t on the green, but he chipped to within 18 inches to save par. Hughett left a 15-foot birdie putt painfully short and Smith pushed his 10-foot birdie putt just left.
At the par-3 No. 2, Valuck hit his tee shot with an 8-iron, after playing a 9-iron during the round and leaving it just short. He drilled it, giving himself a 2-foot putt to win after Hughett couldn’t hole out from a greenside bunker and Smith missed a 12-foot birdie putt.