79th Amateur Net Championship crowns first-time winners

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Moving locations for the first time in five years, the 79th Amateur Net Championship hosted 176 competitors this week, dividing them into four flights based on Handicap Index. All participants played both the Ranch and River Courses at The Alisal in Solvang, after advancing through qualifying rounds earlier in the year that included more than 800 golfers.

Monday's round saw abnormally high winds challenge the field, with only two of the competitors shooting net rounds under par. Tuesday's conditions allowed for lower scores, and named four winners in Chris Chen, Jimmy Tatum, Curtis Woolley and Don Slayton.

Bobby Jones Flight

Playing in the event for his fourth time, Chris Chen of Hi Caps GC secured his first SCGA Championship, posting rounds of 72 and 76 to finish 4-over par, one stroke better than fellow competitor Glenn Melero.

"I felt super nervous out there today," said Chen. "I didn't know the course because I had never seen it before, so I was pretty much going out there blind."

Despite being unfamiliar with the course, Chen was able to jump out of the gate hot, carding a birdie on the first hole, a par 5, 528-yarder. He would secure two more birdies the rest of the round.

Melero, of Balboa Park Men's GC, shot rounds of 77 and 72 to finish at 5-over par. Michael Lieberthal, a former Major League Baseball catcher for the Phillies and Dodgers, came in third with a total tournament score of 6-over par 150.

Jack Nicklaus Flight

Jimmy Tatum, a former Major League Baseball player who played with five different teams between 1992-1998, claimed his first SCGA victory by posting rounds of 72 and 77 for a total score of 5-over par 149. Tatum squeaked out the victory over Thomas Spraggins of Soule Park GC, who finished just a stroke behind Tatum.

"I wouldn't say I was nervous, but I was really concerned with the wind because the Ranch Course is so much of a tighter track than the River Course we played Monday," said Tatum. "I was definitely chipping out of places I didn't want to be."

Doug Boyle of Simi Hills Players Club took third place while Robert Szejn, also of Soule Park GC, took fourth, as both players finished at 8-over par.

Arnold Palmer Flight

Curtis Woolley of Burbank Men's GC took home the title in the Arnold Palmer Flight, shooting rounds of 78 and 72 to finish at 6-over par. Todd French of Roger Dunn Santa Ana and Jack Smith of Navy GC matched Woolley's total, however the tie was broken using the USGA method of matching score cards (holes 10-18 of Tuesday's round).

"It's the first time I won this event, and it feels great," said Woolley. "Every shot counts in competitive golf, so you really want to limit your mistakes, and I was able to do that."

Woolley's Tuesday round of 72 was on the River Course, one he has played a number of times in the past. The experience paid off, as he was able to record five birdies on the day.Rounding out the top five were Ivan Castillo of Industry Hills GC and Ken Arimitsu of Aliso Viejo CC.

Ben Hogan Flight

Running away with the victory in the Ben Hogan flight was Don Slayton of River Ridge Senior GC, who put together rounds of 73 and 66 to finish the tournament at 5-under par, four strokes better than any other competitor. Slayton's 66 was the second-lowest round of the day.

"I love these two courses. It's one of the reasons I tried to qualify this year," said Slayton. "I'm not a long hitter, so being careful is important for me on these courses. They suit my game pretty well, though."

Slayton, a first-time winner, last played the event in 2009 at Industry Hills GC. He had also qualified and competed in the SCGA Amateur Net a decade before that.

Posting the only-other under-par round of the event was Keith O'Donnell of Southern Pacific GC, who finished at 1-under par after shooting 73 on the Ranch Course Monday and 70 on the River Course Tuesday. Michael Younger of El Prado Men's GC wrapped up the top three with an even par championship, although he was matched by fourth-place finisher Boycho Chilikoff of Empire Lakes GC, who posted the best Monday round with a 68 on the Ranch Course.

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