Playoff pays off for Fuqua

October 14, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

Ben Fuqua was the leader in the clubhouse at the Boys State Golf Tournament, and he wanted his score to hold up. But part of him was quietly wishing for a playoff.

Fuqua has been playing uncommonly well in playoffs this year, and he did it again Friday when it mattered most.

The Danville senior emerged from a three-way playoff on the third sudden-death hole to win the first state championship for an area golfer.

Never one to show a great deal of emotion on the course, Fuqua did only a little celebrating after Alex Zega of St. Xavier missed a birdie putt to give Fuqua the victory at Eagle Trace Golf Course in Morehead.

"It really didn't hit me," Fuqua said. "I think I just expected to win."

And with good reason. Fuqua won a playoff just to reach the state tournament for the third and final time, and he is 6-for-6 in sudden-death golf since July.


He finished his final round a good while before the final groups, following a first-round 72 with a 70, then waited to see if anyone could match his 36-hole total of 2-under-par 142.

"Dad and I were saying if it went to a playoff I had an edge going in," he said.

That's just what happened after Zega of St. Xavier and Tyler Current of Trinity - whose teams waged a fierce battle for the team title that saw Trinity win by five strokes - posted a 70 and a 69, respectively, to join Fuqua at 2 under.

"I felt like I had an edge," he said. "I was going in with two sophomores, and I'm sure those guys were more nervous than I had been."

The players started the playoff on the par-4 ninth hole, where Fuqua and Zega made par but Current fell by the wayside after driving into tall grass.

Both Fuqua and Zega just missed their birdie putts, and both of them just missed again on the par-4 10th hole, where Zega's putt lipped out.

On the par-5, 520-yard 11th hole, Zega had to lay up out of the rough while Fuqua hit his approach shot to the back fringe of the green. Fuqua's chip shot from 40 feet rolled just by the hole, and he tapped in for birdie.

He wasn't watching when Zega attempted his eight-foot putt for birdie - he almost never watches opponents hit their shots - but he turned back toward the hole just in time to see Zega's putt roll past the edge.

News of Fuqua's victory reached Danville before he walked off the green, thanks to teammates and others updating the folks at home via cell phone.

One of those following the news was Bruce Brown, the Old Bridge Golf Club professional who has helped Fuqua and a host of other area players with their game.

Brown had talked to Fuqua to prepare him for the final round, and they talked again as Fuqua waited for a possible playoff. Brown was congratulating Fuqua moments after the end of play, and he then drove to Lexington to meet Fuqua and his celebration party for dinner.

""He was as happy as he could be for me," Fuqua said. "I owe most of this to him. There's no way I'd have been prepared for the state tournament if it weren't for him."

Fuqua took steps to improve his physical condition before the summer and fall seasons, running and lifting weights. And he said he also took to heart Brown's advice about laying out a plan for each round.

"I've been trying to get down forever the mental aspect of the game," Fuqua said. "I finally learned what it's all about, how much thought has to go into each shot."

Fuqua's shots during his first 18 holes Friday included four birdies and two bogeys. He made his final pre-playoff birdie on No. 14. On Thursday, he had three birdies and three bogeys for an even-par finish.

"I've never played this steady and solid," he said. "This is the most solid tournament I've ever played in."

That sort of play will probably put Fuqua in greater demand among college coaches. He said his goal is to play at the highest collegiate level possible, and he's eager to see who'll be calling him in the coming weeks.

It also puts his name on a list of state individual champions that is a virtual who's who of Kentucky golfing greats, including names like Johnny Owens, Gay Brewer, Russ Cochran, Kenny Perry and John Holmes.

And Fuqua is one of only five golfers in the past five years to finish the state tournament below par.

"That puts me in some elite company," he said.|10/5/03***

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