Duncan misses RTO berth in playoff
TRUCKEE, CALIF. — T.J. Duncan was only one playoff hole away from qualifying for the upcoming Reno-Tahoe Open.
Then he had a little trouble with his golf ball.
Duncan, a 25-year-old Carson City resident, played excellent golf in the tournament qualifying round at the Coyote Moon Golf Course in Truckee on Monday. He finished 18 holes with a 1 under-par score of 71 to tie for third with PGA Tour veteran Richard Pride and Buy.com Tour player Mark Wurtz. Because only four spots were open for the upcoming tournament, Duncan, Pride and Wurtz entered a one-hole playoff, with the top two advancing to play later this week at the RTO.
Both Pride and Wurtz had hit great drives when Duncan stepped up to the tee box. Feeling a little pressure to match his opponents, Duncan knocked his ball to the left, away from the fairway and into the woods.
No one was quite sure where the ball had landed, and a search ensued. A field official spotted what he believed to be the ball in a small clearing. As Duncan approached the ball, another field official went through the woods picking up stray balls in hopes to clean up the course.
What the official got instead was a much larger mess.
Without checking if the ball was actually his, Duncan made a nice save when he hit the ball cleanly back on to the fairway. When Duncan walked up to the ball for his next stroke, he looked down and saw it wasn’t his.
“When I walked up and saw it wasn’t mine,” Duncan said, “let me tell you, it was tough. It wasn’t easy to turn around and tell those guys ‘Listen, I got the wrong ball.'”
Hitting the wrong ball under United States Golf Association rules is a two-stroke penalty, however the situation was a lot more cloudy because the field official had picked up Duncan’s actual ball prior to Duncan hitting the wrong ball.
Duncan pleaded his case, telling the officials that he hit the ball they told him to hit, but in the end he was penalized because he never identified the ball as his own.
Because of his penalties and obvious frustration, Duncan was not in contention when Pride and Wurtz both made their par putts to qualify for the RTO.
Afterwards, Duncan was disappointed with what had occurred.
“It was an unfortunate incident,” he said. “I put just a little too much faith in the rules officials. It’s not a very good feeling.”
However, he admitted that it was also his mistake.
“When it all comes down to it, it is my fault. I didn’t identify my ball. It has never happened before, but there’s a first time for everything.”
He also didn’t regret telling the officials he hit the wrong ball.
“That’s the way the game is. You got to play by the rules. You have to call penalties on yourself and you expect others to do the same.”
Pride, who has been a regular on the PGA tour for years, thought mistakes were made on both sides.
“It was a bad deal and T.J. kind of got hammered on it, but it was his responsibility,” he said. “Obviously someone made a mistake, but the big mistake was made by T.J. for not identifying the ball.”
Joining Pride and Wurtz as qualifiers are David Morland, who was an alternate for the tournament but solidified his placement with a 70, and Bill Keller of Mountain View, Calif., who shot the best round of the day with a 69.
Keller, who said his golf game had been up and down before the round, was pleased with his performance.
“It feels good. I’ve been working hard on my game and it hasn’t been where I wanted it, but everything just went together today.”
As for the upcoming tournament, Keller’s only expectations are to have fun and play the best he can.
Duncan, a Carson High graduate who played three years at the University of Nevada and two at Oregon, looked at the positives of his round despite his disappointment.
“The experience is great — being in a playoff with two guys that have been on the tour. I’m happy with the way I played before the playoff. It was unfortunate that it turned out the way it did, but hats off to those guys (Pride and Wurtz). They played great today. Hopefully one of them can play really well and win this week, then they won’t have to play these qualifiers anymore.”
Locals: Besides Duncan, other local golfers played in the qualifying round. Steve Sear of Washoe Valley was only shot away from the playoff with a 72. Rick Vaughan of Dayton was in the middle of the pack with an 80. Minden’s Gary Louie hit a 82, but said he enjoyed himself. “I’m still floating,” he said after his round. “I had a great time. I could’ve been up near the top, but my shoulder is torn up.” Louie said that he practiced a lot for the tournament, which only took players with a handicap of two or lower. Jonathan Merry, a 2002 Douglas High graduate, finished with an 87.
A matter of Pride: The playoff qualifier is just one more event in an interesting year for Pride. In March at the Bay Hill Invitational, Pride was hospitalized with Gall Stone Pancreatis and had to get his gallbladder removed. He was in the hospital for a month, couldn’t eat food for two and a half months and lost 18 pounds. Since his return in June, Pride has played in six PGA tournaments and made the cut in five of them. He hopes to do a little better in the RTO, riding the momentum built on his round on Monday. “I enter tournaments to win. Anytime you have success like this — to play a good round and shoot under par in difficult conditions — it gives you a lot of confidence. Momentum is everything.”