Golf: Defending champ wins Atomic City qualifying round

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By Mike Cote

Prior to Wednesday, the last time Lee Sanchez played golf in Los Alamos, he found himself in a playoff with one of the Normans.

Wednesday, he found himself in a playoff with one of the Normans.

In Wednesday’s qualifying round of the Atomic City Invitational, Sanchez, the defending tournament champion, shot an even-par 72 after 18 holes, a total which was equaled by Curt Norman.

The two faced off in a sudden-death playoff, with Sanchez sinking a short putt on the third playoff hole to take the victory.

Sanchez, who had an automatic berth into the championship flight of the tournament, which got going this morning at Los Alamos Golf Course, locked up the No. 1 seed in the tournament with the playoff victory.

Winning the qualifying round wasn’t Sanchez’s biggest goal heading into the qualifier.

“I was trying to get the feel of the course,” said Sanchez, a native of Santa Fe who won the ACI in 1997 and 1998 as well as his victory last year. “I haven’t been up here for awhile. It’s nice to get to play, get the feel of the course and not to have the tournament pressure.”

In the 2008 ACI final, Sanchez locked horns with Jason Norman, Curt’s older brother. The two also went to a sudden-death playoff after they finished the regulation 27 holes deadlocked.

Sanchez won the match and the tournament on the first playoff hole, hitting a masterful wedge shot from about 60 yards off the green that left him within two feet of the cup.

Wednesday, Sanchez and Curt Norman were even after a pair of playoff holes. Both crushed their drives on the par-5 third hole, but even though Norman outdrove the big-hitting Sanchez, he found himself in the rough right of the fairway about 90 yards out.

Norman’s second shot from the rough flew the green, albeit by only about three feet.

“I was at an awkward distance for me,” Norman said. “I hit the shot a little long and I couldn’t get it down the way I needed to.”

Other than that, Norman thought he played pretty well Wednesday.

In his qualifying round, Norman was 1-under at the turn, picking up birdies on the fifth and seventh holes.

He ran into some trouble to start the back nine, however, taking a double bogey on the 10th. Norman bounced back quickly, however, earning birdies on both 11 and 12.

Norman said the course was playing a little longer than usual Wednesday, something that he said worked to his advantage.

In 2008, Sanchez and Norman met in the tournament quarterfinals. Sanchez won that contest in a playoff, as well.

In last year’s event, Sanchez would knock off Jason, Curt and father Bruce Norman on his way to the victory.

Sanchez wasn’t the only defending champion to earn a victory Wednesday. In the men’s senior’s flight, Eddie Sanchez earned a two-stroke victory.

Eddie Sanchez shot a 77 in the senior flight, topping the other six players in the senior men’s draw. His closest competitor Wednesday was Nick Silva of Socorro. No other player in the senior men’s contest broke 80.

Sanchez carded a pair of birdies Wednesday, with his bird on the seventh countering Silva’s lone bird of the day.

Silva actually led Sanchez by one stroke at the turn, but he couldn’t keep up his momentum on the backside while Sanchez remained steady throughout.

Sanchez knocked off Bruce Takala in the 2008 senior’s final by three holes to earn the victory. He has won both ACI titles since joining the senior tournament in 2007.

While he feels he’s playing good golf heading into match play, Sanchez is wary of the others in his bracket.

“I’ve got some competition,” he said. “(Silva) is a good player. Fred Robinson’s a good player. I’ve got four guys that are pretty competitive. Golf is anybody’s game, depending on how you play.”

Sanchez said he was able to hit some putts en route to his victory.

Sanchez, Silva and Fred Robinson played as a group Wednesday and the three completed their 18-hole round in just a hair over three hours.

In the men’s qualifying tournament, Marty Sanchez won a three-man playoff to earn the last slot in the championship draw, beating out Richie Petty and Mark Sandoval. All three players finished with a score of 80 in regulation.

Jason Norman, who was the top finisher in the ACI qualifier last year, finished tied for third Wednesday, carding a 1-over 73.

“I’m pretty happy,” Jason Norman said. “Qualify is all I needed to do. I haven’t been playing a whole lot. I was just trying to get into the championship flight.”

Brad King, who birdied a pair of holes on the back, also finished with a 73 to tie Norman for third.

Following his round, the 2008 runner-up said it was kind of a mixed day.

“Lots of birdies, lots of bogies,” Norman said. “It was real up and down, but I stayed around par all day.”

All four previous ACI champions in the men’s qualifier – Cale Jones, Brett Hollander, Fred Seeley and Gary Rich – made the cut to get into the championship draw to try to retake Sanchez’s crown.

“It’s going to be a tough battle,” Sanchez said of his bid to win his fourth ACI title. “We’ll have to see where the cards fall, but it’s sure going to be tough...It’ll be an extreme challenge, but it will be a good time. There’s some good matches coming up.”

Sanchez, the top seeded player in the draw, took on Marty Sanchez in the first round. Curt Norman, the two seed, met Jake Rodar today.

In the women’s championship flight this year, Martha Waters is the top seed. The 2008 ACI winner, Sarah Anast, is not scheduled to compete this year.

Also Wednesday, the Grand Am team of Phil Alei, Larry Alei and Mo Alei finished plus-2 in that competition. In the Grand Am, teams were assigned points based on how each team member performed on each hole.

NOTE: Due to early deadlines owing to the July 4 holiday, coverage of the Atomic City Invitational in the Los Alamos Monitor will be delayed this week.

Here are the results from Wednesday’s Atomic City Invitational play.

Men’s qualifier

Lee Sanchez 38-34–72 (won playoff)

Curt Norman 35-37–72

Brad King 38-35–73

Jason Norman 35-38–73

Cale Jones 38-36–74

Ted Ball 36-38–74

Brandon Rich 38-37–75

Brett Hollander 38-38–76

Warren Finch 39-38–77

Colin MacFarland 36-41–77

Cheylan Gresham 37-40–77

Bruce Norman 40-37–77

Fred Seeley 39-39–78

Gary Rich 36-43–79

Jake Rodar 40-39–79

Marty Sanchez 40-40–80 (won playoff)

Richie Petty 40-40–80

Mark Sandoval 39-41–80

Eric Rothe 40-41–81

Darren Knox 40-41–81

Thomas Herrera 38-44–82

Pat Metzger 41-42–83

Lance Lackas 42-42–84

Jim Liberty 41-45–86

Robert Ortiz 42-44–86

Senior men

Eddie Sanchez 38-39–77

Nick Silva 37-42–79

Dale Mildbrandt 39-45–84

Fred Robinson 42-43–85

Dave Waters 45-41–86

Ed Joyce 43-45–88

Richard Ryder 46-42–88

ACI Grand Am

Phil Alei, Larry Alei, Mo Alei, +2

Brian Colby, Paul Cook, Lynne Taylor, -1

Ron Hults, Larry Hults, Ken Koch, Ree Gerchow, -2

John Majarus, Jerry Adair, John Rau, Manny Rivera, -9

Chris Lentz, Leary Lentz, Anna Swertfeger, -10

Chipping contest

Curt Norman, 2 feet, 7 inches

Pat Metzger, 3 feet, 5 inches

Ken Koch, 4 feet, 0 inches