Day 2 at the Travis: Hoit Defeats Two Former Champions in Semifinals

By: Jay Flemma

Fifteenth-seeded Roger Hoit turned in a dominating performance in the first two rounds of match play of the Travis Invitational, defeating defending champion Michael Kelley and two-time winner George Zahringer by a combined eight holes.

"I'm exhausted," Hoit gasped as he sunk deeply into a chair. "They are two of the best match-play golfers I know. But I played well today, and I putted well, and good putting makes all the difference in match play." Hoit used a 5-under 32 on the front nine to power his way to a 3-up lead en route to beating Kelley 3 and 2. After surrendering a 1-up lead at the third, he raced past Zahringer 5 and 4 in the afternoon match.

Indeed, it was a tough day overall for former champions, as ninth-seeded Joel Lulla - who calls Lahinch in Ireland his home course - defeated Tim Schmitt 3 and 2 to join Hoit in Sunday's semifinals. Lulla will face fifth-seeded Hunter Semels and Hoit will face 11th seeded Chris Lange.

"I was 5-up after 12 holes against Tim, but then he birdied 13, 14 and 15 to close the gap, Lulla explained. "But I hit a 9-iron to two feet on 16. Tim conceded the putt to win that match. I won a lot of holes against George with pars." Lulla, an attorney and consultant in the sports and television industries, defeated Ken Bakst in 19 holes in his morning match.

Even though the sky was overcast, the predicted rains never came and the golf was sparkling all day. Hunter Semels provided the most excitement early. His bogey-free 5-under 68, which just barely defeated Joe Sommers's equally bogey-free 4-under 68 at the 18th hole, was the morning's most exciting match. Semels then rallied from a late two-hole deficit against Kurt Kashavaroff in the afternoon match to win in 19 holes.

"I've been so looking forward to this event," he said his interview the day previously, when his 1-under 72 qualified him for the match-play section of the event. "It was so exciting to get the invitation because this is my first Travis, and I get to see and feel all the history and tradition."

There were fireworks to end the day as well as Chris Lange eagled the short par-4 1st hole to win a playoff against Peter Kurkow, in a match that saw five lead changes. "It was a seesaw match all day. We only halved a couple holes," Lange said. "I was down three after four, and just said to myself that I better not get down any further, and won five, six, seven and nine to take the lead on the front. Then I gave one back with a three-putt on 11 and Pete won 12 with a birdie. Now I'm one down again," he continued.

"But the swings didn't stop there. I won the next three - 13, 14 and 15 - to take a two-hole lead, and Pete comes back and wins 16 and 17 to tie me again."

In the playoff, which started at the 302-yard par-4 first hole, Lange then drove the green and was 15 feet right of the pin. Kurkow drove into Garden City's rough - arguably the club's greatest defense - and he took three more shots to get to the green. Lange rolled in the eagle putt to close the day's play in grand fashion. Lange had defeated his good friend and popular pre-tournament pick Kevin Hammer in the first round 4 and 3.

"Golf just doesn't get any better than this. That was a great match on a fantastic course," Lange declared. "You really have to think on this course where to leave yourself, how the wind is going to affect your shots, and the rough penalizes an errant shot," he observed. "And it's a great medal-play course, and it's a great match-play course. It just doesn't get any better than Garden City."

Indeed, the course again lived up to its match-play reputation: No lead is safe at Garden City. Last year each of the two finalists lost a 2-up lead. All day yesterday, excepting Hoit's dominant performance, leads were fleeting.

"I think it's a great match-play venue because it has a lot of holes of unusual lengths," said eminent golf course architect Tom Doak in a pre-tournament interview. "There are several short and medium par-4s, which a strong player might try to overpower, but where a wild shot will lead to a bogey and the loss of a hole," he explained. "There are several holes where driving into a fairway bunker will put you at a half-stroke disadvantage, and you have to fight to salvage a half. There are a bunch of long par-4s like No. 6 and No. 15 where par is a very good score and bogey might gain a half."

Doak, the man who designed Pacific Dunes and Ballyneal, to name a few, was the architect who restored Garden City Golf Club several years ago.

The competition also had an unexpected star in Garden City's junior club champion, Charlie Garcia. There as a spectator, Charlie was called upon to serve as a marker for Pat Kelly, Jr., whose opponent withdrew and wanted to play his fourth-flight match nevertheless. The 16-year-old phenom - a skinny, blond high-school sophomore, who looks every bit like the poster of a rising young golf star - halved his match with Kelly.

"We wanted to send someone out with Pat as a marker to help keep a normal pace," said Garden City's head professional Bob Rittberger. "We also wanted the marker to be a member. Charlie's a good kid and a fine young player and he filled in quite nicely," he said, obviously delighted that Charlie had so much fun and played so well.

"It was a thrill to get asked," Charlie said. "I've been coming to the club since I was two, when I'd have breakfast with dad. I got to learn from our pro emeritus, Gil McNally, and I'm hooked on golf. I love it. I play till I can't see the ball."

Doesn't that sound like what every father dreams he would hear his son say one day?

Charlie's dad was out there, along with a sizeable group of other spectators, and the match became a solid, unexpected, and fun undercard to the top flight. Charlie took a two-hole lead after three, but Kelly tied him and, after trading wins at seven and eight, they went to the turn all square. After the seesaw battle continued on the back, Charlie took a 1-up lead with a par on 17 when Kelly hit his fourth drive of the day out-of bounds, this time into Merrick Parkway.

But Kelly made a stunning reversal at the 18th. With Charlie safely on the back of the green, Kelly dumped his iron shot into the front right bunker, all but certain death at Garden City, more so when you're 1 down at the home hole. But Kelly, with the ball 15 feet below the level of the green, rescued himself from the deck of that sinking ship, splashing the ball to five feet from the cup.

Charlie three-putted from 30 feet and the match ended in a halve. Kelly will play Michael Deo in the next round of his fourth-round bracket. The winner will face the winner of Dan Goldstein and Mike Reardon.

Other flights will see excellent matches and colorful figures as well. In the second flight, named for course designer Devereux Emmet, Tristan Lewis will face Greg Rohff, and Jed Raynor will play Robert Steffen, Jr. In the third flight, Brian Falk will meet Oakmont's Curt Coulter, and Alan Fadel will face Hal Berman. In the fifth flight, Ken Cohen will face Jay Crowley, and last year's stroke play medalist Alan Specht will play Ed "Scissorhands" Gibstein, the Engineers Golf Club member who effectuated a tree-clearing campaign that greatly improved that club and a popular figure at Garden City as well. In the senior, flight Kevin Foster meets Jim Graham, and John Powers plays Ron Vannelli.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004,, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.