Big Canyon's big leap

NEWPORT BEACH — On Monday, Big Canyon Country Club was closed.

The country club reopened with a bang Tuesday.

Big Canyon took care of business as the host of the 12th annual Jones Cup, winning the golf tournament for a record seventh time. In doing so, it ended Mesa Verde's bid at a three-peat.

Mesa Verde never stood a chance in the two best-ball format against Big Canyon, finishing in second place, nine strokes behind the host. Newport Beach was third, 10 shots back, and Santa Ana finished last, 11 shots back.

Big Canyon ended a two-year title drought in a big way. Playing in its backyard helped Big Canyon claim the one-round event after back-to-back runner-up finishes to Mesa Verde.

The key to Big Canyon's success was 10 birdies and playing bogey-free golf for 17 of the 18 holes. All five of Big Canyon's members contributed. Mike Carpenter collected three birdies, and Robert Pang, Gary Singer and Olivia Slutzky each produced two birdies, while Michael Castillo birdied once.

"A total team effort," said Pang, the club's head professional and team captain, adding his teammates felt no pressure to win at home.

Big Canyon had a good reason to be loose. Whenever Big Canyon is at home during the Jones Cup, it prevails.

The event, which features four Newport-Mesa area private country clubs, returned to Big Canyon for a third time. Through the first three holes, Big Canyon did not seem to have the home-course advantage as it shot even par.

Big Canyon was the last group to tee off, starting on No. 10, a par-four hole. Pang led the group through the tunnel, but Carpenter was the one keeping the team even early on.

Carpenter recorded pars on the first three holes. He barely missed a birdie on the third hole, coming up five inches short on his putt.

The first birdie for Big Canyon was turned in by the unlikeliest of golfers on the green of the fourth hole, a par four from Singer, whose ball was the furthest away from the cup, right on the edge of the green.

Somehow, Singer made the ball hum right into the hole. From 45 feet out, Singer curved a shot and the ball rolled downhill before dropping into the cup. Singer put Big Canyon at one under, tied with Newport Beach for second place, one stroke behind the leader, Mesa Verde.

"It all started with Gary's putt," Pang said. "We just needed to break the ice … and get something going."

Big Canyon grabbed its first lead, thanks to the club's senior champion.

Singer sunk his second birdie, leaving Big Canyon at two under through seven holes. The lead might have been three strokes if Slutzky, Carpenter or Pang hadn't misfired on their putts from close range.

Pang redeemed himself on the following hole, a par four. Pang drove the ball well, hitting the fairway. On his next shot, his ball landed 12 feet away from the cup.

Now, all he needed to do was forget about two of his previous three putts that cost him two birdies.

Pang showed he had a short memory as he nailed the putt and pumped his left fist. Big Canyon was now three under, with a three-stroke lead on Mesa Verde, with one more hole left to play on the front nine.

Big Canyon wasn't finished, as the front nine belonged them.

The home gallery watched Carpenter birdie for the first time and Pang birdie for the second time in as many holes. Pang and Carpenter gave Big Canyon a four-stroke advantage over Mesa Verde.

Big Canyon played bogey-free golf on the front nine, collecting five birdies. The only Big Canyon golfer who didn't birdie on the first nine holes was Slutzky.

On Slutzky's first chance on the back nine, the women's champion, delivered. She kept a four-stroke distance between Big Canyon and Mesa Verde when she recorded a 10-foot birdie putt.

In Pang's words, this is when Slutzky "came alive." She birdied for a second straight time, and with Castillo's birdie, Big Canyon was eight under and led by six shots. The lead increased the more holes Big Canyon played through.

With Big Canyon wrapping up the title, Carpenter played for something else. There was a new Mercedes-Benz parked near where he was going to use his driver on the 16th hole.

A hole in one in the par-three, 180-yard hole and the car was Carpenter's to keep. The men's champion came close to jumping into the car. His ball landed four feet from the cup.

Carpenter had to settle for a ride inside a crowded golf cart to reach the next hole. He sat on his wife's lap, while an older man drove the cart toward the winner's circle.

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