SANTA ANA — What did the five golfers representing Mesa Verde Country Club on Wednesday at the 14th annual Jones Cup have in common with ornithologists?
Both thoroughly lament the birdies that got away.
Mesa Verde missed five birdie putts at or inside 10 feet and it turned no fewer than 20 missed birdie putts into tap-in pars to finish nine-under-par 63 in the two-best-ball format at Santa Ana Country Club.
Big Canyon Country Club won the event at 11 under to capture its third straight crown and nine out of 14 overall.
Mesa Verde, which has four Jones Cup titles, was looking forward to the short, straight-forward layout at Santa Ana, even going so far as to suggest Wednesday’s course may be more favorable than their own home layout.
And while head professional Tom Sargent, club professional Mike Fergin, men’s club champion Ryan Gale, men’s senior champion Preston Murray and women’s club champion Madelaine Campbell all lived up to their reputation for hitting the ball straight, it was the slight undulating curves and small directional shifts provided by the greens that proved too tough to solve for Mesa Verde, especially on the front nine.
Through eight holes, only Sargent’s six-foot birdie putt on the par-four No. 3 hole was enough for Mesa Verde to subvert mediocrity.
Fergin, who consistently drove the ball the longest among his teammates, made a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 9 that appeared to get some momentum going for his team.
Sure enough, Gale tapped in for birdie on the par-five 10th hole, where Fergin also converted a birdie after chipping to within three feet, The surge moved Mesa Verde to four-under, closing what had been a five-stroke deficit to Big Canyon to just three.
And after a pair of pars on No. 11, Mesa Verde posted birdies on five of the next seven holes, including a dramatic 20-yard pitch by Sargent that struck the flagstick and dropped in on No. 17 to ignite hope, after Big Canyon opened a four-stroke lead by posting two birdies on No. 18.
But Fergin missed a nine-foot birdie attempt on 17 to leave Mesa Verde three strokes down with one hole to play.
Fergin made a run at an eagle on No. 18, running a 38-yard pitch only a couple inches past the hole. He tapped in for a birdie, but par was the best his teammates could achieve.
“We couldn’t make a putt,” said Sargent, the only competitor to take part in all 14 Jones Cup events. “But I thought we all played well. That’s just they way it goes, sometimes.”
Sargent finished with three birdies and six pars, though some players did not finish holes after the two lowest possible scores had been posted.
Fergin led his team with four birdies and had six pars, while Gale chipped in two birdies and seven pars.
Murray added seven pars and Campbell contributed five to help Mesa Verde avert ever losing a team stroke to par.
“I think if we made a couple more putts on the front, we would have been right there an 11 or 12 under,” Fergin said.
Gale also said that the flat stick was the aspect of the game that troubled his team the most.
“The greens were perfect,” Gale said. “We just needed more putts to drop. We were only two under on the front nine, so I think we left a few [birdies] out there.”
Campbell, who was pleased about her team’s strong charge on the back nine, said the failure to make putts early cost her team valuable momentum.
“We didn’t make putts like we have in the past [Jones Cup events],” Campbell said. “We didn’t panic, though. ‘Sarge’ held us together.”
Sargent was clearly the leader early, until Fergin posted birdies on two of the final three holes to give him three birdies on the back nine.
Sargent sank a much-needed 15-foot putt for par that helped avert giving a stroke back to par with a bogey that might have counted on No. 5.
Sargent also took particular satisfaction in his 20-yard chip-in on No. 17, because he called the shot before he made it.