Paradise Valley Athletic Club
July 10 & 11, 1999
Bob Stephens, The Morning News
Greg Hays didn't have much hope. He trailed Jay Houk by five strokes with just eight holes to play. Seemingly, the Paradise Valley Athletic Club Invitational was all but wrapped up.
But in golf, things can change quickly. They did Sunday, and the 42-year-old Hays fashioned a magnificent run and emerged as tournament champion by a stroke over the talented but disappointed Houk, a recent graduate of Rogers High School.
"I was four down at the turn," Hays said, "and then I three-putted No. 10 for a bogey to go down five. That's death on most golf courses but the back nine at Paradise is probably one of the harder nine holes in the state of Arkansas. There's a lot of water and trouble, and now there's more grass on the golf course than ever before. The rough is brutal."
Hays avoided most of the trouble and shot 1-under 34 on the back nine. Houk struggled, especially with his putter, and carded 39. Both were even on the front.
"The way Greg putted all day was tremendous," Houk said. "He's a great player and deserved to win. To shoot 70 today was hard."
Houk shot 75 while Tracy Harris, who led after Saturday's opening round with a 4-under 67, limped home with 79 to finish third.
Jeff Jenkins, a 20-year-old from Van Buren, completed the final foursome. The number two golfer at Arkansas Tech shot 75, three shots worse than his first-day total, to finish at 147, five behind Hays.
Hays was 1-over par 72 on Saturday, four shots behind Houk. While Harris ballooned to a 42 on the front nine Sunday, both Houk and Hays were even-par.
But Hays birdied No. 11, setting the stage for a startling six-shot turnaround in just four holes. He made a solid sand save for par on No. 12, while Houk suffered a double bogey.
"Greg made a great run," Jenkins said. "The double at 12 really hurt Jay and Greg capitalized on it."
"The two-shot swing on 12 was big," Hays said. "Then I was only down two going into the water holes."
He hit 4-iron to about six feet on the par-3 13th, then drained the putt. Houk made bogey and suddenly it was tied.
Hays then birdied No. 14, from about 14 feet, to take the lead.
"I didn't necessarily blow it," Houk said, "but I didn't take advantage of opportunities when I had them."
His biggest chance to regain control came at No. 15, when Hays drove into the trees and punched a shot over the green, nearly out of bounds. But Hays saved a bogey with a 10-foot putt and Houk missed a shorter putt to also make bogey.
Houk finally made a par putt on the par-3 16th while Hays failed to get up-and-down. It was his third bogey on the back nine and the tournament, which had evolved into a match play situation, was again tied.
Hays took the lead again on the par-5 17th, though, making birdie while Houk parred.
On 18, Hays played safe, chipped to four feet and made par after Houk fired at the tough pin, missed the green and then slid his chip shot just right of the hole.
"I finished second and that's not bad," Houk said. "But I started hitting it sideways and you can't do that here. When I had the four-shot lead, I just wanted to hit fairways and greens. But it got away from me."
Although Houk stumbled a bit, Hays earned the victory. He drained lengthy putts on 11, 12, 14 and 15. On the back nine, Hays one-putted seven times.
"He's had that old putter since the '60s," Harris said. "Two weeks ago, he had an Odyssey putter but I notice he put it away. The way he putted, he needs to keep this one out."
A Fayetteville High graduate in 1974, Hays played in college for Oklahoma and Arkansas. At age 22, he was a quarter-finalist in the U.S. Amateur. But he hasn't approached that level in recent years.
"This was fun," Hays said. "I haven't been in contention in a designated tournament in a long time. It's probably been four or five years."
The PVAC Invitational is an ASGA-designated tourney, with players earning points for state player of the year honors.
That doesn't mean as much to Hays, though, as becoming a father. He and wife Pam are expecting their first child in about two weeks.
"I had a beeper in my bag," Hays said with a laugh.
Hays praised Houk, who will play next year for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
"Jay's really a good player," Hays said. "He doesn't make many mistakes. The University of Arkansas has got to feel really fortunate to have him. It's good to see an Arkansas guy with the Razorbacks."
Jim Smith was the top finisher among PVAC members. The 52-year-old smooth swinger was fifth, scoring 73-76 for 149.
"I had two bad swings and it cost me," Smith said.
Low round of the day was carded by Wes Byers of Ward, who had a 68 to follow up Saturday's disappointing round of 82. He tied for sixth with PVAC's Nick Beach, Ron Richard of Fort Smith and Fayetteville's Chris Gates, who had a 71. Beach shot 73 after making birdie at 2, 3 and 5, though those gems sandwiched a double bogey on 4.