Back row Doug Heyer, Will Deschamps, Bob Whaley, Gary Swartz Front row; Gary Sorensen, Norm Wight, Jim Hamilton and Howard Dickey
Dateline: Tuesday, 27 September 2016, Missoula, Montana
(Please note this is the WMOAA Tourney and not a report on the Ryder Cup)
It was a cool, crisp, fall day in Big Sky country. Perfect conditions for the Western Montana Military Officers Association Fall Golf Championship. Eight Veterans prepared for the battle that was soon to begin at the tree lined University of Montana Golf Course. The greens were cut short and fast. The fairways were in terrific shape. The rough?, these talented golfers were the cream of the crop from the ranks of WMMOA and they weren’t planning to visit the rough; not today. Their only thoughts were on the breathtaking prizes for Closest to the Pin and Longest Drive. The national media was relieved that the “Rumble in the Rockies” would not compete for national attention with the Ryder Cup being held more than a thousand miles to the east in Minnesota.
As the golfers assembled on the first tee the pressure was gut-wrenching. The Marine Corps team of Bob Whaley and Will Deschamps had the lowest handicaps and were the clear favorites. They were tasked with going first. They would be joined Navy-Army team of Norm Wight and Jim Hamilton in the lead foursome. The second foursome was to be an All-Army group of Gary Sorensen and Howard Dickey joined by the team of Doug Heyer and Gary Swartz. The best ball format neutralized handicaps, rewarded great putting and guaranteed dramatic results.
The crack of ball striking echoed across the Missoula valley. It was joined by the sound of golf balls hitting trees followed by murmurs of frustration. Early on at the second hole Norm Wight posted his claim to closest to the pin (in two) by stopping his second shot four feet past the pin and then proceeded to sink the curving, downhill putt for a par. Jim Hamilton and Norm Wight were celebrating being one over after two very difficult holes but it was not to be their day as they would bogey the last six holes. Gary Swartz playing behind in the trail foursome, chipped within three feet and watched Doug Heyer sink the putt to par the hole and trump Wight’s claim for closest to the pin. The Army team of Heyer and Swartz stormed into the lead with pars on the first three holes before a double bogey six on the fourth hole brought the Marines back into the chase, trailing the leaders by only one stroke. Three of the teams parred the tough par three fifth hole, but Heyer and Swartz extended their lead with a beautiful par on the sixth hole. The leaders began to waiver with poor drives on the long par three seventh hole followed by marginal chips, however, Doug Heyer calmly drained a 10 foot putt to save par and maintain the lead over the Marines. Down five with two holes to go the Army team of Sorensen and Dickey knew it was time to make a move on the eighth hole. Sorensen’s superb approach to within three feet produced a par and won the hole. Now the pressure on the last hole was immense. Not only is the ninth hole a third of a mile long, it was designated the long drive hole and a chance for the Marines to surge into the lead. Will Deschamps was up to the task, smashing a massive drive right down the middle; the long drive stake was out there so far that the Army teams could barely see it. One by one the second foursome “gripped it and ripped it”. Gary Swartz, an artilleryman used to long ranges and unfortunately prone to slicing, aimed for the left rough and proceeded to hit his best drive of the day. It was a bullet that almost disappeared from view but against the blue sky was seen rocketing back onto the fairway; bounding over the short grass, rolling past the stake and setting up the Heyer/Swartz team for a closing par five to capture winning team honors.
The Army team of Doug Heyer and Gary Swartz parred seven of the nine holes and shot a three over par 38 to win the team championship. The Marine team of Bob Whaley and Will Deschamps played great golf with four pars but lost ground on the long par fives as they finished second with a 41. In third place with a 43, Gary Sorensen and Howard Dickey played solid golf but being three over on the par threes negated their otherwise flashes of brilliance. Jim Hamilton and Norm Wight exploded out of the gate over the first three holes but perhaps their age caught up with them over the last six holes; they finished fourth with a 45.
On the individual awards, Gary Swartz bumped Norm Wight out of the closest to the pin honors and edged Will Deschamps for the longest drive prize.
Challenged but triumphant, the WMMOA teams headed to the Iron Griz sports bar to discuss what might have been over burgers and beers. Not surprisingly, as is our custom, the conversation soon turned to tales of faraway places across the Pacific or assignments in Europe. It seems a good time was had by all.