Taylor wins Labor Day Classic; Brown second
WORTHINGTON -- Another golfer, seeing Tony Brown making a late run, might have gotten tight.
But not Bret Taylor, who held off the three-time Labor Day Classic champion to win his first LDC title on a warm, sunny Labor Day Monday at the Worthington Country Club. Taylor, a stocky Iowan with a powerful driver and soft putting touch around the greens, carded a 4-under par 67 in the 18-hole final four round Monday to turn away the plucky former champion from Plymouth.
Brown, who trailed Taylor by five strokes with just five holes to go, finished just two strokes behind with a 69. Brian Verduyn, who like Taylor hails from Des Moines, Iowa, carded a 1-under 70. And Brandon Klein, not long removed from the Luverne High School golf team, finished with a 5-over 76.
Just when the sizeable gallery thought Taylor was ready to coast into the clubhouse an unchallenged new champion, Brown made them all pause. The key moment came on hole No. 14 when Brown chipped in from about 40 feet away from the pin. Moments later Taylor lined up his chip from about the same distance away and rolled to within three feet.
It was clear then that, as surely as Brown would not concede his championship without a fight, Taylor was not likely to wilt under the pressure.
"I told myself, 'No bogies. Just keep playing, just make shots.' I knew they'd have to make birdies to catch me ... I still felt like I was in pretty good shape," Taylor said. "I played bogey-free to that point. I thought, 'I'll just keep making pars.' And I knew 17 and 18 were birdie holes, and I thought I could even gain ground."
Taylor didn't gain any more ground. But he didn't lose much.
Both players parred No. 15. Brown delivered another outstanding long chip shot on No. 16 and used it to pick up another stroke. With two more holes to go, the 2013 champ was two-under to Taylor's five-under.
On No. 17, Brown gained another stroke. But Taylor continued to play steady golf, holding par to take a two-stroke lead on to No. 18. Both made birdies on the final green and the tournament was over.
Taylor came to Worthington after being a head professional for eight years in Sioux City, Iowa, and another three years in Council Bluffs, Iowa. But he went through a divorce and took some time off to be a single father to his two young boys. He didn't play golf for about three years during that time, but he's since remarried and his boys have grown up. In 2008 he got his amateur status back and now, he says, he plays as many events as he can.
He competed at the Labor Day Classic two years ago, encouraged by his good friends Jon Brown (another former champion) and Sioux Citian Todd Sapp, who played the LDC this year.
Monday's victory was Taylor's first of the season. He said he began to feel extra confident of his golf game just at the right time for Worthington.
"Five or six weeks ago at the Waterloo Open. I made a couple of swings and it just clicked. And I thought, 'That looks like the guy I used to know as a club professional.'"
Verduyn also played a strong tournament, staying just one stroke back of Taylor after the first seven holes of the final four, and two strokes ahead of Brown. But midway through, Taylor began to separate himself.
The young golfer from Luverne, Klein, received lots of support from the Worthington gallery despite playing unevenly from the start. Klein missed a few putts and mishit a pair of short chips badly on No. 9, but he made enough fine shots to earn the applause he received.
As for Brown, he said he never gave up on Monday, especially after chipping in on the 14th.
"I needed something to happen. That kind of pumped me up," he said.
The personable former champion said he felt fortunate to even make it to the final four. On Monday morning he had to earn a come-from-behind match play victory even to get allowed into the final showdown.
Once there, and once he fell behind Taylor, he knew there was always a chance on the Worthington Country Club course.
"I've played in it so many times, I saw so many crazy things over the last three holes. I told my caddy if I make three birdies down the stretch ... but unfortunately, I only made two," Brown said.
Brown applauded Taylor's play. "He played really solid. I just kept trying to grind away and hoped something would happen."
Taylor said his driving and his putting kept him in front. And after walking off the 18th green with his championship firmly secured, he said he'd like to return to Worthington.
"We won't miss this tournament if we can help it. It's just a blast," he declared.
The following golfers are 2013 Labor Day Classic flight winners: 1. Dennis Burns. 2. Aaron Vander Plaats. 3. Mark Stein. 4. Sone Sithad. 5. Nick Peterson. 6. Bill Elias.