For a day that ended on such a high note, Friday certainly didn’t start very well for University of Denver golfer Chris Korte.
The 20-year-old from Lone Tree Golf Club has been experiencing upper-stomach-area pain periodically in recent years, to the point that it caused him to withdraw from two college tournaments in 2017. And on Friday, when Korte played Kyle Pearson of Meridian Golf Club in the scheduled 36-hole final of the 117th CGA Match Play, the pain re-emerged.
The situation wasn’t helped by starting out the match in rain, wind and in temperatures in the 40s at The Club at Ravenna in Littleton.
But if all’s well that ends well, that’s why Korte was smiling as he walked off the golf course. Despite his abdominal pain, Korte built a 6-up lead through 14 holes and kept the advantage to emerge with a 5-and-3 victory, earning him the Richard C. Campbell Trophy.
Having won the CGA Amateur Championship in 2015, Korte became just the fourth player since 1990 to claim titles in both the Match Play and the Amateur, joining David Oraee, Steve Ziegler (who won both events in 2009), and Pat Grady. Others among the 21 people who have captured both championships are longtime PGA Tour players Hale Irwin, Steve Jones and Brandt Jobe — all members of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame.
“It’s huge” to join them, said Korte (left and above), who had reason to jump for joy on Friday. “To add myself to that list is such a blessing. I’ve had a decent amount of OK play in college golf, but to be able to bring my ‘A’ game pretty much the whole week this week, I just feel really lucky to be here.”
Despite a big lead on Friday, it all could have gone awry if Korte’s stomach issues had become more acute during the match.
“I just try to focus on not thinking about the pain, just trying to get through it,” he said. “I was praying about it and it actually started feeling a little better — not to the point of being unbearable, which it has been in the past.
“It’s just a really sharp pain in the upper stomach area. Some doctors told me I should get my gall bladder out pretty soon, but we’re still getting some opinions and scans and things. It’s about 10 hours of just excruciating pain. I’m really happy it didn’t get to that point today.
“Late in the first round and early in the second round is where it got pretty bad. I was just trying to breathe through it. I ended up doing it pretty well and Kyle made a couple mistakes here and there and I was able to capitalize on them or halve him on a couple of holes I didn’t play too great.”
Korte never trailed against Pearson (left), the 2016 5A state high school champion who was playing in the Match Play for the first time. Korte, accompanied by his instructor for the last 5 1/2 years — Doug Wherry, the founder of Jake’s Academy — as his caddie, was 1 up through eight holes. But he won five of the next six holes — three with pars and two with birdies — to build a commanding 6-up advantage.
“The conditions at the beginning were not very good,” said Pearson, a recent Highlands Ranch High School graduate who had beaten three NCAA Division I college players to get to the finals. “I noticed a few (shots) where my hand slipped because the grip was a little wet. But obviously Chris figured out how to play through that, so that’s something I have to work on. You have to play in the rain in golf; they don’t cancel play because it’s raining outside. It’s just a learning curve, I guess.”
Pearson played much better in the second round when there was no rain and the wind subsided, going 1 over par for the 15 holes. The future Colorado Mesa University golfer was 7 down overall through 26 holes, but won three of the next six holes, all with pars, to cut the deficit to 4 down with four to play. But Pearson missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 15 to end the match.
Where his putter had rescued him in other matches, Pearson could manage just three birdies in 33 holes on Friday. In the last five holes, for instance, he missed four putts inside of 10 feet.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t win, but I learned a lot about my golf game this week,” Pearson said. “We counted this week — I played 136 holes in five days. I’ve never done that before. You’re not playing that many holes if your golf game is not good. I’m disappointed — I would have liked to win — but I’m still proud of how I played this week.
“The putter just kind of let me down today. It was a tough start, but I had a chance to come back on the back nine of the last 18. I had a few good birdie looks. I just couldn’t get them to fall. Chris is a good competitor. You’ve got to make birdies to catch up to him. I just couldn’t get any birdies in.”
Meanwhile, the title capped an impressive week at Ravenna for Korte (left). He shot a 6-under-par 65 in the stroke-play qualifying to earn the No. 2 seed, then won his matches 2 and 1, 4 and 3, 6 and 5, 3 and 2, 3 and 1, and 5 and 3. With the weather being what it was, he wasn’t quite as sharp on Friday as he was earlier in the week, but he did what it took to win.
“It was definitely a grind pretty much all day for me,” he said. “Playing in the rain hasn’t always been my forte — and there was also a lot of wind this morning. But college golf in general has prepared me really for these type of conditions. You don’t get perfect conditions in college golf. That’s been a blessing too — playing a lot of golf in these type of conditions, having your hands kind of numb.
“I just needed to stay patient because you’re not going to go out there and make a ton of birdies with the conditions the way they were. I made a lot of great pars and Kyle missed a couple of par putts that allowed me to win a few holes.
“The other thing that was huge for me was having my parents and my coach, Doug Wherry, who caddied for me today, by my side, providing me with dry towels, food, really anything I needed. And Doug knows me like almost no one else, so that helped a lot.”
CGA Match Play
At The Club at Ravenna in Littleton
Kyle Pearson, Meridian GC, def. Jake Kelley, Columbine CC, 3 and 2
Kyler Dunkle, Club at Pradera, def. Brittain Walton, Collindale GC, 1 up
Chris Korte, Lone Tree GC, def. Jack Cummings, Omni Interlocken Resort, 3 and 2
Jake Staiano, Glenmoor CC, def. Roy Carlsen, Walnut Creek Golf Preserve, 2 and 1
Kyle Pearson, Meridian GC, def. Kyler Dunkle, Club at Pradera, 21 holes
Chris Korte, Lone Tree GC, def. Jake Staiano, Glenmoor CC, 3 and 1
FRIDAY’S 36-HOLE FINAL
Chris Korte, Lone Tree GC, def. Kyle Pearson, Meridian GC, 5 and 3
For complete results, CLICK HERE.