DENVER - Former University of Colorado golfer Derek Tolan rallied from five strokes down to win the 48th Annual HealthONE Colorado Open here Sunday, the ninth time a Buffalo alum has won the state's premier professional event but the first time a CU golfer has won it twice.
Tolan, who graduated in 2009, won the event that same summer when he first turned professional; Buffaloes have now captured four of the last six Opens. Tolan earned $23,000 for his 67-67-71-65-270 effort, which was 14-under par on the 7,243-yard, par-71 Green Valley Ranch Golf Club course layout. He's the sixth player in tournament history to claim at least two titles.
Tolan had no idea that he made a little Buff history in the process. "I didn't know that (becoming the first CU player to win twice), I can hold my head up high considering all the history some great CU golfers past and present have had in this tournament."
He played the last 20 holes 7-under par after making a double bogey on No. 16 near the end of the third round. "I hit that tree that guards the green, the ball bounced into a sand trap but stayed near the lip," he recalled. "I had to hit left-handed to free up the ball so I could then hit it normal." But instead of wallowing in self-pity, he put it immediately behind him.
"To be honest, I've become really good at accepting whatever happens, just trying to play my best and see where I end up at the end of the day," he said. "I shook it off, tried to make a birdie on the next hole, which I did. I know it's a cliché, but I just take things one hole at a time and play as well as I can. Sure it's hard at times and you get frustrated, but you have to be mentally tough enough to try and not let one bad hole become two.
"Some of us have talked about going out there late one night and cutting that tree down," he joked.
Starting the final round tied for third but five strokes behind third round leader Zahkai Brown, who had zoomed into the lead with a tournament best 8-under 63, Tolan could only make up one stroke over the first 11 holes as both were scoring birdies and pars. Brown bogeyed three of the next four holes (Nos. 12, 13 and 15) while Tolan birdied 13 and 14 to take a one-shot edge; Brown birdied perhaps the toughest hole on the course, No. 16, to pull even with two to play.
Tolan scored par on the 193-yard, par-3 17th, but Brown, a Colorado State alum who recently turned pro, three-putted the hole to make bogey to again fall one behind his CU rival heading into the 639-yard, par-5 18th. Tolan was in the group ahead of Brown and scored his sixth birdie of the day after dropping in a 5-foot putt, meaning Brown needed to make an eagle to force a playoff. It wasn't decided until Brown's eagle chip fell about eight feet short of the hole.
"I figured a 64 would be good enough to make it interesting, if not win, and on 18 I tried to make eagle to get to that 64. Just came up a few feet short but things obviously turned out well."
For the week, Tolan had 24 birdies, 39 pars, eight bogeys and one double, which came Saturday on No. 16 and led to a 38 on the back nine, the only side in the tournament he didn't play under par as all seven others were between 32 and 35. The win earned Tolan exemptions into the Canadian Tour Waterway Classic in September and next week's Texas State Open.
Former Buffs who were champions have previously included Larry Webb (1980), Steve Jones (1988), Jonathan Kaye (1996), Bill Riddle (1999), Scott Petersen (2000), John Douma (2007), Tolan (2009) and Ben Portie (2011). Buff golfers have been low amateur on 10 occasions, with Jones and Les Fowler winning twice.
Senior-to-be Jason Burstyn tied for 29th overall, and as the second low amateur, closing with a 71-71-68-71-281 (-3) scorecard; the University of Northern Colorado's Steve Kupcho was the low amateur with a 6-under 278 effort. Another CU senior this coming season, Derek Fribbs, tied for 42nd with an even-par 71-72-70-71-284 showing.
Other former CU players who made the cut and earned finishes in the money were Michael Baird (tie-5th/274, -10), Patrick Grady (tie-18th/278, -6), Petersen (tie-23rd/279, -5), Kane Webber (tie-35th/282, -2), and Portie and Kevin Kring (tie-56th/288, +4).
Baird was on pace to match the tourney's low round, as he was 8-under par prior to making double bogey on No. 18. Kring is the most recent Buff to turn pro, doing so this past May after graduating.