BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST – Through 14 holes, Kelly Mitchum never lost the honor, never lost a hole, and rumor has it, still had never lost on Pinehurst No. 2.
Matt Vick changed everything.
In a thrilling match that featured dramatic par saves, huge up-and-downs and brilliant shotmaking, Vick, the head golf professional at Pinehurst No. 9, outlasted Mitchum in 21 holes Friday to win Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s coveted Palumbo Cup, the annual staff match play tournament.
“I’m really honored. I’m about as happy to win this as I am anything in my career,” said Vick, who like Mitchum and several other Pinehurst professionals, competes regularly in the Carolinas PGA golf section. “This is a special place, and this is a special tournament. This means a lot to me.”
In a match in which the two players halved the first 12 holes – they both made bogey on 6 and birdie on 8 – Vick finally won with a par on the first hole of No. 2 – the 21st hole of the match – moments after draining an slippery 18-footer for par on the second playoff hole on 18 to stay alive in the match.
Mitchum led 2-up through 14, but Vick won the 15th and 16th holes – more on the 16th later – and both made unlikely pars on 18 to send the match into extra holes.
“I’m really honored. I’m about as happy to win this as I am anything in my career. This is a special place, and this is a special tournament. This means a lot to me.” – Matt Vick
“I love close matches, and it was just one of those matches,” said Mitchum, who has played in four PGA Championships and several PGA Tour events. “You just didn’t know which way it was going to go.
“It was a roller-coaster, definitely. You go from spots, especially when it’s late in the match, when you’re thinking, ‘I’m about to lose,” to spots where it’s, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m getting ready to win.’”
Mitchum knows about winning the Palumbo Cup.
Check that – Mitchum knows A LOT about winning the Palumbo Cub.
In the near-quarter century Pinehurst has held the Palumbo Cup – named after beloved golf professional Frank Palumbo – Mitchum has won the event a staggering 15 times. Rumor has it Mitchum had never even lost a Palumbo Cup match on No. 2, that his handful of previous losses came before the tournament shifted to the famed course.
Coming into Friday’s championship match, Mitchum had won the cup six straight times. His previous winning streak was nine straight.
One of those wins was over Vick in the finals.
So when Mitchum took a 2-hole lead through 14 holes, it didn’t look good for Vick, who was still remembering last spring when Mitchum edged him in a playoff for a spot in the field at the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.
“To get down late against Kelly, you just got to think you’re scratching and clawing for life,” Vick said. “You begin to think, ‘Here we go again.’”
But Vick hit a beautiful tee shot on the par-3 15th for a routine par, which Mitchum couldn’t match after his tee shot rolled off the green’s severe false front.
“You go from spots, especially when it’s late in the match, when you’re thinking, ‘I’m about to lose,” to spots where it’s, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m getting ready to win.’” -Kelly Mitchum
That brought Vick back within one hole at 16 – and the first time Mitchum lost the honor on the tee.
Vick blasted a mammoth drive down the left side of the fairway, leaving himself just 213 yards to the pin. Mitchum’s drive was collected by the huge bunker on the left, from which Mitchum played a hybrid into the pinestraw right of the fairway about 100 yards from the hole.
Vick pulled 3 iron from the bag, thinking one thing.
“I just knew Kelly was going to still somehow make a 4,” Vick said. “I knew I needed to get a look at eagle.”
The stream of consciousness didn’t end there.
“It just ended up being the perfect yardage for a 3 iron, and it didn’t really matter what the trajectory was with the false front,” Vick explained. “If it came out a little low, that would be fine because it would pitch and slow down, and if I hit it perfect…well, I did hit it perfect.”
“He needed to hit a good shot, and that one was better than good, it was great.” -Kelly Mitchum
Indeed he did. Vick’s shot never strayed from the pin, arching high above it and coming to rest less than 4 feet away. Mitchum didn’t make his 4, and Vick didn’t need to make his putt, and the match was all square.
“He needed to hit a good shot, and that one was better than good, it was great,” Mitchum said.
Mitchum made a huge sand save from the back-right bunker on the par-3 17th to keep things square, then both players rallied on 18, with Vick snaking a liner from the pinestraw right of the fairway, under a couple of limbs and just past the front bunker, giving himself a look at birdie. Mitchum made a deft up-and-down on the short side of the 18th green, sending the match to extra holes.
Both players made routine pars on 17, the first playoff hole, but Vick found himself in trouble again on 18 after his approach from the left native area sailed right of the greenside bunker. Vick mis-hit his pitch, leaving the ball 18 feet short of the cup. Still with the honor, Vick calmly buried the par putt, drawing a round of cheers from those following the pair and those watching from the veranda of the Resort Clubhouse.
When Mitchum’s birdie putt wouldn’t fall, Vick found himself still in the match.
“I thought the match was over, but I knew I had to make it to still have a chance,” Vick said. “Make him make it. That’s always the deal. And, again, you don’t dirty-root anybody, but it was nice to get a new life.”
“The putt Matt made on 18 was phenomenal,” Mitchum said. “It was one of those putts he had to make or he was done, and he made it.”
While Vick split the first fairway off the tee, Mitchum’s slid left and into a wire grass bush on the back side of the fairway bunker. He tried to lay up from there, but the ball hit the bank of the bunker short and right of the green, and rolled back in. Mitchum made a beautiful long bunker shot from there to about 8 feet, but his magic ran out. Vick’s two-putt par was enough for the No. 9 pro to hold the Palumbo Cup for the first time.
“Matt and I have competed against each other a lot before, and I like to be challenged,” Mitchum said. “And that’s what Matt gave me today.
“Matt’s a really, really solid player. He’s played well this past year. There was no doubt that he could beat me, and he pulled it out at the end.”
In winning, Vick praised Mitchum.
“It’s a tribute to him that I’ve gotten better as a professional player,” Vick said. “I have aspirations of being good in my section, but you can’t be the best player in the section if you’re not the best at your job.
“And unless you can beat Kelly.”