Sept. 5 – LEWISTON – Jason Huff says he stopped stressing about golf a long time ago.
His Zen-like approach to the game paid off once again on Monday as he survived a formidable field of competitors to defend his Whing Ding Sole Survivor Championship at Lewiston Golf and Country Club.
Huff, who regained the Sole Survivor title in 2022 after winning the annual event in 1997 and 2008, defeated 2019 champion Kurt Simmons with a birdie on the 18th and final hole.
“I never thought it would happen,” Huff said of winning two Sole Survivors in a row. “There are some good players out here.”
His strategy was simple enough.
“Just trying to have fun. No worries,” he said. “Just have fun every hole.”
And he did, beating a field with a combined plus-28 handicap.
The Sole Survivor field consists of the 10 players with the lowest gross scores from Saturday and Sunday’s annual Whing Ding contest, sponsored by The Diamond Shop of Lewiston.
Qualifiers are contested over nine holes, the 49-year-old LGCC’s first four and 14 to 18 on the back. The golfer with the highest score on each of nine holes is eliminated until only the champion remains. In the event of a tie, players compete in a chip-off where one is eliminated.
Huff survived a five-way chip-off to advance on No. 15 and, after a par on 16, avoided a similar fate by knocking in a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to force a chip-off between Simmons and PGA Tour caddy Geno Bonnalie, who was closest to the pin after his second shot on 17 but failed to roll in his birdie putt.
After winning the chip-off with Bonnalie, Simmons proceeded to push his tee shot on No. 18 down the right side of the fairway and into the water, giving Huff the leg up on the final hole.
But it may have been Huff’s putt on the penultimate No. 17 that made the difference. Huff’s caddy, Chad Laird, said Simmons’ narrow miss on his birdie attempt at 17 gave Huff the read he needed to sink his own.
“He made a great read on the 17th and did what he needed to do,” Laird said.
Huff, who teaches business and “electives” at Moscow High School, said fate was on his side Monday.
“(Simmons) doesn’t usually hit it off the line that far,” he said of the runner-up’s drive on No. 18. “You don’t just have to hit good shots to win (the sole survivor).
“You have to be lucky too.”
Simmons, who took low gross honors in the Saturday-Sunday Whing Ding with rounds of 65-67-162, said he tried to take advantage of his driving distance on No. 18 but got a little too aggressive.
“I knew I had a length advantage,” he said as he stood on the 18th green. “I just sprayed it a little right, and you can’t do that on this hole.
“This is a big one,” he added. “Sole survivor is like running from a bear: you have to try not to be the slowest.”
Huff’s birdie on the 17th was worth $500 in skins provided by The Diamond Shop. So did Bonnalie, the 2020 Sole Survivor champion.
“I really thought I was going to make that birdie,” said Bonnalie, who caddies professionally for childhood friend and PGA Tour pro Joel Dahmen. “I just pulled it a little.”
Bonnalie survived the chip-off on 15 after being reminded of his previous years’ struggles on the same hole by his son and caddy, Hudson.
“He said, ‘Dad, this is the hole you went to last year and they put it on the news,'” Bonnalie said. “I said, ‘Hey, mate, thanks for the reminder. “
Hudson, 10, got the nod on Monday over his father’s good friend and fellow PGA Tour caddy Joel Stock, who is packing the bag for PGA pro Will Zalatoris.
“We fit together quite a bit,” Bonnalie said of Stock, who was in town for a visit.
Bonnalie said that Whing Ding and Sole Survivor are his personal equivalent of The Masters.
“The goal is always to win the tournament,” he said. “I was hoping (to win Sole Survivor) with the way I played this weekend. I actually played well today as well.”
Next up for Bonnalie and Dahmen is next week’s Fortinet Championship in Napa Valley, California.
“I haven’t talked to him much in the last few weeks,” Bonnalie said of Dahmen, who celebrated the birth of her first child, son Riggs, earlier this year. “I try to give him some downtime.
“I’m not sure what to expect next week. Hopefully all good things.”
Monday’s other candidates included Corey Brown (hit two OB on No. 1), Tucker Keyes (lost a five-way chip-off on No. 2), Lewis-Clark State College men’s golf coach Zach Anderson (bogey on No. 3), Lapwai High Grad and former University of Idaho football player Justin Hernandez (double bogey on No. 4), electrical engineer Jared Mraz of Clarkston (lost three-way chip-off on 14th), Mitch Baldridgewho had the lowest handicap in Monday’s field at plus-6 (lost five-way chip-off on 15), and Tristen Prosser (bogey on 16).
Whing Ding Sole Survivor
Sole Survivor champion — Jason Huff
Number Two – Kurt Simmons
Third place — Geno Bonnalie
First Gross Overall — Kurt Simmons
First Overall Net – Bill Kite
Bauer is a former Tribune sports writer and managing editor. He is the Chief Strategy Officer of TPC Holdings, Inc. and can be reached at (208) 848-2269 or email@example.com.