18 September 2010 - Lynchburg, VA - In 2010, Greg Newport arrived at PPA Commissioner Joe Aboid's beautiful and immaculately-maintained Lynchburg, VA Putt-Putt Fun Center for the 51st contesting of professional putting's premier event, the PPA National Championship, resolutely determined to rectify the previous year's heartbreak. Newport performed brilliantly throughout the 2009 PPA National Championship in Orlando, FL but ultimately finished as runner-up in the midst of Tony Varnadore's historic eight-shot victory. A field of 56 of the top professional putters from around the country and globe ventured to Aboid's uniquely-designed course # 1 and # 2 layouts in 2010 with hopes of thwarting Newport's quest in the three-day, ten-round event.
Entering the two rounds of the final day mired in a two-way tie for tenth place and positioned five strokes behind the second-day leader, Newport's prospects for victory appeared at best tenuous. The sunny, windswept late summer morning proved magical for Newport, however, as he crafted unfathomably spectacular closing rounds of 21 and 23 to soar out of the pack and earn a four-stroke triumph, the $1,250.00 winner's check, and the sport's most coveted title. Rounds of 26, 29, 23, 24, 30, 25, 25, 32, 21, and 23 gave Newport a 180-hole total of 258, 102-under par, and the first PPA National Championship of his storied 20-year professional career. "I am proud to win the 2010 PPA National Championship," exclaimed the 40-year-old laboratory client supply specialist from Greensboro, NC, still soaking wet from his obligatory post-victory dunking in the facility's bumper boat lake. "It is very humbling to be included on a list of the sport's greatest champions. It is a day which I never will forget." Second-day leader and 2006 PPA National Champion Brad Lebo, 49, a dentist from Shippensburg, PA, settled for sharing runner-up honors at 262 with fifteen-year-old putting prodigy Olivia Prokopova of the Czech Republic. A three-way, fourth-place tie at 265 included 2006 PPA National Doubles Champion Randy Orr, PPA Midwest Putting Tour legend Gary Watson, and newly-crowned PPA Senior National Champion Frank Warren.
First-day action commenced amidst swirling, violent winds. The course order for the four rounds of opening-day play was # 2, 1, 2, and 1. Two-time PPA Senior National Champion Bill Baus, 2005 PPA National Champion Jay Klapper, 1997 PPA National Champion Randy Reeves, two-time PPA National Doubles Champion Rick Rybaczek, and PPA Hall of Fame member Gary Hinshaw shared the opening-round lead at 23. Another ten players hovered within two shots of the early leaders.
Predictably, Rybaczek, a renowned wind specialist, continued on his torrid pace in the second round of play as the ferocity and unpredictability of the day's high winds increased. A second-round 26 gave Rybaczek sole possession of the 36-hole lead at 49. Reeves and talent-laden Texans Joe Lea and Rainey Statum lurked a stroke behind at 50. At 51, defending champion Tony Varnadore and two-time Great Lakes Tour Player of the Year Jim Cruse shared fifth position.
In the event's third round, Rybaczek muscled his way through the baffling afternoon gusts to fire a stellar 25 and widen his lead to three strokes at 74. Recently-resurgent PPA Hall of Fame member Bill Kirby posted 24 to leap into a second-place tie at 77 with 2008 PPA National Champion Kevin Lacey. With a brilliant 23, the low round in the field in the third round, Newport maneuvered into a fourth-place tie with Lebo, Lea, and Statum at 78.
The field continued to produce a wide variance of scores in the challenging conditions of the tournament's fourth round. As Rybaczek struggled, Newport shot 24 to pole-vault into a three-stroke first-day lead at 102. Kirby, Reeves, and Lea completed the initial day of play tied for second place at 105. Rybaczek carded a disappointing 32 to precipitate into a tie for fifth position with Lebo at 106.
A sunny and much calmer day served as the backdrop for the four rounds of the second day of action, during which the professional field's course order of play was reversed to # 1, 2, 1, and 2. With a fifth-round 30, Newport fell into a tie for the 90-hole lead at 132 with Lebo, who fired 26. Carding 26, Statum leapfrogged into a tie for third position with Lea at 133. A three-way, fifth-place logjam at 135 included Kirby, PPA Hall of Fame legend Daryl Freeman, and Klapper.
Posting a sixth-round 24, Lebo assumed a two-stroke lead with a 108-hole score of 156. Newport shot 25 to drop into second position at 157. By virtue of a sixth-round 22, Lacey climbed into a third-place tie with Klapper at 158. Tying the low round of the tournament with a 21, Orr ascended into a share of fifth position at 159 with Kirby, Statum, and two-time PPA National Match Play Champion Charlie Greenwalt, who followed a fifth-round 24 with a sixth-round 23.
Yet another upheaval occurred on the event's highly volatile leaderboard in the seventh round. Sixth-round leader Lebo deuced seven of his final eight holes of the seventh round en route to a bogey-free yet crippling 31. Newport and Lacey took full advantage of Lebo's putting follies, firing respective rounds of 25 and 24 to move into tournament co-leadership at 182. Quietly, Prokopova posted her third consecutive round of 24 to surge into contention, tied for third position with Greenwalt at 185. A gaggle of players sharing fifth place at 187 included Lebo, Kirby, Reeves, and 2005 PPA ProPutters.com Classic Champion Tim Greenert, who shot 74 for his first three rounds of the second day.
In the event's eighth round, Lebo rebounded tenaciously from his seventh-round nightmare to ace seven of his final eight holes and shoot 22. In the process, Lebo regained the tournament lead and headed into the third and final day of the tournament with a one-stroke advantage over the field at 209. Meanwhile, Newport's momentum was derailed by consecutive scores of 3 and 7 on the third and fourth holes of the eighth round. He recovered admirably, acing seven of the next eleven holes and ultimately firing 32 to enter the closing day in a two-way tie for tenth place, five strokes behind the lead. Prokopova and Orr continued their magnificent middle-day performances, posting respective eighth-round scores of 25 and 22. That duo shared second place at 210 and would join Lebo in the closing day's final pairing. Despite an eighth-round 29, Lacey stood only two strokes off of the lead, alone in fourth position at 211. A four-way, fifth-place tie at 212 included Kirby, Statum, Greenert, and 2001 Ray Browning Memorial Champion Ken Hastings, who crept up the leaderboard with a second-day 72-hole total of 97. With eleven players heading into the closing day's two rounds within five strokes of Lebo's lead, an old-fashioned shootout loomed.
Players teed off in the final day of the tournament early on a sunny, windy, and unseasonably cool morning. The closing two rounds of competition were filmed by Lynchburg's ABC-TV affiliate, with PPA Commissioner Aboid and APA member Dennis Carter, the station's sports director, serving as commentators.
Lebo's pursuit of an elusive second-career PPA National Championship title began precariously. After acing the first hole of the ninth round, which was played on course # 2, Lebo lipped out his tee shot on the straightforward second hole. Disaster then struck at the third hole, as Lebo lagged his ace effort and ultimately recorded his only bogey of the tournament. Lebo regrouped to ace the next three holes, but subsequently carded only five more birdies in the round en route to a pedestrian penultimate-round 28. In the meantime, Newport, playing three groups ahead of the eighth-round leaders, had caught fire. Newport aced five of the first six holes but deuced the seventh. Seemingly running out of holes in the tournament, Newport decided to take a chance on the high-risk and fickle eighth hole, gunning for the ace rather than adhering to the conventional wisdom of laying up for a tap-in deuce. The gamble paid dividends, as Newport's tee shot found the bottom of the cup. That ace started a ten-hole ace streak for Newport, who deuced the the final hole of the round to match Orr for the tournament's low round with a ninth-round 21. Prokopova continued her steady play, firing 25 to join Newport atop the 162-hole leaderboard at 235. Lacey shot 26 to share third place with Lebo at 237. With a timely ninth-round 23, Warren leaped into contention, entering the final round tied for fifth position with Kirby at 238.
Newport carried his ninth-round momentum into the tournament's final round on course # 1, beginning his march to glory by acing nine of the closing round's first ten holes. A birdie at the 12th put Newport at ten-under par for the round. Sensing that he may have built a comfortable lead on the field, Newport prudently laid up his tee shot on the treacherous 13th hole for a tap-in deuce. Newport followed disappointing deuces on the 14th and 15th holes with a hole-in-one on the 16th. Playing well ahead of his closest pursuers, Newport deduced that he may need to ace the challenging 17th hole to keep some distance on the leaderboard between himself and the other contenders. As his perfectly-struck tee shot found the hole, Newport advanced to twelve-under par for the round. An insurance ace on the 18th hole gave Newport a final-round score of 23, an eye-popping final-day two-round total of 44, and a 180-hole final score of 258. Now the waiting game began for Newport.
As the final three threesomes commenced play in the last round, several players attempted to mount a run at Newport. Acing four of her first five holes, Prokopova matched Newport's closing-round start to maintain a share of the lead. Kirby orchestrated a spirited final-round charge by acing six of his first seven holes to creep within three of the lead, but tumbled out of serious contention with an untimely double bogey on the dangerous 8th. Lebo and Lacey each posted an outward-nine score of 12 and needed to ace all of their remaining holes to tie Newport. With a front-nine 13, Prokopova needed to run the table to upend Newport by a stroke. On the tedious tenth hole, Prokopova's title hopes were derailed with a bogey. Lacey made par at the tenth to meet the same fate. Lebo aced the tenth hole and stepped to the 11th tee as the only player still standing between Newport and immortality. As Lebo's tee shot on the 11th slowly spun over the left lip of the cup, gallery applause erupted for Newport, who had secured his inevitable place in PPA National Championship lore after having recorded runner-up finishes in the event in 1993 and 2009.
In the anticlimactic second-place battle, Lebo, Prokopova, Lacey, Orr, and Warren jockeyed for position on the closing-round's inward nine. Lebo stepped to the 13th tee one stroke clear of Prokopova and Lacey, two strokes ahead of Warren, and three in front of Orr. With his title hopes squashed, Lebo played the hole conservatively, laying up for a tap-in deuce. Prokopova and Orr followed with aces - giving Prokopova a slice of second place - while Lacey and Warren deuced. Lebo rebounded with aces on the 14th, 15th, and 16th holes, taking a one-shot lead over Prokopova with two holes remaining as the other second-place contenders faded. The duo exchanged deuces on the difficult 17th hole. With honors on the tournament's final hole, Lebo sent his tee shot by the left lip and settled for a deuce. Prokopova responded with a clutch ace. As a result, Lebo and Prokopova shared runner-up honors at 262, four strokes behind Newport.
A three-way, fourth-place tie at 265 included Orr, Watson, and Warren. Lacey deuced his final six holes of the tournament to drop into seventh place at 266. At 267, Kirby finished eighth. Baus completed a solid tournament performance in ninth position at 268. Rounding out the top ten finishers in a four-way, tenth-place logjam at 269 were Freeman, Cruse, Klapper, and recently-crowned PPA ProPutters.com Classic Champion Michael Hitt, who stormed the clubhouse on the closing day of play with finishing rounds of 23 and 23. The final of the 29 money spots awarded in the event fell at a ten-round total of 274.
The 2010 PPA National Tour schedule concluded with the completion of the PPA National Championship tournament. The PPA National Tour membership extends thanks and expresses it gratitude to PPA Commissioner and course owner Joe Aboid and his top-rate staff for hosting a very successful and memorable week of events. The tour greatly appreciated the diligent efforts made by Aboid and his staff prior to and during the tournament week to maintain the courses in ideal playing condition and looks forward to returning to the Lynchburg, VA Putt-Putt Fun Center in future seasons.