VGT TOURNAMENT IN REVIEW
VGT Chilliwack Championship (36-Hole)
Chilliwack Golf Club
June 18, 2020
“Mlikotic Makes Miracle Comeback over PGA TOUR Champion”
The 2020 Chilliwack Championship at Chilliwack Golf Club was another Sold Out tournament featuring a slew of talent on both the Professional and Amateur side of the tournament that ended in a remarkable come-from-behind win down the final 9 holes of the event. It was a nail-biting finish on the final hole!
Day one featured 132 players in the field with 36 Amateur golfers handicap 5.1 to 18.0 playing an 18-hole Championship and the remaining 96 Pros & Amateurs with handicap 5.0 & under competing for the Overall 36-Hole Title!
Day one featured a headline Pro grouping that included the 2020 AT&T PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM Champion Nick Taylor paired with Top 20 Mackenzie Tour player James Allenby and past Mackenzie Tour winner Kevin Spooner. With this grouping alone, we knew we were in a for a good ride and there would be birdies and eagles a flying!
In our featured group on Day one, Nick Taylor showed why he is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. An ever so calm demeanor on the course, he cruised his way to an opening round of -5 (67). His playing partners James Allenby and Kevin Spooner played some very solid golf too, but couldn’t quite keep up to Taylor on the day, each finishing at -3 & -4 respectively. However, a few groups behind the feature pairing, two players would end up topping Taylor’s 67, the first coming from Vancouver Golf Club’s Mike Belle, who carded an opening 6-under par 66. And four groups back it was fellow SFU Clansmen Grad John Mlikotic from Kelowna, BC who stole the spotlight on day 1, firing an impressive 65 (-7) to take the lead! And so at the conclusion of Day one, the final group was set with the two SFU Alumni Belle and Mlikotic squaring off with PGA Tour winner Nick Taylor at 3:30pm the following day.
As mentioned, round one of this year’s Championship featured 132 golfers, and some amazing scores were fired on day one, not only by the top Pros, but by some of BC’s top Amateurs, who were not only vying for the Overall Amateur Title, but a chance to measure their games against all 36 Pros and 96 Amateurs. But one Pro in particular they’ll never forget battling it out against this week, was PGA Tour Winner Nick Taylor.
And some Amateurs kept up to the Pros just fine on day one, including Crown Isle’s Victor Choi who carded an impressive score of 69 (-3) in windy conditions that afternoon. Only one shot back was Fairview Mountain’s Cory Hilditch and Swan-e-Set Bay’s Euna Han who both fired a very solid rounds of 70 (-2).
Thirty-six of the Amateurs in the field competed in a single-day event to see who would be crowned Champion of their Division. SEE RECAP HERE
Day two saw some truly amazing scores coming from both the Amateurs and Professionals in the field. First sign of some low scoring came from Vancouver’s Evan Holmes who rattled off 4 birdies and an eagle on the front nine to shoot 31 and take the lead thru 27 holes at -8. Next to get in line was Golf Canada Young Pro Squad Player Chris Crisologo who made a move of his own. He had it to -7 and one back thru 27 holes. And next was Capilano’s Kevin Spooner who rallied back after 3 straight bogeys on 2-4 to shoot 35 (-2) and reach -6 for the event.
But the firepower didn’t stop there, as Vancouver Golf Club’s Mike Belle came out punching with birdies on 6,7 and 9 to tie with Homes at -8. But it was the calm, cool and collected Taylor who was just going about his business and not let them in, posting an impressive opening nine of 33 (-4) that included a 30-foot eagle on #6 that was sandwiched between book-end birdies on 1 and 9.
See Eagle Putt on #6: https://www.facebook.com/frazgolf/videos/10158313764785692/
Taylor would take the 10th tee with a one-shot lead over Belle and Holmes, 2 shots clear of Crisologo and 3 shots clear of overnight leader Mlikotic who had grinded his way around the front nine at +1 and fallen back to -6 for the tourney.
The back-nine was an EPIC BATTLE between Nick Taylor, Mike Belle, John Mlikotic and a handful of players who looked like it could have been their title half way thru the back 9. One of these such players was Quilchena’s Christine Wong, who admittedly stated she felt some early nerves in round one played an effect on her opening score of 72. But this didn’t deter Wong from making a run for the trophy on day two. As accomplished a player as she is, her opening nine score of 4-under par 33 didn’t surprise anyone. And had it not been for a double-bogey 5 on the par three 12th hole, we truly could have seen Wong make a run to top spot on the podium. Even with the double bogey, Wong rallied back with 6 birdies on the back nine for the lowest round of the tournament, an 8-under par 64. She would finish Top Female player in the tournament and t5th Overall. Not bad considering it was her first tournament of 2020!!
While Wong was on her birdie charge ahead, Evan Holmes was struggling to find the same momentum, bogeying 3 of his last 5 holes to finish at -6 and good for 8th place. And Gorge Vale’s Andrew Funk from Victoria had everyone’s attention for a while when he reached 9-under through 15 holes. But his 5-under round came unglued when he bogeyed 16 and 17 coming in. He would finish at -7 and solo 7th.
The next contender to take on our PGA Tour guest was Marine Drive’s Chris Crisologo, who took dead aim with birdies on 11,12 and 13 to reach -10 and a share of the lead momentarily. But with failed birdie tries at 14 and 15, and a 4-putt double-bogey on 16, the 23-year old Golf Canada young Pro fell just short, carding his second straight round of 68 for -8 and a share in 5th spot with Wong.
As the chargers came at Taylor, he did not back down. One of those chargers just one group ahead was fellow UW alumni Kevin Spooner. With birdies on 11 and 13 and an amazing eagle on 15, “Spoons” was the 2nd player to stand on the 16th tee sitting at -10 and at the time just 2 back of Taylor. As hard as he pushed for those last couple of birdies he would need to catch his former team-mate, they just wouldn’t fall for Spooner and he would finish with a super 2-day total of -10 and in a tie for 3rd and a cheque for $1,100.
As the challengers kept knocking on the door, Taylor kept his cool and continued to play like the PGA Tour Champion he is, staying patient when he needed to and playing shots that gave him a great chance to make birdie, or if need be, consider a par.
There was just a feeling in the air that Nick was going to take this title and no-one was going to dare take it away from him. Trust me, the win wasn’t anything about the $2,500 first place cheque for Nick, but the sheer pride to beat all challengers. That was ever present as Taylor continued his confident march throughout the second round. And through the first 13 holes on Friday he persisted on not opening up the door for any challengers, in fact knocking in 3 straight birdies on 9,10 and 11 and one more on 13 to reach -12. He continued to keep his distance from all challengers. Thru 11 holes he was 2 shots in front of his next challenger, 3 shots over Belle and still 4 shots ahead of Mlikotic when Belle and Mlikotic both failed to make birdies on the par five 11th.
But there was a slight shift in momentum on the par three 12th. With Taylor conservatively on the green some 40 feet from the pin, and the wind coming hard off the right, Mlikotic, down four shots, went right at the flag. With the wind blowing, he took it over the water and ended up flying right over the hole. Although he didn’t hit a great birdie putt and left himself with 5 feet for par, he had made a bold decision to go for the flag, showing his aggressive mindset. “He’s not coming back to me – So I have to go and get him”. He could have aimed left and no one would have questioned that play. But he went for it, and drained his 5-footer to save his par. Before that hole, it didn’t appear he had the magic in his game that day to beat the steady play of a PGA Tour Champion and veteran.
And that’s what makes his next 6 holes of play that much more impressive.
With another birdie on 13, Taylor stretched his cushion on the field to 3-shots, reaching 7-under for his round and -12 for the tournament. But Belle rolls in a birdie of his own to keep within 3-shots and Mlikotic answers both with an EAGLE from 20 feet to narrow his margin from 4 shots to 3 with just 5 holes to play.
The par three #14, Mlikotic hit first and didn’t hit a particularly decent tee shot, some 40-50 feet away from the flag. Taylor hit next and left himself in a good spot about 20-25 feet pin high. The edge was clearly in Taylor’s favor. But just when you think its over, the unthinkable – Mlikotic bangs in a 50 footer for birdie!
Taylor misses from 25 feet and so does Belle. What a turn-around!! Now Taylor’s lead is just 2-shots over a slew of players including Mlikotic and a two chasers ahead including Spooner who had just made Eagle 2 on 15 and Crisologo. Both sat at -10 thru 15.
The 15th hole at Chilliwack is a classic short risk-reward par 4 that can be driven by the longer players. But the danger lurking exists and a tee-shot has to be hit with incredible length and precision to capitalize on an eagle or birdie. Many a player have gone for the green on 15 only to walk away with a bogey or worse. In the final round the 15th tee had been moved up to just shy of 300 yards and Mlikotic was first to attack with a 3-wood that sailed just onto the back fringe. An impressive shot when he absolutely needed it and he put the pressure squarely on Taylor and Belle. Both players accepted the challenge and hit great shots themselves at the green. Mlikotic was first to play and made a super up-and-down from the back part of the green as his putt traversed some 40 feet across and down the slope to within 2 feet. Tap-in birdie and now to -11 and only 1 back of Taylor (for the time being).
Belle followed next and capitalized on his drive with an impressive Eagle 3 that launched him to within one shot of Taylor, now -11. Now it was Taylor’s turn to reply. He had successfully maneuvered his 2nd shot down to 5-feet for birdie. But when his putt slipped by the hole it was truly new life for Belle and Mlikotic.
What a closing 3-holes we now had with both Belle and Mlikotic now just one shot back of Taylor. You could almost see Belle and Mlikotic licking their lips now that they had finally grinded away the strokes and within one shot of Taylor, the 2-time PGA Tour Champion.
The last three holes Mlikotic played beautifully, giving himself really good looks at birdie on 16, 17 and 18. While Belle grinded for his par on 16 with a clutch 5 footer, and Taylor making par by erring on the side of caution with his approach shot (some 25’ from the pin), it was up to Mlikotic to keep the pedal down if he was going to win. His drive on 16 was as good as you could get, leaving him just a small wedge in hand and ability to control the spin. His ball finished just 10 feet from the cup slightly above the hole. When his putt ran out of steam, it did cross my mind that the nerves might be getting the better of him. But a tap-in par and off to 17 still one shot back after Taylor’s 25 footer was lagged down for a tap-in par.
On the 17th, Belle led off, but hit a less than spectacular shot just short and right side of the green leaving him a tricky little pitch down the slope to the back pin. He did nicely to get it up and down, but he was running out of holes, still one shot back.
Mlikotic was next on the tee. And boy did he deliver, hitting a towering iron shot all over the flagstick and finishing just 2 feet from the stick for birdie. When Taylor’s iron shot fell short of the hillside, birdie was truly unlikely and a par would be the most prudent play not getting too aggressive down the slope. Like a true PGA Tour player, he played the shot with precision and tapped in for his par. But when Mlikotic’s putt entered the cup on 17, it was the Kelowna Pro who claimed the slight edge on Taylor.
He and Taylor were now tied at the top at -12 and Belle just one shot back. Mlikotic would have first crack at splitting the fairway on the challenging 18th hole. And he did just that! Belle was desperate for a birdie and he delivered off the tee to give himself the best chance at tying it up with both players. Now Taylor needed to match their drives if he was going to close this event out in regulation and make a birdie. He hit a quality drive and only 2 yards off the fairway down the right side. But with the local knowledge of Chilliwack Golf Club know that right side on 18, even on the fairway comes with some obstacles. One infamous monstrosity of a tree stared Taylor right between he and the flag. And he would have to come up with a truly great punch shot under the tree to reach the green. Which he did, hitting a beauty of a shot to about the back portion of the green some 30 feet from the stick.
Belle also needed to swing his shot in from left to right, but it never quite came back to the green. This left him with a very challenging lie and stance just outside of the greenside bunker. Needing to make the shot now for a tie, Belle mustered up as much confidence as he could to pull the shot off and did as well as he possibly could, leaving himself with about 25 feet for par. His putt would slip by the hole and he would settle for a closing bogey and 2-day total of -10, and a share of 3rd place with Spooner.
Now it was just 2 men standing. Taylor with the first roll down the slope from 35 feet. Surely he could do it. He’s holed many an important putt in his illustrious PGA Tour career. When his ball was half way there, I thought, here we go, he’s done it. The only thing that kept his ball out was just a bit too much speed. His ball caught a lot of the lip but burned out some 4 feet past. He had given it all he had. It wasn’t going to be short. A closing round of 65 (-7) with ZERO bogeys on the card. Was that not good enough?
Now his fate was in the hands of the 27 year old Mlikotic who stared down his putt from 10 feet below the hole. A perfectly left iron shot. Did he have the nerve to make one final putt and knock down the ATT Pebble Beach Champion? The same PGA Tour player who went head-to-head with Phil Mickelson on Sunday and proved too tough for lefty?
So many implications riding on this putt. “If I miss this putt, will I have lost my best chance to take this PGA Tour Champion down”? At least 30-40 volunteers and players who were watching secretly hoped to see more golf from these two. But the same 40 also cheered on the inside for one of the greatest back nine stretches and comeback stories in golf by a young, aspiring Tour Pro from Kelowna taking down a 2-time winner on the PGA Tour. What a thrill and what a boost of confidence IF he could pull it off!
Well, the answer was YES!!
The Kelowna Pro took dead aim and his putt never left the center of the cup. With that birdie, and a gentle fist pump, John Mlikotic was crowned the 2020 VGT CHILLIWACK CHAMPION with a 2-day score of 65, 66 (-13) and a one shot win over Nick Taylor. His closing nine score of 28 (-7) tied him for the back nine scoring record at Chilliwack Golf Club with Mackenzie Tour player James Allenby, who shot 33, 28 (61) in 2019.
What may even be more impressive than John’s come-from-behind win against Taylor was his back-nine aggregate score of 59 over the 2-days!! Amazing considering the back 9 is considered the far more difficult nine holes of golf! Mlikotic earned $2,500 for first place and 3,000 points on the SRIXON/CLEVELAND Order of Merit Title which vaults him into 6th place on the year’s standings.
Low round of the tournament went to Christine Wong who shot 72, 64 (-8) to finish in the top 5. And in the Men’s Championship flight, 19-year old Cole Wilson from Okanagan GC took home first place shooting 72, 67 (-5) to win by 3 shots over Chilliwack Golf Club’s Mitchell Thiessen. That is Cole’s 2 Amateur Title on the VGT.
In the Women’s Championship division, Quilchena’s Tina Jiang caught fire on day 2, shooting 67 (-5) for a 2-day total of 141 (-3). Her final round 67 included a spectacular hole-in-one on hole 14, to win by 5 strokes over 3-time VGT winner Euna Han of Swan-E-Set (70, 74) and Nonie Marler ( 73, 73) of Marine Drive GC.
SPECIAL THANKS TO NICK TAYLOR
Nick has been back home in Abbotsford with his wife Andie and their 8-month old son Charlie, waiting for the right time to SAFELY head down to continue his re-start of play on the 2020 PGA Tour Schedule. After his Charity Tournament on June 26th, Nick will head down south on June 28th in preparation for his first 2 events in Ohio at Muirfield Village, site of both the Workday Charity Open and the Memorial Tournament. He will continue the course of the season, which could include up to 9 events through the Tour Championship in early September. His decision to stay down south beyond the Tour Championship will ultimately come if his status qualifies him to play in the U.S. Open on Sept.17-20th at Winged Foot.
Our whole team at Vancouver Golf Tour was honored beyond belief to have you play in our Chilliwack Championship (and at our Cultus Lake Open this spring). You afforded many players the opportunity to get truly excited to play in the same tournament alongside a 2-time PGA Tour Champion. On a local level, this does not happen very often and you have inspired 100’s of our players in the making.
You are truly a world class player and a touch of class as a person. Thanks on behalf of all our tour staff, volunteers and all our players for taking the time to play in this year’s Championship. You thrilled many, brought a bunch of media to this year’s event and your effect was felt across the province! On behalf of the whole VGT I want to wish you very safe travels down south in your quest for your next PGA Tour win. We are forever cheering you on!! #VGTArmy
As always, we would to thank our event sponsors, the Chilliwack Golf Club maintenance crew, management team and the members of Chilliwack Golf Club for hosting our event. And finally to both our VGT core team members and to both the VGT and Chilliwack Members volunteering their time for announcing, timing, shuttling and rules. You all made this event possible.
Continued thanks to all of our Major Partners, in particular our 14-year Tour Title Sponsor, IGA Stores of BC and to our 14-year Order of Merit Sponsor Cleveland Golf / Srixon Canada for allowing us to run the VGT professionally week-in-week out for our BC players, particularly during this Covid-19 pandemic! And final thanks to one of our sponsors Doug Dyment of Gatekeeper Systems and Justin Kang who both contributed their insights in the making of this write-up!
- Results and Prizing: https://vancouvergolftour.com/results/
- Full scores available at: http://myvgt.com
- Tournament Photos: Facebook Gallery