By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
EVERETT — With the cool poise and steady prowess of an older player, 19-year-old Kyle Cornett won the 84th annual Snohomish County Amateur golf tournament on Monday afternoon and he did it going away, turning a two-stroke lead at the outset into a six-stroke victory at Everett Golf and Country Club.
Cornett, a freshman member of the Seattle University golf team and a 2013 graduate of Mill Creek’s Jackson High School, wasted little time taking the drama out of a potential down-to-the-wire battle. In the space of three holes — Nos. 4, 5 and 6 at beautiful Everett G&CC — Cornett pushed his lead from two strokes to six, and it never fell lower the rest of the round.
With a tap-in par putt on the 18th green, Cornett became one of the few teen-age champions in County Am history.
“I was nervous on the first tee, but hitting that first shot helped settle me down a lot,” said Cornett, who finished with a 4-under-par round of 68 and a 54-hole total of 8-under 208. His Monday playing partners, Austin Beatty and Mark Strickland, tied for second at 2-under 214.
After his opening tee shot, “I was just trying to play one shot at a time and to not think about winning,” Cornett said. “And it was great to play bogey-free. Not making a bogey was really key.”
On a day that began with overcast skies and intermittent sprinkles, and then gave way to bright sunshine, Cornett never flinched, never wavered. He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation, and he left two of those misses on the fringe. The third was a tee shot that found a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole, and Cornett blasted a terrific sand shot to 4 feet to save par.
Probably his best shot of the day, and certainly his best putt, came one hole earlier. After reaching the upper tier of the two-tiered green in three shots on the par-5 sixth hole, Cornett gently stroked a putt that reached the crest of the slope, gathered speed as it rolled downhill and then went straight into the cup for a 40-foot birdie.
If there was a highlight to the round, Cornett agreed, “that was it.”
His longest par putt of the day was 9 feet on No. 17, which he coaxed in the hole to keep his round bogey-less.
“He was just steady,” said Strickland. “He has his own game, his own pre-shot routine, and it was the same thing every time. It just seemed like it was impossible for him to mess up too bad. Everything (he did) was solid.”
It helped that Cornett had the backing of a family cheering section. His father Ken was his caddy, and the gallery included his mother Rochelle, plus his grandparents and an aunt. Cornett also credited his golf instructor, area PGA teaching pro Ryan Benzel.
Dozens of people followed the Cornett, Beatty and Strickland threesome through the day, and the gallery seemed to grow over the final few holes.
“It was fun playing in front of a crowd,” said Cornett, who finished third in 2012 in his only other County Am appearance. “I’ve never played in front of that many people before.”
Although Strickland was unable to win his first County Am title, he came out on top in an event “that was a little tournament in its own.” By finishing in a runner-up tie, he placed ahead of his father Jeff Strickland (1-over 217, tied for fourth) and his uncle Jim Strickland (4-over 220, tied for sixth).
“It was really fun, even though (competing on a golf course) is kind of normal to us,” Mark Strickland said.
Because Jim Strickland lives in Arizona, the family is unsure if he will return to play in 2015.
“We’ll see if he wants to get beat again,” joked Mark Strickland, already upping the ante for next year.
Defending champion Alex Stamey, who was seeking what would be a tournament-record sixth County Am championship, finished tied for fourth with Jeff Strickland after a 2-under round of 70. Strickland, the 1996 champ, also had a 70.
The second division (for handicaps of 5.0-9.9) and third division (10.0 and higher) played their final rounds at Everett’s Legion Memorial Golf Course. Jeff Olsen was the low-net winner of the second division with a three-round total of 205, five shots better than Dawa Sangpo, Mark Hyung Park, Steve Hobson and Steve Laue. Sean McBurney won the third division with a 205 low-net total, two strokes ahead of Charles Solarek and Richard Haataja.