EVERETT — Alvin Kwak raised the banner for youth at this year’s Snohomish County Amateur golf tournament.
The Kamiak High School senior became the first junior player to win the tournament since the junior division was introduced, prevailing in a sudden-death playoff against defending champion Jacob Rohde to claim the 89th edition of the Michelob Ultra Snohomish County Amateur on Monday at Everett Golf & Country Club.
Kwak birdied the first playoff hole to become the first junior to win the title since the junior division began in 1971. He and Rohde both finished with 54-hole scores of 1-under par.
”It feels so great,” Kwak said. “I really wanted to get the win this year because I thought I would be the youngest winner if I won this year — I’m not sure if that’s correct (there are no official records of the tournament’s youngest winner). But it feels really good.”
Kwak, representing Everett Golf & Country Club, began the day three shots behind Rohde, who held the lead following the first two rounds. Kwak shot an even-par 72 Monday to pull into a tie with Rohde, who shot a 75, and force the playoff. It was believed to be the first County Am playoff since 1996.
On the first playoff hole, the 398-yard par-4 No. 1, Kwak was perfect. He hammered a long drive to the center of the narrow part of the fairway. Then, after Rohde put the pressure on by landing his approach shot 10 feet from the hole, Kwak hit a pitching wedge from 125 yards out stiff, leaving himself a 5-foot birdie putt.
Rohde, a 41-year-old who plays out of Legion Memorial, left his uphill putt inches short. Kwak, with the tournament riding on his putter, rolled the downhill 5-footer right into the hole to claim the championship.
”Those were the three best shots I hit all day,” Kwak said. “I was really hitting it bad all day, so I was like, ‘Let’s just hit this hard and whatever,’ and then it just worked out.”
Chris Vargas, a 29-year-old who plays out of Mill Creek Country Club and the first-round leader, finished third at even par. Vargas had a 35-foot birdie putt on 18 with a chance to get into the playoff, but came up short.
Brett Curtis, who had the low round of the day at 5-under 67, finished tied with Jason Calamaro for fourth at 2-over.
It was an eventful week for Kwak. The Columbia University-bound Kwak, who was the County Am junior champion every year from 2015-17, spent last Tuesday and Wednesday helping Kamiak win the high school 4A state team championship, though he finished a disappointing 23rd individually.
So Kwak was motivated to perform well at the County Am. Playing in the second-to-last trio Monday, Kwak bogeyed two of the first three holes. But after that he settled in. A birdie on the par-4 ninth gave Kwak a one-shot lead over Rohde and Vargas at the turn, and he made a series of par-saving putts on the back nine — including a 20-footer on 13 and a slippery 12-footer on 18 — to come in at 1-under.
“I actually had the same game today that I had at state, except my putting was a little better this week,” Kwak said. “I was not feeling good going into this tournament, but my mom was caddying for me and she helped me keep calm and play well regardless of how bad I was hitting it.”
Rohde, who reached 5-under after birdieing No. 2, had a rough three-hole stretch between Nos. 3 and 5 when his short game deserted him, making two double-bogeys and a bogey to bring the rest of the field back into play. Rohde, who had 1970s AM hits wafting gently from a speaker hanging from his bag throughout the round, recovered and was bogey-free the remainder of the day. However, he just wasn’t able to sink any birdie putts, with the exception of a 20-footer on No. 10. He had a 30-foot putt on 18 to win it, but he left himself with a 3-footer that he drained to ensure the playoff.
“It was a lot like the first two rounds for me, a couple bad holes that just got me started off wrong,” Rohde said. “My goal was to get back to even and finish at 4-under, I got a birdie on 10, and just nothing wanted to go after that. I left it an inch short on 12, lipped it close on 13, had other close ones on 14, 15 and 16. I missed another close one in the sudden death, left it two inches short right in the heart. I was comfortable with the putts, I just couldn’t get myself to hit them hard enough.”
Indeed, it was a rough front nine for the entire final group. Rohde was 4-over on the front nine, Vargas was 2-over, and Joe Hardy, who began the day in second place one stroke behind Rohde, was 6-over. That opened the door for the rest of the field.
The other player besides Kwak who nearly took advantage was Quinton Borseth. Playing in the third-to-last group, Borseth got to 1-under after 14, thanks to a pair of eagles — he holed out from the fairway on the par-4 fourth and drove the green in two on the par-5 14th. But he faded down the stretch and finished sixth at 3-over.