WYOMING, RI _ Brad Valois did not earn the big prize he was looking for Thursday in the Benrus Open at The Preserve. He settled for a nice consolation prize instead.
Valois, a four-time Rhode Island Amateur champion, began the day focused only on trying to win $1 million, which was the prize for any hole-in-one made by an amateur in the one-day tournament. It was not until he was nearly finished with his day that Valois gave any consideration to perhaps winning the unique new event held on the par-3 course at the new four-season sporting resort in southern Rhode Island.
And winning is what he did.
Valois used what he called one of the best putting rounds of his life to record a 5-under-par 49 to top the 160-player field that included pros from the PGA Tour, Champions Tour and numerous mini tours.
As an amateur, Valois did not qualify for the 5,000 first-place check in the $100,000 event. Instead, he earned a $750 gift certificate. The winners’ check was split by Champions Tour player Guy Boros and veteran Connecticut native Kyle Gallo. They both posted 51s, two behind Valois.
The event, thought to be the first of its kind in the nation, was a rousing success. Much of the focus was on the offer of $1 million to any of the 37 amateurs who took part for any hole in one.
Valois was like most of the field in that he had never seen the new club before teeing it up. He made no secret of the fact that he was excited to have 18 chances to win a million dollars with one swing of the club. In a strange way, that helped him win the tournament. Valois reported that he did not even think about his score most of the day.
“There’s definitely more strategy involved when you play for score, but when you play for a shot at a million bucks, especially when it’s only once a year, you want to go after it. I was more aggressive. I never wanted to be short. It’s like a putt. If you’re not long enough it’s never going to go in,’’ he pointed out.
He ended up going past the hole much of the time.
“I’d knock it 30 feet past the hole trying to make it, then make the putt coming back,’’ he said. Because of his focus on the $1 million prize, he did not agonize over his putts nearly as much as he would do in other events. His lack of attention on the greens led to two missed putts inside five feet. But he made almost everything else.
“I made one on the third hole that had to have been 35 feet. On eight I made one from 25 feet. On nine form about 30 feet,’’ he related. “On 10 it was 30 or 35 feet. On 11 I missed one from four feet straight in, but then made a 20-footer on the next hole.
“I almost chipped in on one hole, then made a 25-foot curler on the next hole,’’ he said.
On 17, he was told he had the tournament lead. Suddenly, he began thinking about winning. He said he changed strategy a bit and focused on the last two holes on just getting the ball close, not on making a hole in one. He birdied both of them. His only disappointment was never threatening to win the $1 million.
“I never came within 10 feet,’’ he said.
Brett Melton of Indiana, a four-time Indiana section champion, did make an ace on the 156-yard fifth hole.
“It took me 31 years. I finally got one,’’ said Melton, a four-time Indiana PGA section champion and the director of golf at the Country Club of Old Vincennes. “I’ve had an albatross, any number of twos on par 4s, but I’ve never had a one. I finally got one after 31 years.’’
Melton hit a nine iron.
“It landed about six or eight feet short and a little to the left, took one bounce and went right in,’’ he related.
The bad news is that the only boost Melton received was on the scorecard. The $1 million prize for an ace was only for amateurs. There were four holes where a pro could win a BMW with an ace. But those holes were on 11, 12, 13 and 17, not 5.
The ace did help Melton to tie for fourth at 2-under 52.
The two players who tied for low pro honors won $18,750 each. They did not have a playoff because playoffs are only for a championship, and that belonged to Valois. Gallo is a veteran of the New England circuit from Connecticut.
Boros, the son of Golf Hall of Famer Julius Boros, had birds at 3, 6, 12 and 16, while making only one bogey, at 15.
“It was beautiful out there,’’ said Boros, who last week was among the leaders in the Constellation Senior Players Championship held in Belmont, Mass.
“I’ve been playing pretty well. My back held up pretty good,’’ he said. “I like par-3 courses where irons are all you have to hit.’’
Boros is one of a half dozen Champions Tour players taking part in the new $100,000 one-day event. His family has strong New England ties. His dad grew up in Connecticut and was a school teacher before turning pro and winning 18 PGA Tour events, including the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.
Guy Boros has spent most of his life in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and in fact went back home after completing play in the Senior Players Championship in Belmont, Mass., on Sunday.
“My daughter had a volleyball tournament and I don’t get a chance to see her play a lot because of all my traveling,’’ he related. “It was important for me to watch her play. She won her tournament and qualified for the Junior Olympics in New Orleans.’’
Boros flew back to Rhode Island to play in the Benrus Open and will be on to the Senior Open and the Senior British Open in coming weeks.