Author: Luke Hendry
INDEPENDENCE, Minn. – Derek Hitchner began the final round nine strokes behind the 54-hole leader, Derek Busby. It seemed the 37-year-old mid-amateur would cruise to a victory at Windsong Farm Golf Club. However, Hitchner knew there was plenty of golf to be played on Friday. The senior at Pepperdine University carded a final round 4-under-par 67 to force a sudden-death playoff. On the second playoff hole, Hitchner drained a 10-foot birdie putt to defeat Busby and claim the 117th Trans-Mississippi Amateur
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Busby, who carded rounds of 66-65-70 through 54 holes, began the final round with a comfortable six-shot lead. However, there is nothing stress-free about trying to add your name next to Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris (all past champions of the Trans-Mississippi Amateur).
The former Louisiana Tech standout carded bogeys on the par-4 second, par-4 third, par-4 sixth and par-3 seventh. Coming into the final round, he’d only made four bogeys through 54 holes. On Friday, he found himself 4-over through his opening seven.
Meanwhile, Hitchner was making moves in the group ahead. The 21-year-old birdied the par-4 third and par-4 fifth. He bogeyed the par-3 seventh and turned at 1-under. He bogeyed the difficult par-3 10th, but began his back-nine charge with a birdie on the par-4 11th. Hitchner carded red figures on the par-5 12th, par-4 14th, par-4 15th and par-3 16th.
“I’ve played long enough that I knew anything was possible,” Hitchner said. “I had the mindset that I had nothing to lose. That stretch was pretty significant, because I knew I was in a position that I didn’t even think was possible.”
Hitchner bogeyed the par-4 17th and closed with a par on the par-5 18th to post 7-under-par 277 for the championship. Busby carded a 1-over-par 37 on the back nine and finished at 7-under par as well.
In the playoff, both players made par on the first hole (the par-5 18th). They returned to the 18th tee box, and Hitchner found the left fairway bunker while Busby was in the middle of the fairway. They both laid up to a similar yardage, and faced a difficult wedge to a tucked front left hole location. Hitchner played first and stuffed it to 10-feet. Busby’s approach drifted right, and he two-putted for par opening the door for the Minnesota native.
“The theme all day was playing too much break, so I wanted to play a little less and die it in,” Hitchner said. “I was extremely nervous, but I tried to just put a good stroke on it. Fortunately, it caught the right corner.”
Once Hitchner’s winning put found the bottom of the cup, a loud applause ensued from the Windsong Farm veranda overlooking the 18th green. There was no surprise when the cheers continued as the 117th champion made his way up toward the clubhouse. The kid who grew up in Minneapolis (less than 35 minutes away) had claimed the title.
“Knowing the history of the tournament, it’s very surreal,” Hitchner said. “I definitely felt the local support here which meant so much to me to have that many people backing me.”
Hitcher’s summer of competitive golf doesn’t slow down anytime soon. He’ll attempt to qualify for the 121st U.S. Amateur on July 12, followed by starts in the Minnesota State Open and Western Amateur later this month. After not playing on the starting five for the Pepperdine Waves (2021 NCAA National Champions) last season, the victory at Windsong Farm has given the senior hoops of confidence.
“With how good the team was, I wasn’t playing in the post-season line up,” Hitchner said. “I knew I was still playing good golf, and so to finally get the job done when I needed to is a huge boost in confidence.”
Busby finished runner-up and claimed low mid-amateur honors. Despite a rough closing 18 holes, he couldn’t have lost with more grace. The former professional commended Windsong Farm, its membership and the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association for a special week.
Kaiwen Liu of China finished solo third at 6-under-par 278. Michael Sanders of Davidson, N.C., Jansen Preston of Lexington, Ky. and Ryan Eshleman of Birmingham, Ala. tied fourth at 4-under-par 280.
It’s been a fantastic week at Windsong Farm Golf Club, and the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association extends its most sincere appreciation to the members and staff for all their hard work in making the tournament such a memorable event. Fifty-four members pitched in throughout the week with volunteer duties.
Extra special thanks are due to Owner David Meyer, Director of Golf Matt Kleinbrook and his great staff, Golf Course Superintendent John Dailing and his tireless grounds crew, Director of Operations Paul Glynn, Membership and Marketing Director Jonathan Abbott, Human Resources Manager Carrie Klinkner, Executive Chef Erik Swanson and Volunteer Chairmen Randy Lee and Mike Gustafson.
Additionally, we want to thank all our dedicated directors for their efforts throughout the week and the entire season. The Trans-Mississippi Amateur staff could not conduct these elite tournaments without a total team effort. We thank everyone involved.
ROUND 4 STATS: The stroke average for the final round was 72.2. Seventeen players finished in red figures for the championship with another player sitting at even-par 284. The par-4 first hole that measures 446 yards ranked toughest again on Friday at 4.29. It yielded three birdies and 13 bogeys or and two others.
The par-4 13th played the easiest for a second straight day. It played at 3.87, and 11 birdies were recorded.
About the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association
The Trans-Mississippi Golf Association is one of the oldest and most prestigious golf organizations in the United States. Established in 1901, the Trans-Mississippi is composed of over 200 member clubs located throughout the country. The Association is governed by a board of independent directors and is headquartered in Dallas, TX.
4475 Trinity Mills Road, Suite #702526
Dallas, TX 75287