HILO — In a dash to the championship of the Big Island Invitational, it became a golfing version of a photo finish Sunday afternoon at Hilo Municipal.
It was so close they declared two winners, not all that unusual in a two-day shoot out that involves amateurs and professionals, but this one had a particular flair for the dramatic with two playoff holes that made winners of two players who out-chipped their rivals.
Christian Agosto, a former University of Hawaii at Hilo player who hasn’t been terribly active in recent tournament play, drained a 50-foot chip for birdie on the first playoff to knock out his three professional playing partners, Nainoa Calip, Justin Keiley and Jared Sawada. Being an amateur, Agosto couldn’t accept the $5,000 first prize so the three professionals were gathered up for another playoff, from the 10th tee and Nainoa Calip emerged victorious with his own sweet chip, this one that landed three feet from the pin and provided the winning birdie putt.
An unorthodox way to end a tournament, perhaps, but there was a thread of tradition in Agosto’s win after he shot the best round of the day with a 67 that counterbalanced a 1-over 72 in Saturday’s first round.
“I can’t complain after the way I played (Saturday), Agosto said. “Today I had a solid round but I also got lucky.”
Golfers make their own luck and that’s what Agosto did Sunday with a round of five birdies and one bogey, consistently keeping the ball in play throughout the round, right up until the playoff hole on 18 when he hooked his drive into the trees on the left while the three pros hit straighter and deeper off the tee.
Then came two memorable swings of the club.
“I still can’t believe it,” Agosta said a few minutes after the tournament. “I go right into the trees (on his tee shot), and it looked bad but when I got up there I could see I actually had a shot and I punched it out.”
He was looking at an uphill chip that was “about 45 or 50 feet away,” in the opinion of Hilo Muni pro Kevin Hayashi, who watched the shot from the green.
“When I hit it,” Agosto said, “I thought, ‘Whoa, this going to be up there close,’ but in it went.”
Agosto said he has played Hilo Muni, “More times than I can count, hundreds, maybe more.”
Where that chip shot ranks was clear.
“This is going to be probably the best chip I will ever have,” he said. “The weird thing about it is that I’ve never chipped well here, though I’ve played here more than anywhere.”
So on a day when he shoots the best round in the tournament by keeping his ball in play, he knocks it into the trees on the playoff round then makes the chip of his life on a course where he struggles to chip.
Agosto received a $750 gift certificate for the win.
Meanwhile, in the three-way playoff from 10, Calip also won with the best chip as his rolled to three feet from the pin for the birdie that the other two couldn’t match.
Calip, who missed a 12-foot putt on 17 that he thought he should have made for the win, was as excited as anybody for Agosto.
“Wasn’t that great?” Calip said? “I’ve known Christian since he was a little kid, very, very happy for him. Anybody who makes a shot like that should win.”
For his part, Calip might have been the one feeling lucky after a 68 Saturday that, duplicated, would have easily won the tournament Sunday, but he managed an even-par 71 to gain the playoff.
“We all have a shot here or a shot there to look back on and kick ourselves about, but you know, this is what happens in golf,” Calip said. “Today, I thought the greens were a little faster, but the course played well, it was just that we all sort of started falling apart at the end.”
It was the fourth check Calip has won as a professional, not yet enough to make it a full time job. For that he is an assistant pro at Waikoloa, which came into play when he was asked what’s next.
“That’s easy,” he said with a laugh, “I have a 14-hour day (Monday), let me get through that.”
The victories by Agosto and Calip ended a string of three in a row by Nick Mason, who put himself in the hunt Saturday with a 69, then had trouble on the greens Sunday and shot a 71.
“I played terrible today,” Mason said, after a missing a 7-foot putt on 18 that would have got him in the playoff. “I putted horribly all day, two putts, three putts, so that’s unfortunate.
“This is still a fun place to be,” he said. “Maybe I can start a new streak next year.”