Hagy wins New Year's Invite with late eagle

Arnond Vongvanij

Arnond Vongvanij

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Cal’s Brandon Hagy isn’t just a good stick, but a good student. The sophomore wants to study in his school’s prestigious Haas School of Business in part because he has a knack for numbers.

He displayed his quantitative talents late Sunday at the New Year’s Invitational. A 72nd-hole eagle is always an improbability, even on a reachable par-5, but Hagy foresaw a 3 when he stepped to the tee on St. Petersburg Country Club’s 528-yard finishing hole.

He turned his premonition into reality with a well-struck 4-iron and 20-foot putt. The eagle gave Hagy a one-shot victory over Florida’s Arnond “Bank” Vongvanij (70), the No. 2 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Hagy finished at 8-under 280 (69-68-70-73) to join a recent winner’s list that includes U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and PGA Tour players Jeff Overton, Brandt Snedeker and J.B. Holmes.

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• To see the swing of Florida's Arnond Vongvanij, click here.

“It was my best swing of the week, at the biggest moment,” Hagy said about his second shot to 18.

Hagy, a sophomore at Cal, is redshirting this season, in part to complete his pre-requisites for Haas, one of the top five business schools in the country. His grade-point average this past semester was a shade under 4.0, he said.

If Hagy had failed to win, there’d be just one number he’d remember from this week: Six.

That was the size of his lead Sunday after he made a 15-foot birdie putt on St. Petersburg’s ninth hole. His struggles began almost immediately after he crossed the two-lane street that divides St. Petersburg CC’s ninth green and 10th tee.

“I think I let my concentration slip just a touch on that tee because I found myself getting a pretty big lead,” he said.

Hagy hit his drive on No. 10 so far right that he had to play a provisional ball. He found his first tee shot, but made bogey from the trees. He drove left on the next hole, but salvaged par after hitting a punch shot from tree roots that ran up just short of the green. Meanwhile, Vongvanij birdied Nos. 10 and 11 with putts inside 10 feet to get within three strokes.

On the par-4 12th, Hagy missed both the fairway and the green for the third consecutive hole. His bogey cut his lead to two strokes. Hagy and Vongvanij were even after Vongvanij birdied the par-3 14th with a 5-iron to 12 feet. Hagy missed a 10-foot par putt after hitting his tee shot in a greenside bunker.

When Hagy three-putted from 50 feet on the next hole, Vongvanij had his first lead of the day. Both players birdied the par-5 16th – Vongvanij made a 6-footer, while Hagy holed out from 3 feet. It was Vongvanij’s fourth birdie in seven holes.

“I just told myself to keep making pars and birdies, and whatever happens, happens,” Vongvanij said. “Then, all of a sudden I was leading. After that, I thought, ‘I can do this.’ ”

Both players three-putted from across the green on the par-3 17th. Hagy missed a 3-foot par putt that would’ve drawn him even with Vongvanij.

“I just told myself, if I could stay one shot back I’d have a chance on 18 because of my length,” Hagy said.

He hit his drive on the final hole about 30 yards past his competitors, then hit 4-iron from 230 yards, twice yelling “Be right!” as the ball was in the air. It rolled 20 feet by the hole. Emboldened by the good strike, Hagy confidently grabbed his bag and purposefully walked toward the green.

Meanwhile, Vongvanij had hit his second shot behind trees left of the green. He had to play a low, running wedge to the back hole location, but caught the ball slightly heavy, leaving himself a long birdie putt. When he missed, the stage was set for Hagy, who let out a loud yell when his putt dropped.

Hagy’s redshirt season has also given him time to improve his short game, which was key to the victory. Despite driving the ball well during the first three rounds, he struggled to hit greens. “The first three days, I had just ridiculous up and downs,” he said. “It really kept me in it.”

Hagy, of Westlake Village, Calif., was No. 381 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last season. His best showing was a tie for 16th Arizona Intercollegiate. He tied for 20th in the Pac-10 Championship, 21st at the NCAA Southwest Regional and 135th at the NCAA Championship.

Last summer, he had top-10 finishes at the Rice Planters and Trans-Mississppi Amateur, and finished 11th at the Southwestern Amateur.

“We liked him because he looked to be a high achiever in life, and to have some real potential – great length and straight – as well as being very bright,” Cal head coach Steve Desimone said.

Hagy won the 2009 Christmas Classic, a large California amateur event at Del Monte Golf Club in Monterey. Desimone said that victory helped Hagy’s confidence.

“He’s beginning to understand how good he is and how much better he can be,” Desimone said. His New Year’s Invitational victory, over one of college golf’s top players, should help that process.

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