Jack Ireland is off to a very good start in professional golf.
He tied for fifth place last week, shooting an 11-under-par 202 total for 54 holes at the GCU Championship, a Golden State Tour event at the Grand Canyon University Golf Course in Phoenix, Arizona.
On Friday, he won the Napa Open, beating Alex Lee on the first hole of a sudden death playoff on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa, the presenting sponsor of the Golden State Tour event. Ireland, who played college golf at UCLA and is from Mission Viejo, made a birdie putt from three feet on the par-5 18th hole in the playoff to secure his first victory since turning pro in June.
“It’s good to get to see my game tested super tough and then be able to kind of fight tough as nails through it,” Ireland said. “I’m pretty excited. I played pretty well last week. I felt like if I made a couple of more putts that I would have had a chance to win.”
Ireland is now a tournament champion, thanks to a 71 that he shot in the third and final round that put him in a tie for the lead with Lee, who played at Fresno State and is from Sacramento. Lee made a late run, with birdies on his final three holes to shoot 71. The two players were tied at 3-under 213 at the end of regulation.
Ireland began the final round of the $31,750 mini tour event in a four-way tie for the lead, joining Tom Johnson of San Francisco, Zack Sims of Napa and Lee atop the leaderboard. There was some confusion following his round, with Ireland getting a report that he had won and then another report that he was in a playoff. Either way, he used the time to work on his putting on the practice green.
“I was able to regroup,” said Ireland, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in history. “I kind of felt like I drove the ball well (Thursday) and I tried to make sure that I continued that, to make sure that I was hitting a lot of fairways.”
Ireland, who plays out of Mission Viejo Country Club, opened the tournament with a 75 in very windy conditions on Wednesday on the North Course. He bounced back with a 67 in the second round Thursday on the South Course.
He earns $7,500. The top 14 players earn prize money.
The 36-hole cut was at 7-over, with the low 26 players and ties advancing to the final round. The field included both pro and amateur players. The players were grouped in twosomes for the final round, with the pace of play at just over four hours.
The final-round hole locations were the same as the ones used for Sunday’s final round of the Safeway Open, played in September.
“I felt like I was going to have a lot more wedges than the first day,” said Ireland. “It was just being patient with the putter and making sure I took care of everything inside five feet.”
It was Ireland’s first time playing at Silverado, the host of the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open. He got in a practice round on the South Course Tuesday and checked out the North Course by driving around the par-72, 6,800-yard layout.
“I tried to get a feel for it. All of a sudden, it was blowing 30, 35 40 mph and the golf course is completely different,” he said.
Ireland hit short of the green with a 5-iron on his second shot in the playoff. He used a lob wedge to chip his next shot close to the pin.
“I had a tough chip from down there below the surface. It was lot harder than I thought it would be. I was able to bump it up there to a couple of feet,” he said.
Ireland’s round included five birdies and four bogeys.
“When you put enough time in, you’ve got to feel like you trust your game. And if you’re not there, then you’ve got to put some more work in,” he said.
Ireland and Lee finished one shot in front of two players, Andy Miller of Napa (71) and Johnson (72), who were at 2-under 214 and tied for third.
Cody Blick of Alamo (72) was fifth at 1-under 215.
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Brent Grant of Murrieta (72) and Sims (74) tied for sixth at even-par 216.
It’s the second Napa Open in the same calendar year, following the inaugural event in January.
“There were a bunch of guys that had a chance to win at the end and it was fun to watch,” said Miller, a four-time NCAA All-American at BYU, who has played on both the Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour.
Miller is the tournament founder and organizer.
“I think it’s a good step, a good step in the right direction. I think we’ll have more players next year and just make it that much better,” said Miller.
Miller, who works as Silverado’s design director, put himself into contention during the final round.
“It’s good to you know that I put myself in position to win, but I didn’t feel 100 percent comfortable today with my game, as it was a little bit off,” said Miller. “But I scrambled. I got up and down from everywhere today.”
Lee missed his birdie putt in the playoff from five feet.
“I might have pulled it a slight bit. I thought it was in,” said Lee. “I left everything out on the course, so I’m not discouraged or anything. I did the best I could.”
Lee had five birdies and four bogeys in the final round.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking about making birdies on the last day. I was just trying to do my routine and things that I can control myself as good as possible. I was just focused on those things,” said Lee.
Miller and Sims drew the largest galleries on the final day. Miller’s dad, Johnny Miller, a World Golf Hall of Fame member, 25-time champion on the PGA Tour and the tournament host of the Safeway Open, was on hand to watch.
Sims had three birdies, two double bogeys and a bogey. His chip from off the green for eagle on the par-5 16th just missed going in.
“Regardless, it’s been a good three days and playing with (Ireland) is awesome. I thank Andy (Miller) and Golden State and all the people that came out to watch. It meant a lot,” said Sims, who works in the golf department at Silverado.
Sims, a Napa High School graduate, was named to the Division II PING All-West Regional team by the Golf Coaches Association of America in 2018 for Holy Names University of Oakland. He was also named first team All-Pacific West Conference and the Holy Names Male Student-Athlete of the Year.
“I hit it well today. I had a couple of bad breaks on the back nine. But other than that, I think I hit it well enough to win,” said Sims.
Johnson, who works as a golf instructor at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, had two birdies and two bogeys.
“I was a little bit off today and just kind of blew it at the end honestly, but I can carry my head high,” said Johnson. “I just got on the wrong side of the hole a few too many times and just kind of didn’t have it. But I’m pretty encouraged about the fact that I had a chance all the way down to the last hole.”
“Established in 1982, the Golden State Tour is the longest running professional ‘mini tour’ in the country,” according to its website, goldenstatetour.com.