Yelm pro fights jitters to capture state open

Staff writerMay 22, 2014 

KENT — There were plenty of reasons why John Cassidy’s hands might have been involuntarily shaking Wednesday.

For starters, he was in the final group at the 88th Washington Open Invitational, and he was grouped with one of Meridian Valley Country Club’s own favorite sons — and overnight leader — in amateur Michael Haack.

And the putter wasn’t so steady on the final nine holes (Nos. 1-9) of the tournament. He missed three short putts, or his lead would have been much wider.

But with the pressure on, Cassidy, the 32-year-old professional from Yelm, knocked in a 4-footer for par on the final hole and held off hard-charging Mitch Runge, an assistant professional at Tacoma Country and Golf Club, by one stroke for the title.

“Hey, you know if you’ve got a putt to win on the last hole, that is a good thing, no matter how long it is,” said Cassidy, who teaches at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club in Union — and picked up $6,000 for his victory.

Cassidy closed with a 1-under-par 71 to complete the three-round tournament in 8-under 208. Runge shot a 66 on Wednesday — his best score as a professional — to finish second at 209. Haack (76) was third at 211.

As far as the last time Cassidy won an important golf tournament? The former Canadian Tour player asked if a two-day event last year at Grays Harbor Country Club counted. Before that, he could not recall.

Cassidy’s day ended better than it started. He bogeyed the opening hole at No. 10, but rolled in a 40-footer for birdie on the next hole to settle down some of the understandable nerves.

“I did not feel real good with my swing. The ball wasn’t going right where I wanted it to,” Cassidy said. “But I knew if I could hang around, try and be there on the back nine with a shot … I’d be fine.”

Haack’s nerves might have been amplified by a big gallery of club members watching him. He hit his drive on the 15th hole right and near the creek that flanks the fairway. He had to take a drop, was assessed a one-shot penalty and finished with a double bogey to fall into a tie for the lead.

Haack was trailing before he hit a beautiful punch shot from the trees within inches of the cup at No. 2 for a tap-in birdie to regain a share of the lead. Two holes later, he saved par from 14 feet to stay tied.

The swing hole came at No. 5, a long par 4 and the hardest hole on the course. Cassidy’s drive landed just outside a fairway bunker.

“I had a decent angle with 152 yards in. I knew if I landed it 145 (yards) with a little 8-iron, it would skip up there,” Cassidy said. “It got back there further than I wanted to, but I am not complaining.”

He shouldn’t. His ball was 2 feet behind the hole. He made a birdie to get to 9-under. Haack three-putted from 25 feet for a bogey to fall to 7-under. Cassidy never relinquished the lead.

“I was close all day but never really got into a groove,” Haack said. “It was a lot different than the last couple of days … and bad swings deserve to be punished.”

The golfer who ended up putting the most heat on Cassidy was Runge, who was playing three groups ahead. Runge coaxed a delicate 18-footer down the slope at No. 7 for the last of his seven birdies to get to 7-under.

And after playing a great 75-yard shot from the left rough on the finishing par 5, Runge’s 6-footer for birdie rolled by the right edge of the cup.

“I thought if I shot 8-under, it would get me around the lead depending on how the boys played,” Runge said. “I needed help, no matter how well I played today. … I just wanted to make birdies and have fun.”

As soon as Cassidy made his final putt, he gave a feisty fist pump. He then walked over to his father, John, for a hug. It was his time to win.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Cassidy said. “I could feel it.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ @ManyHatsMilles

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