On a march toward his biggest professional golf victory, Darren Black never took an extended glance to what was going on behind him.
If he had, he would have seen the home membership grow like a swarm of bees, pulling for two of its own at the 89th Washington Open Invitational — teaching professional Brian Thornton and high-profile amateur Kent Hagen, the overnight co-leaders.
Black was content with his gallery of a few – and a caddie making his debut.
It was his 12-year-old son, Drew, who before the week began, had never walked a full 18 holes on a golf course.
Black staged a final-nine rally, including a birdie on the finishing hole, to topple the field for his first major Northwest title at Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent.
The head professional at Rainier Golf and Country Club closed with a 4-under-par 68 to finish the three-day championship at 10-under 206 — two strokes ahead of Thornton (71) at 208, and three shots in front of Chris Griffin (71), the assistant professional at Tacoma Country and Golf Club.
In the front bunker in two shots at the finishing par 5, Black blasted past the hole, but watched as it crept back toward him off a ridge.
“That little backstop helped me,” Black said. “It got up in the fringe and came back down.”
He rolled in the 10-foot putt to post 68.
Needing a matching birdie to tie, Thornton’s second shot released to the back fringe, leaving him an awkward and difficult putt through the fringe — and down a steep spine in the green.
“They say you can put a bucket of balls somewhere and try and do a shot like that,” Thornton said. “That would have taken 10 large buckets to do —it was a one-in-a-thousand shot.
“The speed coming off that fringe had to be exact, no matter what choice (of club) you played.”
Thornton, the 2009 Washington Open Invitational champion, had a 12-foot putt for birdie to tie. It missed left.
This time was certainly coming for Black, 34, who has been at Rainier G&CC for four years. He is a Lewiston High School and Lewis-Clark State College graduate.
Last year, he led the Oregon Open by four shots midway through the back nine holes, but collapsed at Black Butte Ranch Glaze Meadow Course, eventually losing to Puyallup’s Derek Barron.
Which was a good reason enough to employ a comfortable sidekick this week.
“He did awesome,” Black said. “I didn’t have to worry about him interfering with anybody else, or stepping on my golf ball.”
An eagle-3 at the 13th hole gave Black a share of the lead at 9-under.
What happened a hole later might have saved his tournament.
On the long straightaway par-4, Black — the Pacific Northwest PGA Section player of the year — hit his drive dead left. It hit a big tree on that side, but the ball dropped and did not ricochet left — like it usually does.
Standing 240 yards away from the green, he was able to land his second shot in a greenside bunker, and get up and down for par, sinking a 12-foot putt.
After that, it was a nice stroll — and a string of pars — into the finishing hole, where he took the lead for the first time, and won.
“Having (Drew here) definitely helped,” Black said. “I’ve been in the mix before without a caddie, and you get in your own head. He was able to help me laugh a little bit and relax.”
He took one look at his son, and got choked up.
“I am really glad you are here, buddy,” Black told his son.
Griffin had his chances. He birdied the 14th hole to get to 9-under and one shot off the lead, and carried that to the second-to-last hole. But at No. 17, he hit a drive left and into a pond, leading to a fatal double bogey.
“Obviously … that tee ball I am sour over,” Griffin said. “But I had no expecations coming into this week. I had been playing pretty poorly, so it was nice getting into the hunt.”