It took two extra holes to decide the 61st Santa Barbara City Championship golf tournament on Sunday at Muni.
When it was all said and done, it was 26-year-old Thayer White who emerged as the champion. White sank a 30-foot birdie putt on the par 3 second hole — which happened to be the second sudden death playoff hole — to beat 2008 champion Brandon Gama.
“It’s super fun,” White said of his victory. “I enjoy competing, and it’s really fun to be in town, where I’m from, and have a lot of support. This is going to be special. This is a memory I can have for decades and decades.”
It was White’s first Santa Barbara City championship, and one that required him to get hot on the back nine.
After finishing the front nine in 2 over, which had him 1 under for the tournament, White birdied the par 4 12th — one of the toughest holes on the course — and the par 4 14th to finish the back nine at 2 under. White shot an even-par 70, while Gama settled for a 1-over par 71. Both players finished the 36-hole regulation event at 3 under.
Gama had a chance to win it on 18, but his eagle putt lipped out. He settled for birdie, while White parred the hole to force a playoff.
“He had an eagle putt that was 15 feet I would imagine. It burned the lip. It looked really good,” White said.
The win capped a miraculous six-year comeback for White, who was the victim of a vicious attack in Berkeley in 2014. After getting hit in the head with a baseball bat, White had to learn how to read, write and speak again.
His golf game was next to come back. Fully aware of the situation, Gama was all class in congratulating the former San Marcos High standout.
“I’m really happy for Thayer,” Gama said. “Knowing what he’s been through and to be where he is right now and do what he’s doing, it’s pretty remarkable. I’m proud of him. Today he’s a champion.”
Gama opened with a 4-under 66 on Saturday and held the lead by one over White entering Sunday’s final round.
But trouble occurred on the back nine for Gama, and it ultimately proved costly.
“(Saturday) I finished strong, I shot 30 on the back nine, and I shot over par on the back nine today,” Gama said. “I just made too many mistakes. I had a double (bogey) on 16 and a bogey on 17. You can’t make those kinds of mistakes coming down the stretch of a tournament.
“Even though I had a chance to win, which was amazing, you can’t be making those mistakes.”
It was White’s sixth appearance in the City championship, an event he started playing in high school.
“The whole back nine was back and forth,” White said of he and Gama. “We had no idea about the people in front of us and how they were playing.”
One of them was the defending champion, Jack Perry, who finished in third place at 2-under par after an even-par 70 on Sunday.
“They had some tricky pins out there, but that’s always the City (tournament),” said Perry, who led Santa Barbara High’s boy’s golf team to the 2010 state title. I had the same mindset as (Saturday): try to swing aggressively and choose good targets. Unfortunately, I just didn’t make as many birdies, but it’s so much fun to come back to Santa Barbara.
“Being able to come out to Muni after getting back surgery a few years ago and being healthy, I feel very fortunate. I just love playing golf, and being able to come back to the City (tournament) is just a lot of fun.”
White got to 3 under after he stuck a wedge shot one foot from the 14th hole for a tap-in birdie.
“That was my best shot of the day,” he said. “That was awesome. I was just able to par out the last few holes. Like I said before, I knew what Brandon was doing and he knew what I was doing, but we didn’t know how the people in front of us were playing.”
It would remain that way until they finished regulation. Only when White and Gama walked off the 18th green did they realize they were the last two standing with more golf to play.
“I got some nerves at the very end, especially in the playoff, but it was a good nervous,” White said. “It’s exciting. It’s a rush. … It’s really fun, and I think nerves are Ok.”