Feature photo: Scorekeeper Mike Lucero posts the final results of Men’s City.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We apologize for not posting this story until now. My husband, Enchantment Sports editor in chief Mark Smith, covered the city men’s amateur for the 40th straight year, but wasn’t able to get the story completed on July 7 as he was hospitalized. He is still in the hospital, but got it completed with a little help. Thanks for understanding. — Robyn Vines Smith, managing editor.
By Mark Smith and Robyn Vines Smith
Simon Miller wasn’t about to flop in the final round of the 78th annual Greater Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship on Sunday at Los Altos.
But flop, Miller did.
In a great way, that is.
The 2011 Albuquerque Academy graduate had a 1-shot lead over 2018 Cleveland High graduate Alejandro Armijo entering the last round of the 54-hole event, and maintained a slim advantage throughout the tense first 13 holes.
Then everything changed on the par 5 14th, when Miller combined a lot of talent with a little luck to, basically, put the hammer down on Armijo’s title hopes.
Miller was about 20 yards off the green on a downward slope right side after his second shot. He was hoping to get his third shot close enough for a birdie opportunity, but outdid himself. He popped a picture-perfect flop shot on the green, and the ball made a beeline for the pin.
It didn’t stop until finding the bottom of the cup for an eagle to stretch his lead from two shots to four in an instant.
“I hit a good flop to the right, and I was just hoping to get it close enough for a birdie putt. Then it was mostly luck at that point. It just started bouncing and rolling right to the cup.”
Miller closed the day with a 5-under 67 at Los Altos to finish at 13 under 203. Armijo shot a closing-round 70 to finish second at 9 under. Slater Sivage had the day’s low round at 66 and finished third at 6 under. Eric Frazier was fourth at 2 under while Jason Myers was 1 under and James Gehrke was even.
While that stellar flop shot put Miller at 13 under, Armijo wasn’t yet finished. He had pulled his second shot way left and in the dirt, but was unfazed by Miller’s eagle. He hit a brilliant shot from a hard-pan lie from 40 yards off the green to within two feet of the cup. He tapped that in for birdie to go to 9 under.
But he got no closer.
“That was really impressive,” Miller said of Armijo’s birdie on 14. “I give him a lot of credit for being able to respond like that.”
Armijo still had a pulse when he stuck a brilliant shot within 15 feet on the par 3 15th, but he didn’t take advantage.
“I knew I had to make birdie there,” said Armijo, 19. “I gave myself a lot of birdie chances (Sunday), but wasn’t able to make many putts.”
He didn’t make that one, and with three holes left, he was running out of opportunities. Both Miller and Armijo had 2-putt birdies on the par 5 16th. But both made bogey at the short par 4 17th.
It was the only bogey Miller had during the day, and his first one in 43 holes.
“It was a little disappointing to make that bogey, but I was more focused on what I had to do to get the win,” Miller said.
“The 18th hole can be tough because there is (out of bounds) on the left and the right, but having a four-shot lead took a lot of pressure off at the end.”
Miller hit the green in regulation on the par 4 final hole, and had a 30-footer for birdie.
“All I was thinking about was to get finished,” Miller said, “and I just wanted to get the ball in the hole as fast as possible.”
He did just that, draining the birdie bomb to grab his first title in the event.
“Simon played three great rounds,” Armijo said. “I wish I could have put more pressure on him, but I was happy for him the way he played. That was really outstanding golf.”
Simon Miller closes Men’s City with a 30-foot birdie on 18 at Los Altos
Miller, who was the low amateur at the Navajo Trails tournament last month in Durango, Colo., was equally impressed with Armijo, who will play for Oklahoma Christian in the fall.
“He has a great game, and is really mentally strong,” Miller said. “He has a killer instinct, and it was actually intimidating me a little bit. He could go a long way in this game.”
“This was a great experience,” Armijo said. “I learned a lot about my game, and I got to compete with guys on a different level. I learned how to handle pressure in a situation like this.
“It also showed me some weak points that I need to work on.”
TOP JUNIOR: Ryan Schwaner, a rising senior at St. Pius High School, closed a 4-under 68 on Sunday and was the low junior in the field. He tied with Bowen Davis at seventh overall at 1-over-par 217.
“This was a huge learning experience for me, playing against a field like this,” Schwaner said. “Finishing the way I did is going to give me a lot of confidence in high school this year.”
Schwaner’s coach, Los Altos Director of Golf Chris Moya, said he was very impressed with Schwaner’s “composure. He is going to have a lot of success.”
“This was a big tournament for Ryan. He was able to learn a lot playing against these guys. He is at a point right now where he has to work on taking it deeper under par. Once he starts doing that he is really going to be something.”
… Robert Scott won the senior championship at 3-over 219 while Scott Belonge and Scott Blank tied for second at 225. Former senior champion Sam Shepperson closed with a 72 and was fourth at 229.
… John Bash won the first net flight while Richard Gutierrez won the second net flight.
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio.
He has covered the Greater Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship the past 40 years, and the even’ts trophy is named after him. The trophy is on display at Los Altos Golf Course.
Contact Mark at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.