The 70th edition of Sole Survivor tournament at Moscow Elks Lodge Golf Club was a wild ride from the first tee to Erik Johnson’s final tiebreaker chip-off to claim the title on the last shot of the day.
The newcomer survived chip-offs on three of his first four holes, and clutch Taylor Anderson — the only woman in the 10-man field — survived four chip-offs to place second.
Talk about surviving.
Anderson’s final putt fell just inches short, and Johnson won the ensuing chip-off tiebreaker to seal the victory.
“Taylor did a great job,” Johnson said. “She hit a lot of good shots, really hung in there. It was definitely a tough battle.”
The Elks’ unique format made for an adrenaline-laced tournament on an otherwise beautifully calm holiday on the Palouse. The field started at 10 golfers with one eliminated at each of the Moscow course’s nine holes.
In the case of a tie — of which there were many — golfers took turns doing a “chip-off” from 25 yards away from the pin. Golfers had their backs turned before their turn until the ball was marked and removed, so they had no idea where their competitors landed. Furthest from the pin was eliminated.
A crowd of more than three dozen decorated golf carts, and more spectators on foot, watched in silence when golfers battled through the countless do-or-die shots.
On the first hole, seven of the 10 golfers shot a 6, making for a seven-man chip-off — a sign of things to come.
Johnson and Anderson survived the first tiebreaker only for Johnson’s ball to end up on the highway on the second hole, leading to a 9 and a second chip-off with equally unlucky Lance Abendroth. Anderson shot a 3, tied for best shot on the hole.
Johnson survived that and another chip-off on the fourth hole.
“It’s called Sole Survivor for a reason,” Johnson said. “So you just gotta survive, it doesn’t matter how.”
Johnson, a 27-year-old from Garfield, said visibility issues hurt him on the first several holes, but then he settled in with the pack.
“When it starts getting more visual, I can start playing my game and settling into what I’ve got going,” said Johnson, sporting a bright pink shirt. “I just happened to start hitting my irons a little better and got into more of a comfort zone.”
Both Johnson and Anderson were cool under pressure.
Anderson, a 25-year-old from Moscow, was the first female to compete in the “men’s” Sole Survivor in 2015. She got second then, too.
“Honestly, with that extra challenge of me being the only female, it pushes me to do better,” said Johnson, a four-time Women’s Sole Survivor champion. “I want to come out and make a statement on ‘Yeah, I’m the only female out here (but) I think I can fit in. I want to earn my keep, basically.
“I like being challenged, I like the pressure.”
Anderson survived a treacherous hole number 7 in which she came up just feet short of a water hazard. She bounced back to hit a 5 along with multi-time champs Jerry Curtis and Sean Dorigo. On the ensuing chip-off, Anderson edged Curtis by just 18 inches.
The next hole was no easier. Anderson ended up in a bunker and then over the edge on the other side of the green. But the former Eastern Washington University golfer chipped back to the hole for an easy putt and another chip-off with Dorigo.
This time, there was no doubt — Dorigo was long and Anderson’s chip shot nearly went in.
“My chipping was on today. Usually that’s the worst part of my game,” Anderson said with a laugh.
On the final hole, the crowd held its collective breath as Anderson tried a six-foot putt that would’ve won it. The ball stopped about two inches short and the crowd groaned. Anderson and Johnson both hit a 5.
“I was fortunate enough that Taylor left her putt short, which I definitely didn’t expect,” Johnson said. “She was clutch all day. I kind of got lucky and that’s the way it goes, I guess.”
On the final chip-off, Johnson made the most of his second chance with a shot just a few feet away from the hole to win it.
Both golfers were gracious at the end. Johnson thanked the Elks for letting non-members play the event, and Anderson said she was more than happy with second-place.
“Obviously it would be great to win it, but I am happy with how I played today, so to be honest, it’s OK with me being second,” Anderson said. “Erik, it’s his first time ever playing it, so I couldn’t be happier for him.”
The defending champion, Barry Kees, was eliminated on the sixth hole. Curtis, a four-time champ, lost on No. 7, and two-time champ Dorigo suffered the same fate on No. 8.
Johnson said the high-pressure situations and decent crowd made for a perfect environment.
“I love horse-race environments,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun because you get that crowd feel and it kind of feels a little bit more like a professional tour type of event.
“A little bit more pressure and it tells you who is able to compete under pressure. I enjoy the opportunity to do that. It kind of adds a different element to the game.”
Order of finish — Erik Johnson, Taylor Anderson, Sean Dorigo, Jerry Curtis, Barry Kees, Nate Strong, Wayne Krauss, Mark Trivelpiece, Lance Abendroth, Todd Martin.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @stephansports.