- Gary Baines
Jonathan Kaye wins 2nd CO Open, 21 years after his first
Jonathan and Jennifer Kaye's kids, Ryelie and Breeze, weren't even born when Jonathan last won a golf tournament, the 2004 FBR Open on the PGA Tour. So when Jonathan struck pay dirt on Sunday in the CoBank Colorado Open, it was certainly a family affair worth celebrating.
And celebrate they did (pictured) when the former University of Colorado golfer drained a 9-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club to notch his second Colorado Open victory.
"I've got all my friends and family here," said Kaye, who lives in Boulder during the summer and Phoenix during the school year. "My kids finally got to see me win a golf tournament for the first time. That was pretty special. They thought I was retired. They didn't even know what I did."
A year after finishing second in the Colorado Open to Neil Johnson -- with whom he was paired on Sunday -- Kaye claimed the $100,000 first prize this time. His eight-birdie 6-under-par 66 in the final round led to a 23-under total, which tied Johnson's tournament scoring record -- relative to par -- set last year.
And Kaye needed all 23 of those to get a victory without a playoff. Fellow Coloradan Jacob Lestishen, of Lone Tree, made it a horse race down the stretch after it looked like Kaye might run away with the title. Lestishen played holes 11-15 in an amazing 6 under par, going birdie, birdie, birdie, 20-yard chip-in eagle, birdie to tie the two-time PGA Tour winner.
"I've probably done that a couple of times (had a similar run to that), but not on the back
nine with this on the line. That was a lot of fun," said Lestishen.
But the 29-year-old couldn't add to his torrid stretch despite having legitimate birdie opportunities on 16, 17 and 18. And, after going into the 18th hole tied with Lestishen, Kaye hit a stellar third shot to the par-5 18th, ending up 9 feet above the hole. And he rolled in the winning birdie putt, punctuated with a fist pump, leaving Lestishen with the $20,000 second prize after his closing 65.
"I'm obviously disappointed," Lestishen said. "When you play that well you want to win. At the end of the day, I had that great run on the back nine to give myself a chance. (Kaye) made the putt at the end, so you've got to move on. It was a good week still. Runner-up in a tournament like this, you've got to be pretty happy with that."
Kaye, who last played tournament golf in an April Web.com Tour event, became the seventh player to claim at least two Colorado Open championships, joining Dave Hill (4), Bill Loeffler (3), Bill Bisdorf (3), Derek Tolan (2), Brian Guetz (2) and Jim Blair (2). Kaye was also the first Coloradan to win the Colorado Open since Zahkai Brown in 2013. With the $100K payday, Kaye becomes the all-time leading money winner in tournament history with $159,768, roughly $47,000 more than Blair, who now sits in second place.
"It seems like just yesterday I won it for the first time, but apparently it was 21 years ago," said Kaye, who will turn 47 on Aug. 2. "It really makes me feel old. To be a two-time champ of this tournament, I'm really proud of it. It's one of the best state opens in the country."
For the record, the 21 years between Colorado Open victories by Kaye (left) is a record, bettering the 14 years between Guetz's wins (1994 and 2008).
Johnson and Oscar Fraustro of Mexico tied for third place on Sunday at 269. Joining Kaye and Lestishen as Coloradans in the top 10 on Sunday were Steven Kupcho of Westminster and amateur Jake Staiano of Cherry Hills Village and Colorado State University, who tied for eighth place at 273. Kupcho shot a final-round 69 despite a triple-bogey 7 on the 15th hole, and Staiano carded a 72. Blake Cannon, a CSU teammate of Staiano last season before recently turning pro, placed seventh on Sunday at 272 after closing with a 67.
Lestishen's back-nine run caught Kaye by surprise.
"Honestly, I thought I had a three-stroke lead (in the middle of the back nine), then my wife came and told me, 'You're tied. Some guy (Lestishen) just made a 2 on this (par-4 14th) hole.' I'm like, 'What?'"
But after sharing the lead with Lestishen after the latter made his eagle on 14, then again his birdie on 15 (after Kaye had birdied 14 behind him), it came down to the 18th hole for Kaye, as it had last year. In 2016, the former Buff made a bogey on the 72nd hole after badly mis-hitting his 5-wood second shot and having it go into the hazard. This time, Kaye's tee shot on No. 18 went into the rough and he drew "the worst lie I've had all week," he said. "I really hit a terrible (second) shot and got a good break to end up where I was, then I hit probably one of the better shots I've hit all week on my third shot and I made the putt. It was a 4. There's no pictures on the card so I'll take it. It was a pretty dramatic finish really."
Staiano, who was paired with Kaye and Johnson in the last group on Sunday, was duly impressed by how Kaye made things happen when he needed to.
"On 18, he's got 217 in, (and) you know he's going to make birdie," Staiano said. "He gets the job done when he needs to. He just made the putts when he needed to and I didn't make the putts when I needed to. I learned a lot."
Kaye went to high school in Phoenix, but played almost all of his junior golf in Colorado, then went to CU. One of the highlights of his college career was beating Phil Mickelson in a playoff. He still maintains close ties to both his home states, regularly returning to Boulder when his kids are out of school.
Asked Sunday what he's going to spend the $100,000 winner's check on, he noted he's having a new house built in Phoenix. "So it's already spent," he said.