E.A. Sports Today

It’s Twig’s time

Wigington, Cole repeat as SKCC winners; Twig wins record seventh title for father-in-law

Ty Cole (R) and Gary Wigington congratulate each other after winning the Sunny King Charity Classic for the second year in a row.

Ty Cole-Gary Wigington 174 (-40)
P.J. Shields-Jaylon Ellison 178 (-36)
Cory Etter-Caleb Bowen 180 (-34)
Cypress Hathorn-Garrett Burgess 182 (-32)
Logan Archer-Randy Archer 183 (-31)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Gary Wigington and Ty Cole put on a brilliant display of birdie-making in the toughest format of the tournament to win the 39th annual Sunny King Charity Classic Sunday making Wigington the winningest player in the history of the event.

Twig & Ty shot 13-under-par 57 in the best-ball format at Anniston Country Club, tying the final-round record they set last year in winning for the first time together with an all-time record score. They are the first back-to-back winners since Ott Chandler and Gary Wilborn in 2004 and 2005.

They shot 40-under 174 for three days — three shots off last year’s score played in much easier conditions — and won by four shots over 18- and 36-hole leaders P.J. Shields and Jaylon Ellison. Cory Etter and Caleb Bowen were third, two more shots back, and 2013 champs Garrett Burgess and Cypress Hathorn closed with a 59 to finish fourth.

The victory was Wigington’s seventh, breaking a tie he held with former partner Randy Reaves, with whom he won his first five SKCC titles. In his seven victories, Wigington’s teams have shot a combined 252-under-par and won by a total of 29 strokes.

“It’s meaningful, but it’s not something you think about until you do it,” he said. “It’s nice to know that you have.

“We had a lot going on. I didn’t get to do what I usually do going into this tournament, so it was very gratifying.”

The win was significant for another reason. In the weeks running up to the tournament Wigington was concerned about the health of his father-in-law Wendell Whitehead, who wife Tammy described as Twig’s biggest fan.

The concern ran all the way up through Wednesday when Whitehead was about to undergo throat cancer surgery after a recent heart procedure. Calhoun County’s best player and pre-tournament favorite was prepared to stay in Birmingham in advance of the operation, but his father-in-law told him to get ready for the tournament and go win the thing.

“It was very important to my dad that he go on with this tournament, no matter what the outcome was,” Tammy Wigington said. “He knew this was important to Twig and it was important to him.””

Wigington hadn’t been playing particularly well in recent weeks, but when the family received “the good word” on Whitehead’s health front, even Cole noticed a relaxation in his partner’s shoulders.

“When I told Twig no radiation, no this or that, he said you have made my year,” Tammy said. “I said, OK, great, now go out there and get him this title. As soon as it was over I called my mom and said Twig has won this tournament and he’s won it for Daddy.”

Tammy said her family was so interested in how Wigington and Cole were doing in the tournament once she connected them to the internet they regularly asked Alexa to provide updates on their progress.

All three contending teams were locked in a shootout for the early part of the round, matching birdies and tightening up the leaderboard. Shields and Ellison led by three after Shields eagled No. 3 and were 7-under for the day through 11. Etter made four straight birdies through the turn and his team was 7-under through 10. Their birdie stopped coming after 11, but Ty and Twig kept going.

“By the time we got to 11 it changed for us,” Bowen said. “When we parred that hole, it took the wind out of our sails and as we’re parring that hole we hear the guys ahead of us are 11-under through like 13 or 14 holes. And at that point we went from being aw we’re right in it to four and five down. It was tough to still grind over it and you could tell from both our groups because they were doing the same thing as us – birdie, birdie, birdie – and then we hear the news you’re four or five back, we’re like we’ve got to birdie every hole.”

Shields and Ellison’s run effectively ended with back-to-back bogeys on 15 and 16. They recovered the shots on the final two holes, but it wasn’t enough.

“In this tournament you’ve got to grind for three days,” Ellison said. “We felt like we played pretty well the first 45 holes and we had a really bad finish on the last nine and we deserved to get beat. We did not play well. The first 45 holes I thought we played pretty steady, but the last nine, the way we finished, we don’t deserve to win.”

The winners started the day two shots back, but took the lead when Cole chipped in for eagle from just off the green at No. 7. In a reversal of fortunes from Saturday’s experience on 18 at Cider Ridge, Cole also made a brilliant shot from the 11th fairway while playing 14 with Wigington out of the hole for another clutch birdie.

When the ball slipped into the cup on 7, the usually reserved Wigington let out an audible “Oh yeah” and pumped his fist. Even Cole, who’s also not given to such reactions despite his fiery demeanor on the golf course, gave it a fist pump when he got up on the green.

“We were playing good at that point, but when you knock in an eagle on a par-4 … if that doesn’t give you motivation,” Wigington said. “That’s what we needed. We hadn’t had that the whole tournament. We made some putts, but we hadn’t had any hole-outs or chip-ins or anything like that, and when that went in for eagle that’s huge. That’s a momentum-changer right there. It motivated us both. It was very big.”

“We were 4, we needed to be more, more, more,” Cole said. “To knock that in it was good. It kind of got us going. It calmed me down because now it’s play golf, don’t press … then we get to 8-under through 9, it’s OK, lets go.”

They had the lead at the turn and looked to really turn up the heat when Wigington took what appeared to be a strange mulligan to make what didn’t look like an easy birdie putt on 10. They were tied with Ellison and Shields after 11 and then pulled away with three straight birdies.

With the title virtually assured, the partners turned their motivation to getting to 14-under. They had three holes to get two birdies, but only got the par-5 17th, and even there Wigington missed his eagle attempt by inches. Still, they eclipsed 40-under for the second year in a row when it had only been done before in another scoring format.

(With Randy Reaves)
2000 — 62-57-61–180 (-34), won by 8
2001 — 59-64-62–185 (-29), won by 3
2002 — 58-56-65–179 (-35), won by 4
x-2007 — 60-61-60–181 (-33), won by 1
x-2012 — 58-58-60–176 (-38), won by 1
(With Ty Cole)
2016 — 55-59-57–171 (-43), won by 8
x-2017 — 56-61-57–174 (-40), won by 4
x-Trailed entering the final round

Caleb Bowen (R) helps partner Cory Etter read a putt during birdie run on the front nine Sunday.

Volunteers help Jaylon Ellison search for his lost ball in the culvert on 14.

All photos by B.J. Franklin. To see more pictures from Sunday’s action at Anniston Country Club and Cider Ridge Golf Club, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com and click on the “Golf” file.

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