Entering the final hole of the Dixie Amateur Men’s Golf Tournament in Coral Springs, Spanish River High School senior Luke Gifford knew the stakes.
“I was told on the last hole that everyone had finished 4-under and I knew if I could hit it up close to the green and leave myself a putt, I could have a good chance at it,” said Gifford, who lives in Boca Raton.
The 17-year-old calmly sank a 10-foot putt for birdie on the 72nd hole to stave off a four-way playoff and win the 87th annual tournament at Heron Bay Golf Club.
Gifford’s 5-under par 283 gave him the title by one shot over Diego Cordova (Howey-in-the-Hills), Paul-Louis Gachet (Bordeaux, France) and Han Xue (Windermere).
After hooking his tee shot and landing on the 18th fairway some 240 yards, Gifford crushed his 3-wood 260 yards leaving him 60 yards from the flag.
“My hands rotated a little too fast and I toe hooked (my drive),” Gifford said. “I still somehow caught the fairway which was nice because I was able to pick it up and clean it and give myself a good lie.”
Gifford also benefited from a new club in his golf bag.
“I just got a brand new 3-wood and that was my club of the week,” he said. “I relied on that a lot and just smashed it up there and gave myself a 60-degree lob wedge to 10 feet from the pin. I stepped up and made the putt.”
The victory capped a stellar year that saw Gifford also win a prestigious Amateur Junior Golf Association (AJGA) event last summer and then finish fourth at the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A state tournament. A month before his Dixie Amateur victory, Gifford signed with the University of South Florida.
“It was a great year,” said Gifford, who was named the Sun Sentinel Palm Beach County Boys High School Player of the Year for 2017. “I played really well all year. I think I only had one round in the 80s…it was a turning point this year, I was more consistent.”
Gifford started the final round with a one-shot lead,. but carded a 37 on the front nine and then bogeyed the 10th to fall two shots back. He rebounded with a birdie on 13 to set the stage for his final-hole heroics. He joins the likes of Jupiter’s Daniel Berger and Coral Springs’ Curtis Thompson as previous winners.
“When I fell behind coming into the back nine, I knew there were birdies to be made on the last few holes,” Gifford said. “I knew I could make at least two or three birdies.”
On the 17th, Gifford nearly holed his bunker shot and Gachet lipped out for a bogey to leave the door open.
“I knew I would have a chance on 18, with it being a par-5,” said Gifford, who finished ninth in his Dixie Amateur debut last year. “To win a tournament like this is such an honor, especially with all of the names attached to it. It’s my first amateur win with college players in the field, and that’s pretty cool.”