PALMVALLEY — By the time Rusty Napier’s ball came to its resting spot – about a foot away from the 16th hole – he knew it over.
With a tip of his classic wife golfer’s cap, Napier conceded that the Life Begins at 40 golf tournament championship belonged to his opponent, Chris Wicker.
The Harlingen native, who currently resides in McAllen, defeated Napier 4 and 2 to claim his first-ever LBA 40 title Saturday at Harlingen Country Club.
For Wicker, the victory was the culmination of a 20-year LBA 40 run and the pinnacle of golfing career.
“I grew up in Harlingen and this was the big tournament,” said Wicker. “As a kid I would see Curtis Person (4-time champ) and all the big guys play, and this was my Masters, so this victory means everything to me. At one point, I was up by four but Rusty can play and he wasn’t going to roll over, and he didn’t because he made two clutch putts to stay in it and if he had made this putt we’re 2 and 2 and anything could have happened.
“He and I have had some great battles, and he’s a good friend and I take my hat off to him. This may have been my best ball striking round I’ve had in 10 years and I had Lee Wiley, my buddy, my father figure, and my mentor. He kept me calm. Ron Kilby has also mentored me for a while and I’d like to thank him, too.”
Wicker took an early two-hole lead after the fourth as he pared the hole while Napier double bogeyed.
On the fifth hole, Wicker had an opportunity to stretch his lead to three but his attempt edged the cup and rolled out.
Wicker eventually went up by three after six holes, but it was his shot on No. 9 that made the LBA 40 crowd clap with delight as he nailed a beautiful 20-foot breaking putt to extend his lead to four.
With four holes left to play and up three, Wicker extend his lead back to four with a birdie on 14 while Napier bogeyed.
However, it was hole No. 16 that ended Napier’s day as his tee shot hit a palm tree and ricochet back onto the nearby fairway making it nearly impossible to win the hole and the tournament.