BY BRAD ZIEMER
KELOWNA — Only one thing was missing on what was an otherwise perfect Father’s Day for GolfBC Championship winner George Cunningham.
His dad Tracy was on his bag as caddy to watch his son win for the first time as a pro and his mom Julie followed her son every step of the way around Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club on a hot Sunday afternoon. His grandparents were also in the gallery.
So when Cunningham was handed the $36,000 cheque and a big trophy for winning the $200,000 Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada event, all that was missing was his little girl, Charlotte.
The three-year-old was back home in Tucson, Ariz. Her dad was definitely thinking about her on the biggest day of his golfing life.
“I am really excited to go call my daughter,” Cunningham said. “I haven’t called her yet on Father’s Day, but I was a little focused earlier today.
“She knows I am up here playing golf. I think she is going to understand I won. I am sure her mom has told her I have won, so I am really excited to call her and tell her about it and see how excited she is. I know she is excited for me to come home. I am coming home after our next event for a couple of days to see her so that will be fun.”
Fun doesn’t begin to describe Sunday for Cunningham, a 22-year-old University of Arizona graduate who turned pro just three weeks ago.
““Unbelievable,” Cunningham said of having his dad by his side for his first pro win. “On the 18th hole he told me to make the putt and it could be his Father’s Day gift. So I got that out of the way.”
That putt was a three-footer for birdie that it turned out Cunningham really didn’t have to make. But he drained it anyway to shoot a five-under 66 and move to 20-under for the tournament. That was good enough for a two-shot win over another rookie pro, P.J. Samiere of Kailua, Hawaii, and Zach Wright of Baton Rouge, La. Kimberley’s Jared du Toit finished alone in fifth place at 16-under par.
Tracy Cunningham said it was hard to find the words to convey how much Sunday’s win, coming on Father’s Day, meant to him.
“I told him now he didn’t have to buy me a hat,” Tracy said. “That is what I got my dad for Father’s Day. I can’t put in words what it means being able to do what he lets me do. There’s not a lot of kids that would allow their dad to be on the bag.”
It was a pretty special day for mom, too.
“I think I got a pretty good gift today,” Julie Cunningham said. “I was crying, that’s for sure.”
Cunningham’s win kind of came out of nowhere. Although he was a highly rated collegiate player and had a solid senior year at Arizona, Cunningham had missed the cut in the first two Mackenzie Tour events in Vancouver and Victoria.
“After the first two weeks I knew I was going to need a little something special this week and I got it,” Cunningham said. “First cut made, first win, I think pretty much that is how you want it. I am super excited, I couldn’t have been any better, I played four really good solid rounds of golf, not making many mistakes, and everything we tried to do we pretty much did.”
Cunningham began the day with a three-shot lead, but was finally caught shortly after Samiere birdied the 15th and 16th holes to move to 19-under. Moments lat er, Cunningham bogeyed the 17th to fall to 19-under.
He thought he needed a birdie on 18 to win, until Samiere bogeyed the 18th after hitting his tee shot right and into trouble.
“Obviously there was a big sigh of relief when it looked like P.J. had bogeyed 18,” Cunningham said. “That gave me some extra confidence to throw it in there. I wanted to birdie it because that is what I said I was going to do coming in and just in case I was wrong.”
After a perfect 2-iron tee shot, Cunningham had 91 yards to a back pin. He stuffed his wedge to three feet.
“I definitely felt very calm over that wedge. I hit it nice and smooth, I knew I would be a little amped up. I knew I had to play it a little shorter than I normally would have but I hit it exactly the way I wanted to, right at it.”
Samiere, who recently graduated from San Diego State University, was lamenting his bogey on the last hole. His tee shot ended up in an animal hole and he had to take a drop.
“I was able to put myself in a decent position for an up and down for par, but just didn’t hit a good enough chip shot and the (seven-foot) putt was close, but not close enough.
“If I make that putt I am solo second so I am still pretty disappointed. But it happens. I will learn from it.
I had a great week and I had a great round going today, bogey-free until the last hole.”
The Mackenzie Tour moves to Alberta for its next event, the Lethbridge Paradise Canyon Open, which runs June 21-24.