By Brad Ziemer
KELOWNA — Apparently there is no giving up in Ilirian Zalli’s world.
The 20-year-old Vancouver Open champion has shown some remarkable grit in the first two rounds of the GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club.
Zalli earned an exemption into his first PGA Tour Canada event by storming back from being down four shots with four holes to play and winning the Vancouver Golf Tour’s marquee event a couple of weeks ago.
In Thursday’s opening round of the GolfBC Championship, Zalli was down again. But not out.
Zalli started his first round on Gallagher’s 10th hole and needed 40 strokes to complete his first nine holes. He was five-over par and facing long odds of finishing north of the cutline.
But Zalli had a little talk with himself and played his back nine Thursday in 32 shots and then added a five-under 66 in Friday’s second round. His four-under total allowed the Vancouver resident to make the cut on the number.
“I am not sure if it was nerves, but I got off on the wrong foot and this course has a very difficult back nine and I just had a bad start,” said Zalli, a former B.C. Junior Boys champion. “I have been playing so well I just didn’t want to give up. I didn’t give up at the Vancouver Open, either, so maybe that is becoming a little bit of my signature, not quitting. I am in the weekend now and I am happy about that.”
NO REGRETS: James Nicholas comes from a family of doctors and after graduating from Yale University with a degree in evolutionary biology and ecology, he had a decision to make.
“Instead of going to med school I went to Q school,” Nicholas said. “I got through and got my Korn Ferry Tour card my first year out of college and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”
Nicholas, who sits tied for 54th after two rounds of the GolfBC Championship, said his doctor father fully supports his decision to chase his golfing dream
“My dad is a doctor, my grandfather was a doctor before him,” says Nicholas, a New York City resident. “It was just kind of in the family and I grew up around medicine. . .but I think with my dad, the one thing he’d rather me be is a pro golfer rather than a doctor.”
Nicholas rejected any suggestion that he could put those degrees to work down in medicine down the line.
“If you have a back-up plan you are not going to succeed in your original plan, so there are no back-up plans for me,” he said.
BIRDIE ROAR: The loudest roar of the second round came when Kelowna’s Justin Towill rolled in a lengthy birdie putt on the 18th green, which was his ninth hole of the day.
The 21-year-old UBC-Okanagan student was given a sponsor’s exemption into the GolfBC Championship and had a large contingent of family and friends following him on Friday when he rebounded nicely with an even-par 71 after opening the tourney with an 80.
“It was really cool to be out here,” Towill said. “To roll that putt in on 18 was great. Even though we weren’t playing the greatest the reaction made me feel like we were in the fight for sure.
Towill ended his GolfBC Championship with a birdie on his 36th hole (the par 5 ninth).
“I played a little bit better today. I was a little more calm than I was yesterday. I still got off to a bit of a shaky start, but was able to bounce back which was nice.”
TOUGH LUCK: The hard-luck story of the week goes to Smithers pro Kaleb Gorbahn. After tying for second at a Vancouver Golf Tour event at Northview Golf Club in Surrey earlier this week, Gorbahn learned he was first alternate to get into the GolfBC Championship field.
Gorbahn hopped in his car late Wednesday and drove to Kelowna. He arrived in the wee hours of Thursday morning and slept in his car in one of the parking lots for GolfBC Championship spectators.
He hung around the course all day hoping someone would withdraw. That never happened and after the final group teed off at 2:25 p.m. on Thursday, Gorbahn headed back to Vancouver.