LEWISTON — Most educators take a break from teaching on Labor Day weekend.
The Moscow High School electives teacher schooled the competition Monday at the Lewiston Golf and Country Club, dropping a long, bending birdie putt on No. 18 to claim his third Whing Ding Sole Survivor title since 1997, when he won it all as a 15-year-old Lewiston High School student.
Huff also won Sole Survivor honors in 2008, and was runner-up in 2009 to Clarkston High grad and current PGA Tour player Joel Dahmen.
“You never know what you’re going to get in this thing,” said Huff, who grew up playing at Bryden Canyon Golf Course with three of the last four players to be eliminated. “I was rooting for all of them.”
In the Sole Survivor, the 10 low gross players from Saturday and Sunday’s annual Whing Ding competition compete over nine holes, the 48-year-old course’s first four and 14 through 18 on the back side. The golfer with the highest score on each of nine holes is eliminated until only the champion remains. In case of a tie, players compete in a chip-off, with one eliminated.
Huff survived a chip-off with defending champion Geno Bonnalie on No. 15, then parred No. 16 to avoid another chip-off before birdieing No. 17 to set up a final showdown with longtime friend Jared Mraz on No. 18.
Mraz, an electrical engineer who lives in Clarkston, had bested former Lewis-Clark State College golfer Tucker Keyes in a chip-off at No. 17 to advance, but topped his second shot to about 150 yards on No. 18 to give Huff an opening.
Huff took advantage, playing up just short of the green in two shots while Mraz went over the green and onto the collar on his third shot.
Huff’s third shot rolled further past the pin than he’d have liked, but when Mraz’s fourth shot missed its mark, Huff ended the drama with his final putt — claiming his fourth and fifth skins of the Sole Survivor in the process.
Huff carried his own bag throughout the day with regular Sole Survivor caddy Chad Laird unavailable.
“Chad’s my man,” Huff said. “If he can’t make it, then that’s it.”
While Huff relished the victory, he admitted it was hard to see Mraz come so close and fall short.
“I was rooting for Jared,” he said. “He’s a great guy.”
Mraz has been a regular Sole Survivor participant in recent years and Sunday’s runner-up finish was his best to date.
“I was just thrilled to be out here and I felt really relaxed all day,” Mraz said. “I made a couple of bad shots on the last hole, but I couldn’t be happier for Jason. We’ve known each other since we were little kids.”
Huff and Mraz grew up playing at Bryden Canyon Golf Course along with Bonnalie and Corey Brown, overall winner of this year’s Whing Ding with a 36-hole record of 130, which topped Dahmen’s former two-day scoring record by a stroke.
Brown, who was eliminated on No. 16, was more than happy to sit back and watch childhood friends Mraz and Huff compete on No. 18.
“I love them both of them like brothers,” said Brown, manager of Rogers Subaru in Lewiston. “So, it’s an easy loss for me.”
The feeling was similar for his father, Phil Brown, who managed Bryden Canyon Golf Course for 28 years before retiring in 2001 and had not only his son, but Huff, Bonnalie and Mraz compete in his junior program.
“They’re all so incredible,” Phil Brown said. “They play so good, and they’re great, great, great young men.”
Keyes, a member of the grounds crew at Red Wolf Golf Club in Clarkston, was third, just ahead of Bonnalie, who is on break from caddying for Dahmen on the PGA Tour.
“I really, really thought I was going to win this today,” Bonnalie said during a light-hearted moment with his caddy and 9-year-old son, Hudson.
“His first time caddying for me was last year for a victory,” Bonnalie said, disappointingly.
But Hudson wasn’t dismayed.
“I liked it,” he said of his dad’s performance on Monday.
“You did?” Geno asked.
“It was OK,” Hudson responded.
“So you don’t hate me?” Geno asked.
“No,” Hudson said with a grin.
Bonnalie said he and Dahmen, who is expecting a child early next year with wife, Lona, are planning to return to the PGA Tour on Sept. 15 for the Fortinet Championship in Napa, Calif. He doesn’t expect the baby’s arrival to cause too much disruption to their schedule.
“Maybe a couple weeks (off),” he said, “but nothing crazy.”
Earlier eliminations Monday included Charles Parson, a 2020 runner-up from Hayden, Idaho, who was ousted on No. 14. Prior to that, Kurt Simmons was eliminated on No. 4 after a three-way chip-off with Parson and Keyes, and five-time champion Brian King’s inability to get out of the bunker cleanly on No. 3 led to his demise.
An errant tee shot led to the end of Ben House’s run on No. 2, and Lance Ruddell was eliminated after carding a 7 on No. 1.
The Diamond Shop of Lewiston was the title sponsor of the Whing Ding and the Sole Survivor, which featured $900 in skins money.
Huff claimed five skins worth $500 following birdies on 1, 2, 17 and 18, and Mraz claimed four worth $400 with his birdie on 15.
Bauer is a former Tribune sports writer and managing editor who is now chief strategy officer for TPC Holdings, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.