Five years from now, Atwater's Matt Hansen will remember Sunday's events on the Nationwide Tour as a painful step, a lesson learned.
That's the best-case scenario.
Hansen, 28, had all but stamped his name on the winner's trophy of the Henrico County Open in Glen Allen, Va. All he needed was a birdie on the 72nd hole, a reachable par 5 he conquered the first three days in birdie-eagle-birdie.
What happened next -- every second chronicled by The Golf Channel -- will be chiseled into Hansen's golf memory.
He whistled a clutch drive down the middle, a swing punctuated by a "Bring it on home" from Dan Simpson, Hansen's caddie from Ceres. At Stevinson Ranch, the course that partially sponsors Hansen, a packed clubhouse watched on TV.
The plot surrounding Hansen played out perfectly. Ahead of him, Greg Chalmers missed a short birdie putt, opening the door for the former University of the Pacific star. He chased one more birdie on the hole he mastered all week.
Until the second shot on Sunday.
Hansen stood 219 yards from the flagstick and 198 yards from the railroad ties of a hazard fronting the green. Viewers may have detected uncertainty because he first pulled a 3-iron and then replaced it in the bag and restarted.
"There was never a doubt about the choice," he said during a telephone interview Tuesday night. "I was just trying to get my heart-rate down."
He eventually stuck with that 3-iron and put a good swing on it but, to the shock of himself, spectators and TV commentators, the ball crashed into the hazard wall only a few feet from safety.
Double-bogey 7 for a final-round 74. A $72,000 error (he tied for fourth). Goodbye trophy.
"The only club that entered my mind was a 3-iron. Dan felt exactly the same, and we were both completely committed to the club," Hansen blogged this week on the Stevinson Ranch Web site. "If I was put in that same position again, I wouldn't change the club I hit because I did everything in my power. I hit the shot flush and just got a gust of wind that turned into a little bad luck."
Shaken, Hansen faltered after his ball-drop by pitching poorly and then three-putting from the front of the green. Chalmers eventually defeated Henrik Bjornstad in a playoff for the win that was earmarked for Hansen. It was a breakthrough tournament for the Atwater product -- one for which he waited three years -- and how he reacts to it will define the rest of his career.
"It never should have come down to that last hole," he said. "I didn't pull enough out of Friday's round, and I hit the edge of the hole three times on the back nine Sunday. If one of them fell, I could have played 18 safe and walked away with the win."
I think Hansen will take with him the rounds of 69, 67 and 66 the first three days, plus his first experience with cameras stalking his every step on Sunday. He'll stow away the fact that he made the swing he wanted on the final hole, rather than dwell on the tough result. He may also heed the career path of Tom Watson, who blossomed after he kicked a reputation for losing tournaments on Sunday. Adam Scott, last weekend's winner at the Byron Nelson, also learned the hard way. In fact, nearly all top-level players fail before they succeed. It is the game's final litmus test.
Those points no doubt will be reinforced by advisor Glen Albaugh, Hansen's respected sports psychologist.
"This was the most fun that I have ever had in a golf tournament. Being in the final group on Sunday is the position that I want to be in every week," Hansen wrote. "I felt a little nervous at first but fell into a comfortable state quickly. I kept telling myself that this is where I belong."
THE SHAG BAG -- The Golf Channel was incorrect by reporting that Hansen hadn't won a professional event. He won on the Canadian Tour in Stockton in 2006 while he took a one-week break from the PGA Tour. ... Hansen, who shot 75-80 and missed the cut the week before in Athens, Ga., adjusted his alignment to turn around his game. He's ranked 31st in total driving. ...
The 47th Northern California Golf Association Senior Championship will be contested at Saddle Creek in Copperopolis on Monday and Tuesday. ... The redesigned back nine at Black Horse near Monterey will reopen Thursday. Architect Gene Bates oversees a multi-million dollar remodeling of Bayonet and Black Horse (18 holes are still being overhauled), supplemented by a new hotel and spa to be operated by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. ... Old Greenwood near Truckee, the marvelous Jack Nicklaus course, is scheduled to reopen May 16 after its winter hibernation. Visit oldgreenwoodgolf.com.
HOLES-IN-ONE -- Scott Merenda, Modesto, 207-yard ninth at Dryden Park, 3-wood. ... Debbie Gardner, Modesto, 151-yard eighth at Del Rio CC (Oak), 7-wood. ... Bob Dorn, Modesto, 104-yard second at Del Rio (River), 8-iron. ... Mike Russell, Oakdale, 130-yard 16th at Oakdale CC, 7-iron. ... Jack Kelly, Merced, 110-yard 12th at Stevinson Ranch, 5-hybrid.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.