The Wakonda Club has long been considered one of Iowa’s elite golf courses. It is an old-style classic, lined by century-old oak trees.
But history and tradition didn’t stand the test of time when the Principal Charity Classic moved from Glen Oaks to Wakonda in 2013. No, a first was established. The first left-handed winner in tournament history.
Russ Cochran battled a balky putter through the first two rounds, made an adjustment and won the Principal Charity Classic by one shot over Jay Don Blake. The threesome of Mark Calcavecchia, Kirk Triplett and second-round leader Duffy Waldorf shared third, a shot behind Blake. Waldorf played the final 11 holes without a birdie and closed with a 71. Calcavecchia and Triplett both shot 67.
Wakonda played solid defense all week. Not one player posted all three rounds in the 60s, the first time that had ever happened at the Principal Charity Classic. The scoring average of 72.625 was the second-highest in tournament history in relation to par. There were just 95 subpar rounds posted over three days of competition.
Cochran had opened with an even-par 71 that included 32 putts. He needed 27 putts in a second-round 67, and it was a struggle. Cochran said he was “fighting every inch of every foot of putt.”
Cochran made an adjustment in his stroke on the practice green after Saturday’s round. He went with a wider stance, which allowed him to have a smoother, lower takeaway.
“I’m proud of myself,” Cochran said. “I’m glad I pushed the right buttons.”
That smoother stroke led to 26 putts in a final-round 67. But Blake didn’t go away quietly.
After making bogeys on two of the first three holes, he got on a roll. Starting at No. 4, he birdied six of the next nine holes. It looked like it was going to be seven in a 10-hole stretch until Blake misfired from short range on No. 13.
“It was not even two feet,” Blake said. “I couldn’t feel comfortable with the putter. I just didn’t finish that strong.”
He had one final chance to catch Cochran, at the par-4 finishing hole. But Blake didn’t hit his 10-foot birdie putt firm enough.
“A ball out on the left,” Blake said. “I knew I could be aggressive with it. But I eased up on it, and didn’t hit it real solid.”
Blake, who had shot 66 in the second round, settled for a closing 69 to finish one shot back of his good friend. Blake and Cochran started going head-to-head decades earlier in mini-tour events.
“He’s an awesome putter,” Cochran said. “I felt like he was going to make that putt.”
But he didn’t, and Cochran had snapped his victory drought at 35 tournaments.
And it came at Wakonda, an old-style course that was mastered by the Principal Charity Classic’s first southpaw champion.
Cochran, who had battled wrist and rib injuries during that dry spell, was feeling pretty good when this one was over.
“You never know when you’re going to win again,” Cochran said.
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter