BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Kenny Ebalo was in Palm Springs, Calif., working the PGA Tour’s Humana Challenge in 2011 as two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen’s caddie when his cellphone rang. Three-time USGA champion Ryan Moore was on the other end.
Moore, who won the 2004 U.S. Amateur, 2002 and 2004 U.S. Amateur Public Links, and was on the 2003 USA Walker Cup Team, needed a manager. Was he interested?
Ebalo first met Moore, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, at Southern Highlands Golf Club in Las Vegas, where the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ golf team often practiced. Ebalo was a member and the two shared the same swing instructor, Troy Denton.
That was my dream job when I was 16, said Ebalo after dispatching 2005 runner-up Carlton Forrester, 6 and 5, in Monday’s Round of 64 at the 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur on Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course. I wanted to get into sports management.
So after the Northern Trust Open, Ebalo, 31, of Las Vegas, joined Moore’s management team, which also includes Ryan’s older brother, Jeremy. Ebalo handles multiple duties, from sponsorship deals to travel arrangements to corporate outings. He even assists with money management.
We tell Ryan, you go play golf and we’ll take care of everything else for you, said Ebalo.
Ebalo and J.J. Jakovac, who serves as Moore’s caddie, often team up to play Moore in friendly matches when all three are in Las Vegas. Jakovac advanced to the Round of 64 at last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, while Ebalo, who regained his amateur status in May 2013, missed the cut.
We joke that we are sparring partners for him, said Ebalo. When I am at home, I can occasionally beat him [over 18 holes]. But I have no delusions that I can beat him four days at a stroke-play event. He’s just that much better. I might shoot 66 and he’ll shoot 67. When I lose, I’ll shoot 70 and he’ll shoot 64.
Ebalo competed briefly on the Butch Harmon, eGolf and Gateway Tours after graduating from Southern Utah University before realizing his career needed another direction. He started working for a company owned by Wayne Player, the son of 1965 U.S. Open champion Gary Player. It was Wayne who suggested Ebalo go out and caddie for his father. So, in 2009, Ebalo worked a couple of months for Player before landing a caddie gig with another UNLV graduate, Andres Gonzales. He then hooked up with Janzen through Denton and was a few months into the gig when Moore called.
Since regaining his amateur status, Ebalo has qualified for two U.S. Mid-Amateurs and won this year’s Nevada Mid-Amateur. Later this month, he’ll compete for Nevada at the USGA Men’s State Team Championship at the French Lick (Ind.) Resort.
When he posted his final qualifying score on Sunday, Moore sent Ebalo a text.
Good, now the fun starts, Moore said in the text. Go and enjoy match play.
Ebalo, of course, would love nothing more than to show off a USGA championship gold medal to Moore. Ebalo, who faces PGA Tour caddie Corby Segal in Tuesday’s Round of 32, still has five more matches to navigate to accomplish that. Then again, if he pulls it off, he can share a practice round with his boss at next April’s Masters.
My golf life is pretty amazing, said Ebalo. I am having a lot of fun.
Local Favorite Advances By Slimmest Of Margins
A sense of relief swept across the face of Matt Mattare after his tense 1-up victory over John Patterson. Mattare, 28, of Jersey City, N.J., is the son of longtime Saucon Valley general manager/director of golf Gene Mattare and Matt has since become a club member.
With a gallery of some 150-200 spectators surrounding the 18th green, Mattare knocked a lob wedge from 83 yards to 18 inches for a conceded birdie. When Patterson failed to convert his 12-foot birdie attempt, Mattare was through to the Round of 32.
I have to go back to work as soon as I lose, so let’s keep winning, said Mattare, who was eliminated in the first round last year at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.) after earning medalist honors. The first two days [of qualifying] were gut-it-out days. Today, I was playing really well. This morning on the range was the first time I felt I’m hitting it well enough to win this tournament.
Mattare, who shot the equivalent of even-par 71 with match-play concessions, holed a clutch 12-foot par putt on No. 17 to keep the match all square. After Patterson conceded Mattare’s putt on 18 by tossing him his ball mark, Mattare pulled out his driver, expecting his opponent to convert. When he didn’t, the two shook hands as the large gallery applauded.
That was a classy thing to do, said Mattare of Patterson’s concession. In match play, you have to be ready to go to the next hole. I didn’t want to let up and think it was over. I was ready for him to make it.
It was a great match. I don’t know if there are many matches out there that had two people playing as well as he and I were.
Numbers Work In Wyatt's Favor
Although his opponent was a veteran of two U.S. Opens and more than twice his senior, the numbers were firmly in Andrew Wyatt's favor during his Round-of-64 match.
The youngest player in the match-play field, Wyatt, 25, of Midland, Texas, seemed to be in cruise control with a 5-up lead after 12 holes against Don Dubois, 55, of Newport Beach, Calif. When Dubois answered with wins on three of the next four holes, it would have been easy for the less-experienced Wyatt to start sweating. As someone who regularly works with numbers, however, Wyatt knew the odds were still on his side.
A son of two investment bankers, Wyatt manages cash flow and does deal evaluations for Anthem Oil and Gas in Midland.
"My parents were in the investment banking community and they suggested I go to West Texas and see what it's all about," he said. "Lo and behold, I end up down there, working in that industry. I was always kind of around numbers in the finance world and one thing kind of led to another."
Wyatt just became eligible for the Mid-Amateur last month, so here's two more numbers to consider: 25 years and 25 days. That is how old Wyatt will be on Thursday, the day of the 36-hole final match, which would make him the youngest champion in Mid-Amateur history.
T.J. Brudzinski woke up Monday morning prepared to take on Erik Ehlert in the first round of match play. Instead, he got the day off and a spot in the Round of 32.
At 6 a.m. EDT, the USGA was informed by Ehlert that he made a mistake on his scorecard from Sunday’s final stroke-play qualifying round. He entered a 5 instead of a 6 for the 15th hole of the Old Course. The result was a disqualification, but since the match-play draw had already been established, a substitute golfer was not added.
The spot would have been Player 61, said Bill McCarthy, the director of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Player 61 has been assigned. We can’t re-juggle the draw. Brudzinski wins by default.
Had the error been detected on Sunday before the draw was completed, Ehlert would have been removed and another golfer added.
Odds And Ends
None of the three qualifiers – Kevin Grabeman, Brad Valois and Zach Atkinson – from Monday’s 16-for-3 playoff on the Weyhill Course for the last match-play spots advanced … Randy Lewis, the 2011 champion, was eliminated by 2013 quarterfinalist Matt Schneider … The only USGA champions remaining in the draw are Nathan Smith, Kevin Marsh and Mike McCoy … Of the eight 50-year-olds who qualified for match play, five advanced to the Round of 32: Don Bell (50), Brudzinski (53), McCoy (51), Mike Weeks (50) and Ned Zachar (52). Two of the last three champions have been 50-year-olds (Randy Lewis and McCoy)...Patrick Christovich recorded an eagle-2 on the eighth hole of his 2-and-1 win over Michael Muehr. The hole was playing 299 yards and Christovich drove the green.