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Tournament of Champions
Koch claims first pro win at Tournament of Champions

By Kelly Hill

Shawn Koch, 24, of Howell, the 1998 Michigan Amateur Champion, claimed the first victory of his professional career when he won this year's Michigan PGA Tournament of Champions on the Alpine and Monument courses at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls. Koch, who has struggled to make a living as a golf pro, won on the first hole of a playoff with Tom Harding, who won the Tournament of Champions in 1997. Koch, who made a 35-foot par putt on the 18th hole, to force the playoff, collected $20,000 for the victory.

Koch and Harding, who is an assistant pro at Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, finished the 54-hole event tied at 7-under par. Koch shot a 2-under 70 in the final round while Harding, who held a three-stroke lead entering the final round, shot a 2-over 74. Koch claimed the victory when he made an eight-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.

"To myself and my family, this is unbelievable," Koch said. "I have been through a lot this year. It's been a year of going from tournament to tournament and not making the cut, and not getting a check, and then packing up the truck and driving another 600 miles and doing it all over again.

"This win is more than the money, though," Koch added. "It's knowing that I can do it. I am blessed and very thankful for this victory." The $20,000 winner's share of the tournament's $100,000 purse will allow Koch to play golf full-time next year. "I am going to put some money away so that I can play next year," he said. "I got here and won this tournament with a lot of guts and perseverance, so why change? This is about being able to play full-time next year."

Koch was particularly confident that his 35-footer would go in on the final hole of regulation. "I looked at that putt once and it came to me so quickly," he said. "I thought to myself, "This is going in. I just needed to concentrate on lowering my heart rate and getting relaxed so I wouldn't blow it by."

When Harding missed his birdie putt on the first playoff hole, the 373-yard, par-4 12th hole, Koch knew the championship was his for the taking. "When (Harding) missed his, I thought, "This is an opportunity you have to relish and take advantage of."

Harding collected $8,300 for finishing second. Jeff Roth, a pro at Knollwood Country Club in West Bloomfield, and Gary Smithson, a pro at Thousand Oaks Club in Grand Rapids, finished tied for third, one stroke behind Koch and Harding.

Harding has been involved in three playoffs at the Tournament of Champions and has won once and lost twice. He defeated Tom Gillis to win the 1997 tournament and lost to John DalCorobbo the following year.


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