To say Nate Jessup was a long shot to win last weekend’s 40th annual Bakersfield City Championship is an understatement.
Afterall, the former professional golfer was fresh off shooting an 81 in his last round and had only played a handful of times this year while working as a substitute teacher.
Ironically, it was the long shot — several of them over 300 yards — and at least one long putt that proved to be the difference as the former Fresno State golfer overcome a one-shot deficit with two holes to play en route to his first tournament victory since he captured the Central Section championship as a senior at Porterville High in 2010.
“After shooting the 81, I had zero expectations playing this weekend,” said the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Jessup of his poor round three weeks ago at Winchester Country Club in South Lake Tahoe. “I hit a bucket of balls on Friday, and then chipped and putted out at Sundale for about an hour, so I was not very prepared I guess I should say.
“But I have some friends that play in this tournament every year, and honestly I just planned on going out and having a good time. And somehow I just got hot, and started playing well at the right time. Like I said, I had zero expectations of playing well, and if I did, I would just see what happens.”
He wound up in a duel at Sundale Country Club with one of his best friends, Garces graduate Stephen Hale, who went on to play at Cal and then professionally for four years.
Hale opened Day 2 trailing Jessup by two shots, but his play picked up steam on the back-9 when he birdied 13, 14 and 15 to take a one-shot lead.
“I drove it pretty well and I was putting well the last round,” the 30-year-old Hale said. “I hit a lot of good putts. Some of them didn’t go in, but I felt overall my game was just solid. I didn’t really do anything too bad. There was a couple of hiccups here and there, but I just don’t play that much anymore and so I kind of expected a couple mistakes. But overall, the whole game was in pretty decent shape. I mean, I don’t know how many birdies I made, but I made a lot, so I was happy the way everything went.”
After parring No. 16, Hale still led by one shot with two holes to play. But he bogeyed No. 17 and Jessup sank a 35-foot birdie putt for a two-shot swing.
“I really wasn’t sure where I stood until about 15 or 16,” Hale said. “I was receiving conflicting reports (about the other leaders' scores). So I wasn’t sure what was true and what was not, so I was just trying to put my head down and keep playing.
“But I played well. It was nice to shoot a few rounds in the 60s, but Nate was just a little better. But we’re good buddies so I was happy for him. It was cool that he won.”
Jessup, 26, Dakota Ochoa, who graduated from Liberty in June as a two-time BVarsity All-Area boys golfer of the year, and former Liberty, BC and Fresno State golfer Rufie Fessler were tied for the lead after the opening day with a 5-under 67. Centennial grad Tyler Burnes was just one shot back.
Fessler stayed close on Day 2, but finished even-par for the day to finish three shots back of the lead, alone in third place.
Things derailed early for Ochoa on Sunday.
After birdying the first hole, he bogeyed No. 3 and 6 and then hit his drive out of bounds on No. 7. He limped into the turn with a 3-over 39.
“The first round I hit my driver really well,” said Ochoa, who is headed to Chico State on a golf scholarship. “I didn’t have any bogeys. I was really calm and everything was going good. I was hitting the greens, hitting the driver good, putting decent.
“And then the second day … I thought it was going to be a good day. I hit a good drive on the first hole and then after that it was like I couldn’t hit the driver straight at all."
Ochoa made a few adjustments, turning to his 5-wood on longer holes, and closed with a 3-under 34 to stay within sight of the leaders. He finished the day with a 73, good enough for a fourth-place tie with Burnes and DJ Fernando, four shots behind Jessup.
“I was hitting the driver really well,” said Jessup, who moved to Bakersfield more than a year ago. “And I kept everything in play, and I tried to keep everything as simple as possible. I’ve always hit it pretty far. And always kind of struggled inside of 100 yards. And I was OK from inside 100 yards this week so I was able to score pretty well.”