LUMBERTON — Standing on the opening hole prior to Sunday’s final round of the Robeson County Golf Championship at Pinecrest Country Club, Stephen Pippin took a deep breath as he prepared for his opening tee shot.
“I had a lot of nerves on the first tee because I didn’t hit it good on the (driving) range,” Pippin said.
He proceeded to birdie the opening hole, keeping the field in the championship division at a distance en route to earning his first Robeson County Golf Championship.
“I made that putt on No. 1 from the back of the green from about 25-30 feet,” said Pippin, who posted a 2-under-par 214 for the tournament. “When that ball went in I couldn’t believe it. It was just my day.”
Pippin carded rounds of 73, 70 and 71 to earn a five-stroke victory, finishing with two of only three rounds under par in the championship division throughout the 54-hole event.
He carded his only bogey of the round on No. 2, before rolling in 15 pars and a birdie putt on the par-5 15th to serve as a late dagger.
“I was still nervous all day, but my short game kept me in there,” Pippin said. “My ball striking wasn’t the best, but when I needed to chip and putt I got it up and down (for par). Then the putt on No. 15 gave me even more confidence.”
For Pippin, the win serves as a reminder that his practice time on the course hasn’t been wasted.
“It’s definitely a goal I’ve had for about eight years that’s finally been fulfilled,” he said. “It feels good to know that I worked hard and it’s paid off.”
Lonail Locklear finished five strokes back of Pippin, earning second place at 3 over for the tournament. He birdied the opening two holes, attempting to put some early pressure on Pippin. But four bogies on the front and one double bogey on the back nine cancelled out his six birdies of the round.
“Lonail played a heckuva round,” Pippin said. “Brad (Locklear) just didn’t have his putting today, but his ball striking was great. Everything just went my way.”
“I started walking in on (Pippin), but had some trouble,” Lonail Locklear said. “Out of six birdies, I think I did good, I just couldn’t compensate for the other holes.”
Locklear had high expectations coming into the tournament as a first-time competitor in the championship division. While he was disappointed with the defeat, he was nearly moved to tears thinking about his journey and the runner-up finish in the county’s biggest golf tournament.
“My emotions are for the Lord because he made me a better person and golfer,” he said. “It means a lot to me. I didn’t think I could make it, but I pulled it out. Next year, I’m going to give it another go. I’ll be back. I played to my standards, but next year I think I can be under par each day.”
Brad Locklear finished in third place at 4 over, carding a final-round 75. Defending champion Kyle Covington and five-time champion Dyrck Fanning finished in a tie for fourth at 5 over. John Haskins finished at 8 over for the tournament and Mark Lassiter posted 10 over.