Head of the table: McCulla staves off talented field to win first city championship

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 15, 2019 10:20 am Updated: Jul. 15, 2019 6:02 pm

QUINCY -- At the top of Alex McCulla's list of priorities when he left Westview Golf Course on Saturday with the lead in the Quincy Men's City Golf Championships was to head to the driving range and smooth some hiccups in his game.

Sunday, he had vastly different post-round plans.

"I think I'm going to go find some food," McCulla said after playing a five-hour round in 90-degree heat. "I'm hungry."

And on the menu?

"I think a quesadilla," McCulla said. "A chicken quesadilla hot off the skillet so it's nice and crispy. And chips and queso."

Sounds like a feast fit for a champion, and McCulla earned it.

The Quincy Notre Dame junior built a comfortable enough lead to withstand some wayward shots in the final two holes, shooting even-par 71 to finish the 36-hole event at 3-under 139 with a three-stroke victory for his first city championship.

McCulla is the first high school golfer to win the city title since Luke Guthrie in 2006, who was heading into his junior year at Quincy High School. Ryan Graff, who won the title in 1990 heading into his senior year at QHS, is the only other high school golfer to win the title in the last 50 years.

"It's a pretty big tournament, big event with a lot of good players," McCulla said. "There's so many guys with more experience. You can learn a lot, too, if you're playing with them. You can learn a lot and push yourself more."

In this case, McCulla learned how to handle the pressure with two big swingers breathing down his neck.

The 16-year-old was paired with Adam Pfeiffer, the 33-year-old who is a seven-time city champion and came into Sunday two strokes behind in his pursuit of a record-tying eighth title; and Blaise Haxel, the 28-year-old who won the city title in 2011 and can change the trajectory at any moment with his length off the tee.

However, McCulla seemed unfazed by it all. He made birdie on the par-3 fourth hole and followed up with birdies on the par-5 sixth and the par-4 seventh.

"It turned things around," McCulla said. "I'm not going to say it would have ruined the round or anything had I not done that, but it helped me get in the right mindset. You could tell they were in a good mindset and going after it. When you're playing with guys like that, you don't want to be in a bad mindset."

The shots didn't always match the mindset for Pfeiffer or Haxel or even Jason Traeder, who wasn't in the final grouping but had the low round of the day at 1-under 70 to tie Pfeiffer for second at even-par 142.

Haxel was fourth at 145 and Tim Schrage fifth at 146.

"After Alex hit a great shot on No. 4, I told my friend who was caddying for me, ‘Nobody is going to give it to me,'" said Pfeiffer, who is one championship away from matching Mike O'Connell's record of eight. "You know you have to earn it. Obviously, Alex was the better player. His proximity to the hole was much closer than mine was, and he hits the ball much further than I do. He made the shots and will be a great champion."