BANFF — Venezuelan golfer Jhonattan Vegas was the top money earner on the first day of the Telus Skins Game on Monday, but it was Paul Casey’s arm that had the gallery tongues wagging.
Casey, of Cheltenham, England, finished with a birdie putt to win $20,000 on the final hole of the day and managed to save face in his play with Vegas, Canadian Stephen Ames and Americans Anthony Kim and Lucas Glover.
Casey made an impressive throw on the 132-yard par 3 eighth hole, with the ball landing on the green.
He followed it up with a wedge shot that dropped closer to the pin but then rolled into the rough. Casey ended up at par on the hole.
“I was a little disappointed I didn’t get the wedge shot closer than my throw. I played a lot of cricket growing up and I am good at throwing balls,” Casey told reporters.
“It just looked like the perfect yardage and I thought why not. I was hoping I was going to bet these guys for charity.”
Perfect weather greeted the five competitors with bright sunshine and a high of 23 C. A gallery of more than 4,000 spectators was on hand to watch their every shot.
The original 18-hole Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course designed by Stanley Thompson was built in 1928 and winds alongside the Bow River beneath the peaks of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle.
An additional nine holes were added in 1989 designed by Cornish and Robinson, resulting in the current total of 27 holes of championship golf. The course is believed to be one of the 10 best golf courses in the world.
Vegas, the first Venezuelan to win a PGA event, was also playing in his first ever skins game. He won two skins for a total of $55,000. Ames walked away with three skins for $45,000, Kim won two skins for $30,000 and Casey picked up $20,000 after Vegas missed a putt on the ninth hole.
“I was feeling sorry for Paul. It’s as simple as that. I wanted Paul to have a good time,” Vegas said with a chuckle.
“The morning was a little cool but it’s an absolutely amazing place. I’ve never been here. I absolutely love it,” he said.
“The mountains, the atmosphere’s unbelievable and I am having a great time. The course is in great shape. As a rookie, getting to do this kind of stuff is fun.”
Ames, who resides in Calgary, denied that he had any kind of home course advantage and says his comfort level is just because he has played skins before.
“I’m more comfortable in this situation. Plus I know these guys pretty well. Jhonattan is probably the only one I don’t know extremely well as the other three but he seems like a wonderful young man and he’s from my neck of the woods,” said Ames, who grew up in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It’s always fun to come back and win these type of formats.”
It wasn’t exactly a stellar outing for the top-ranked golfers. There were 14 birdies but no eagles on the first nine.
When Vegas was about to make a putt to win the skin on the eighth hole, one of the golfers called out “Come on Johnny. Be a team player.”
Vegas proceeded to sink his putt, grinned and replied “Sorry. I had to do it.”
Both Vegas and Kim turned pro in 2008 and now in their mid-20’s couldn’t resist a shot at the older, more experienced golfers.
“If one young guy does it the others are going to look up and say they can do it too. You’re going to see a lot of Rory McIlroy performances which is good to see, and it’s good to give these old guys a run for their money,” said Vegas.
Glover of the U.S. was the only player to walk away empty handed.
The first day saw more than $28,000 raised for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.