Posted on 13th June, 2018 Source: Brad Ziemer, GolfBC Championship Correspondent

KELOWNA — He didn’t win the Long Drive Challenge, but 91-year-old George Sherstobitoff was the star of the show.

Sherstobitoff hit the ceremonial first tee shot Wednesday afternoon that officially started the GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club.

Sherstobitoff is Gallagher’s oldest member and had a hand in constructing the elevated first tee at the course way back in 1979. His tee shot — which apparently travelled some 170 yards and went straight down the middle — preceded the Long Drive Challenge.

Some of the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada pros participated, as did a number of amateurs who anted up $25 to hit three balls off the first tee. All money raised went to the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

Jake Knapp of Costa Mesa, Calif., won the pro division with a drive of 366 yards.

The wind came up when the amateurs took their swings and it was into their faces. Chad Jones of The Harvest Golf Club in Kelowna won the amateur division with a drive of 310 yards.

“I had never done a long drive contest until I won the qualifier at The Harvest yesterday,” Jones said. “They paid for my entry.”

Jones, a home builder, hit one 346 yards in that qualifier.

“There was no wind yesterday,” Jones said. “Today the wind came up. I tried not to let it affect me. I just tried to hit it.”

Jones won a pair of Adidas golf shoes.

SECOND CHANCE: A year ago, a then 15-year-old Matt Hopley became the youngest player to tee it up in a Mackenzie Tour event after he received a sponsor’s exemption into the GolfBC Championship.

One year later, an older, wiser and stronger Hopley is eager to do it again. The Kelowna resident earned another sponsor’s exemption by leading the Zone 2 Junior Order of Merit.

“I felt lots of nerves last year,” Hopley said. “I think this year there is a lot less of that, just because of the experience last year and also other tournaments I have played in the last year.”

Hopley lives at Gallagher’s Canyon, where his dad Peter is the general manager. No one in the field has played as much golf at Gallagher’s as Hopley has.

He thinks he learned some things last year, when he missed the cut after shooting two rounds of 75.

“I think it is really important to stick to my game,” Hopley said. “I don’t need to worry about whether someone else in my group is hitting it 100 yards further than me. I can’t let that affect anything I do. And I just need to stay positive the whole time and not let one bad shot affect another.”

HARVEST A CUT: One of Hopley’s playing partners when he tees off in the first round at 2:25 Thursday afternoon will be Finlay Young, a teaching pro at The Harvest Golf Club in Kelowna.

Young earned a sponsor’s exemption through his play on the Interior PGA Tour.

“I am very excited to represent the Interior Tour at such a big tournament,” said Young, a native of Scotland. “My expectations are to play well, I would expect to make the cut. If I don’t play well, I’ll miss it. It’s as simple as that. I want to have a good time, mostly, and represent the tour as best I can.”

Young feels he has an edge in knowing Gallagher’s Canyon as well as he does.

“In the last five years I have probably played the golf course maybe 40 or 50 times. So it is a golf course I know. You want to keep it in play off the tee and get as many wedges in your hands as possible. I don’t think an aggressive strategy has ever paid off for me here.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Past GolfBC Championship winners Dan McCarthy and Robby Shelton are both now regulars on the Tour. Both are enjoying solid seasons and not far from moving into the top 25 on the money list and securing PGA Tour cards.

Shelton, who won at Gallagher’s Canyon last year, currently sits at No. 26. He’s just $7,500 shy of cracking the top 25.

McCarthy, who blew away the field with a seven-shot win in 2016 at Gallagher’s Canyon, is 31st on the Tour money list.

Nine regular-season events remain to be played on the Tour, which is idle this week.

PAY RAISE: Purses have increased by $25,000 this year on the Mackenzie Tour, with players now playing for $200,000 each week. The winner’s share has increased to $36,000 from $31,500.

Still, players have to play very well just to cover their expenses.

“You probably have to be finishing in the top 20 on the money list to cover your expenses,” said Vancouver’s Ryan Williams. “It obviously would be nice to be playing for more money and having a little less financial pressure, but the main reason guys are playing this tour is for another way to get to the Web.”

The top five players on the Mackenzie Tour money list at season’s end earn some status on the Tour. Players finishing inside the top 10 earn a pass to the final stage of the Tour qualifying school, while those finishing 11th to 20th earn a pass through to the second stage of qualifying.

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