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Gubenko Finally Tames Farmington’s ‘Amen Corner,’ Claims Kenridge Crown

Sunday, June 2, 2024
Gubenko Finally Tames Farmington’s ‘Amen Corner,’ Claims Kenridge Crown

By Jerry Ratcliffe

When Nikita Gubenko reached Farmington Country Club’s version of “Amen Corner” in Sunday’s final round of the 86th Kenridge Invitational, he paused and reviewed his previous two rounds through the course’s most challenging holes, Nos. 10, 11 and 12.

Gubenko, who played four years at George Mason and before that helped start the state golf dynasty at Langley High School (seven straight state titles), had suffered some lumps running the 10-through-12 gauntlet on Friday and Saturday.

The 249-yard, par-3, 10th hole, of which Farmington members joke to their friends is the “easiest par-4 in the state,” had been a thorn in Gubenko’s saddle in the first two rounds. He bogeyed the hole both days.

Following a strong chip that allowed him to save par on No. 9, the golfer of Ukrainian heritage placed his drive to within 25 feet of the flag on the narrow, undulating 10th, and two-putted for par. From there, confidence growing, he birdied the par-4, 11th, parred No. 12, birdied No. 13, parred 14 and 15, birdied the par-5, 16th, then parred his way home for a 4-under 66, the lowest round of the tournament by any player.

Still, Gubenko, didn’t know where he stood in the field. A spectator approached him on the 15th and asked him if he wanted to know, and Gubenko declined.

“I respectfully told them no,” Gubenko said. “Knowing where I stood on the leaderboard would have impacted me a little bit on how to play, and I didn’t want my position to change my way of playing the course. I had a gameplan from the start of the day, what club to hit on each tee box and how I would play it, and I wanted to keep it exactly that way.”

Because he had teed off nearly an hour before the pack of leaders, Gubenko had no idea that he was the leader in the clubhouse until a friend informed him after he had finished at even-par 210. Certainly there were others in hot pursuit, including Vanderbilt’s Chase Nevins (a former Langley teammate of Gubenko), Charlie Kennedy, Justin Young and others, including University of Virginia assistant golf coach Dustin Groves, a former Wake Forest golfer capable of making a run.

“I obviously had people congratulating me on a good round and I still had no idea where I was until my friend came up and said, ‘You’re leading by one,’” Gubenko said. “That’s when I was like, ‘Holy crap, I could actually win this thing.’”

Gubenko had to sweat it out as the last five groups came in, nervously monitoring the 18th green where he saw his two closest pursuers, Kennedy and Nevins, both post pars. Nevins’ long, uphill birdie attempt missed by inches, as Gubenko exhaled for the biggest win of his young career.

“Nevins was a freshman at Langley when I was a senior, so I treated it as if he makes it a playoff, it would have been an amazing experience to compete against each other,” Gubenko said. “Fortunately, he made par and the rest is history.”

The champion from Northern Virginia said without a doubt that the Kenridge was not only the biggest championship of his life, but also the most important for a variety of reasons.

“It’s pretty special to win the Kenridge in my second try (he finished sixth overall last year),” Gubenko said. “This is actually pretty massive for me because now, winning this tournament, I get World Amateur ranking points and this will help me get into more amateur events in the future. My main goal is to play professional golf, so playing in prestigious amateur events will test my game against the best.

“This is definitely a major stepping stone in my career because it gives me a ton of confidence.”

Gubenko already plans to compete in the Virginia State Golf Association’s State Amateur and State Open and to try qualifying for the Porter Cup as this title opens new doors.

Follow Jerry Ratcliffe on Twitter

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