BROUSSARD — Kelly Kraft won his first collegiate golf tournament in Acadiana back in 2008, when his SMU team played in the Louisiana Classics at Oakbourne Country Club.
On Sunday, he had another first and also won a nice trophy. But this time, the victory came with a $99,000 check — and with it a great chance to wind up playing on the PGA Tour next season.
Kraft torched a wind-blown Le Triomphe Golf Club with a 6-under-par 65 on Sunday, with birdies on three of the final four holes to rally from six strokes back and take the title at the $550,000 Chitimacha Louisiana Open.
Kraft was six strokes back of third-round leader Rick Cochran III entering Sunday’s final trip around the 7,006-yard par-71 layout, but Cochran bogeyed three of his first five holes and opened the door for the rest of the field.
Just about that time, six groups in front of him, Kraft smoked a drive on the 560-yard par-5 seventh hole and hit a 178-yard 9-iron to within 8 inches for a tap-in eagle.
But he was just getting started. The 2011 U.S. Amateur champion stood at 11-under on the 15th tee and was two behind first- and second-round leader Rhein Gibson, but at that point the Dallas native wasn’t looking at the scoreboard.
“I looked more earlier in the round ... towards the end, I was just trying to make birdies,” he said. “Everybody goes out fast here, and everybody slows down on the back side. I knew I had a couple of birdie holes coming in.”
He hit to 8 feet on the par-4 15th for birdie, holed a 12-footer on the par-3 16th and then stuck a wedge inside four feet on the 17th for his third straight. He had a 6-footer on the 18th that slid by the left edge, a miss that he thought might cost him the tournament.
“I thought the wind would hold it up a little more,” he said of that 18th-hole miss. “I hit a good putt. I thought I needed that putt to get tied for the lead.”
He didn’t know at the time that Gibson had just bogeyed the difficult 13th hole to put him in a tie for the lead. Minutes later, Gibson also bogeyed the 14th to drop out of the lead, and the Australia native could only manage four pars the rest of the way in an even-par 71.
“The wind was up all day,” said Gibson, who led by two after both the first and second rounds. “I had my chances.”
Gibson burned the lip on an 8-foot putt on the 17th, then was short on a 20-footer on 18, either of which would have forced a playoff.
“From where I was standing, it was going right in,” Gibson said of the last putt.
Cochran also had a chance to tie for the lead down the stretch, but he took himself out of it when he ran an 18-foot birdie putt well past on the par-3 16th and missed coming back. That bogey and a par at 17 left him needing a hole-out on the 18th to force a playoff.
“It’s unfortunate because I have done this for about three years,” said the Paducah, Kentucky, native. “I probably have given myself a chance at about 15 tournaments, and I have won two. So it’s very, very disappointing.”
Korean D.H. Lee made enough putts early Sunday to forge the day’s best round, an 8-under 63 that included seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch. That left him at 13-under 271 and eventually in a tie for second with Gibson.
Former LSU standout Smylie Kaufman, who holds conditional Web.com Tour status and was in the event on a sponsor’s exemption, posted a second straight 5-under 66 and finished in a five-way tie with Cochran, reigning NCAA champion Cameron Wilson, Tour veteran Darron Stiles and Ryan Blaum for fourth at 12-under 272. The high finish put Kaufman into the next Web.com event, the El Bosque Mexico Championship in mid-April, and left him in good shape to grab more field spots at the next Tour shuffle.
Kraft moved up to sixth on the Web.com money list and is one win or a couple of high finishes from earning his PGA Tour card for next season. He finished tied for 11th with four rounds in the 60s in last week’s Chile Classic, after missing three straight cuts.
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” he said. “For me it’s tough to go down to South America and play good every week. I had one good week last week and was happy with it, but I’m glad we’re back here now. The first one back in the States, it feels great. And to get one so early, I feel like I’ll have momentum for the rest of the year.”