By Michael Kinney
LAWTON– Peter Kim hasn’t been in Lawton too long. After being stationed at Ft. Sill, one of the first things he did was to become a member of the Lawton Country Club in September.
So, when July rolled around, it was Kim’s first chance to participate in the club’s signature event, the annual Firecracker Invitational. He knew of its history and the big names who have taken home past titles.
“It was a fantastic tournament,” Kim said. “There were a lot of previous winners, a lot of guys who’ve finished in the top five. You had some really good golf out here. The weather was fantastic. The golf course was in fantastic condition. I couldn’t ask for a better tournament.”
Despite having never played in the tournament before, Kim walked away with the 54th Annual Firecracker Invitation championship on July 4.
Kim shot a 205 over three days (July 2-4) of competition at the Lawton Country Club. That includes a 65 on the final day to hold off Cullen Stahl by one stroke.
“I played really good,” Kim said. “The first round I think I missed out on a lot of opportunities. Yesterday I played a lot better. I played Cullen yesterday and today. It was just one of those days where I think I just did everything really well. Hit a lot of good shots. Made a lot of good puts. Just played hard the entire time. Overall, just really satisfied with how I played this week.”
However, Kim had to work for the crown. Several other golfers in the Championship Flight also had designs on the prestigious tourney title.
Heading into the final day of the competition, it was Garrett Smith who held a slight 2-stroke lead over Kim and 3-stroke ahead over Stahl. However, by the time the championship flight made it to the ninth hole turn, it was Kim who held a commanding four-stroke lead and it looked like he was going to run away from the pack.
However, Stahl, who won the 53rd Firecracker Invitation in 2021, wasn’t ready to hand over his crown just yet.
“I just told my coach we have to write a story on the back,” Stahl said. “And we almost did.”
Stahl heated up and started to put pressure on Kim. He had a stretch of five straight birdies to put himself in position to snatch the title heading into the 18th and final hole.
Yet, even as the match tightened and the temperatures topped 100 degrees, Kim said he was keeping the pressure out of his thoughts.
“On the 18th I didn’t deviate too much,” Kim said. “Just wanted to play my own game. Just hit one shot at a time. Just do what I do best and play golf.”
However, Kim hit his tee shot on the 18th in a hazard. It was the opening Stahl needed.
“I knew I had a chance,” Stahl said. “I knew I had a birdie in the bag on the last hole to win. Just didn’t close it out.”
Unfortunately for Stahl, Kim steadied himself and did just enough to close out the hole with a bogey and claim his first Firecracker Invitation title.
“I took a drop and I hit a great third shot to get to within about five feet. I didn’t make the par putt. But I was really satisfied with how I played,” Kim said. “I think I handled myself pretty good for the most part. Even though it was the last hole, there were some nerves in there. But just stick to the game plan and treat it as if it was any other hole. That’s how I approached it.”
Stahl, who also shot a 65, finished in the runner-up spot.
“I lost to an extremely good golfer,” Stahl said. “Obviously losing sucks, but when you lose to a player of that caliber, it’s not too bad. You’re going to win some and you’re also going to lose some.”
Other golfers who were in contention in the Championship Flight included Bentley Bross, Scott Watson, Joby Dutcher, Zachary Siaca, Austin Phillips and Jeff Mayhall.
At the age of 44, Mayhall was the oldest competitor in the Championship Flight. After shooting a 69 on Day 1, he saw his scores tumble a bit the next two days.
“My putting is where I was trying to make up a lot of shots,” Mayhall said. “But not hitting a lot of greens, I wasn’t getting the opportunity to make the putts.”
Mayhall, whose grandfather was one of the LCC founders, is debating on his future at the invite after more than two decades of chasing the crown.
“I’m going to give it one more go. Last year won A-flight and I was thinking this year was going to be my last trip up the mountain top to try and do it again,” said the 44-year-old Mayhall. “The oldest guy in the flight. It’s taking a toll on my body trying to get ready for something like this. I know the Lawton Firecracker isn’t something enormous, but it’s big to me. Growing up caddying for the OU golfers who used to come and play. I caddied five years for five OU players from 13 to when I finally got to play in it at 18. Growing up it was always my goal to try and win it and be on that list with all those names. Maybe next year. We will see.”
The Firecracker Invitational has become a mainstay in Lawton over the past five decades. Jeff’s father, Mike Mayhall, has been a significant part of that growth as a member and president of the board of directors.
Despite no official title, Mike Mayhall raised $65,000 this year to sponsor the Invitational because of not only what it means to his family, but also the community.
“This is a cool place. Good people,” Mike Mayhall said. “Very welcoming people. The fourth of July tournament is great. This year we had a good turnout. Had some really good players. We had a bunch of members played. It’s the one thing we have done forever and ever.”
Mike Mayhall gives a lot of credit for the Firecracker’s success this year to Lawton Country Club General Manager Joel King, who oversaw his first Invitational.
“Joel is our first general manager in 35 years,” Mike Mayhall said. “We felt like we were big enough and we needed someone to bring it all together. Joel has done a great job. Wonderful job.”
From the food to the fireworks to the golf, the 54th Annual Firecracker Invitational will go down as a huge success for the Lawton Country Club.
Yet, two years ago when they had to cancel it for only the third time in the club’s history, the future didn’t look bright and some worried that the tournament may have seen its best days in the rearview mirror.
But with 90 players in this year’s competition and large numbers of golf fans and members filling up the galleries, the LCC showed they are ready to take the Invitational to even bigger heights.
“I thought it was great,” Stahl said. “I think the Superintendent did a very good job with the course. I think this is the best I’ve ever seen the golf course in more than 10 years. The fireworks display was great for the families. It was a lot of fun. Just what this course needs.”
Story & Photos: Michael Kinney
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