There have been six sudden death playoffs in the 26-year history of the Invitational Shootout. The winners of these events became legends by overcoming intense pressure under the brightest lights in tournament golf. The losers often spent years trying overcome the physical and emotional hardship of nearly winning the greatest two-person scramble tournament in the Midwest.
2000 Invitational Shootout
Prairie Bluff Golf Club – Romeoville, IL
Champions – Brian Jones/John Russelberg
The 2000 tournament was rescheduled to September due to rain and was contested at Prairie Bluff Golf Course in Romeoville. The tournament also featured the first sudden death playoff in Tournament history, featuring the teams of Brian Jones and John Russelberg and Walter Lis and Roger Yaffe.
With a large gallery in tow, both teams parred the 413-yard par four opening hole of the playoff. The second hole is a 369-yard dogleg left to a raised green. Lis and Yaffe found the green on their approach and were left with a 25-foot putt for birdie, while Jones and Russelberg faced a 55-foot snake with multiple breaks.
Jones’ attempt missed left, but provided John Russelberg with an easy teach to correctly see the undulations. Russelberg sank the clutch bomb for birdie and neither Lis nor Yaffe were able to answer, leaving Jones and Russelberg to celebrate their incredible sudden death triumph.
2003 Invitational Shootout
Maple Meadows Country Club – Wood Dale, IL
Champions – Brian Donley/Ray Shinkle
I don’t have a gambling problem I have a competitiveness problem.” Ray Shinkle
After setting a tournament scoring record with a 65 the year before, Ray Shinkle arrived at the 2003 Invitational Shootout determined to prove his first championship was not a fluke. Shinkle and partner Jeff Fernstrom dominated the field in 2002, winning by four shots on a treacherously hard and fast Maple Meadows Country Club.
To further prove his mettle and quiet the critics, Shinkle introduced a new partner in 2003, the unheralded Bryan Donley. Unlike Fernstrom, Donley was a virtual unknown with a stack and tilt swing and limited experience in tournament golf, especially in an event with the pressure of the Invitational Shootout.
“As soon as I won in 2002, I heard a lot of critics saying Fernstrom was an elite player who could win The Shootout by himself” said Shinkle. “When I brought Bryan in as my partner in 2003, I basically dared the competition to prove me wrong by testing our abilities. I had no idea how Brian would perform under the bright lights at The Shootout, but I knew my game was razor sharp and ready for the challenge.”
Shinkle’s wish was granted as the competition heated up quickly with multiple teams challenging Shinkle/Donley from the outset of the event. Ultimately, it was the team of Joe Hill and John Eterno who weathered the storm to post a two-under 68 at Maple Meadows and grab the early lead. As the other contenders faded, only Shinkle/Donley could catch Hill/Eterno, finishing with an identical 68 and triggering what would become a memorable playoff for the championship.
“When they told us that we were in a playoff, I had just ordered my food and beverages” said Joe Hill. “It was a bit unexpected as John and I both thought we won. We definitely didn’t go into that playoff in the best frame of mind.”
“After I saw Joe Hill wearing sandals and ordering his food and beverages, I knew we had the advantage in the playoff” said Ray Shinkle. “These guys were already enjoying themselves and Bryan and I were preparing for battle. There were two completely different approaches leading into what would become the most pressurized golf hole of our lives.” As the combatants prepared for battle, the remaining field of over 60 golfers gathered on the 18th hole to witness a playoff for the 2003 Invitational Shootout Championship.
Shinkle’s observation proved to be correct, Hill and Eterno had lost their edge. Both players missed their tee shots, having to chip back into the fairway after missing out of bounds on the right side. The door was open and Shinkle knew it.
“When John and Joe went OB, I told Bryan to grab his three metal and just find the fairway” said Shinkle. “They were looking at a probable bogey, so all we had to do was stay in the short grass. It was a great feeling when we found the green in two and knew all we needed was a two-putt for the win.”
After sinking the putt to claim back-to-back Invitational Shootout Championships, Shinkle shared the moment with the gallery. “To win my second title in front of a huge audience was really special. I had proven myself once again and established my place in Shootout history.”
2004 Invitational Shootout
Maple Meadows Country Club – Wood Dale, IL
Champions – Joe Hill/Walter Lis
Aaron was a threat, I’m not saying he wasn’t a threat. But being compared to him? I took offence to that.” Joe Hill
The largest and strongest field in Tournament history was a key factor in making the 2004 edition of the Invitational Shootout one of the most memorable. It was also a remarkable story of redemption for both Joe Hill and Walter Lis. With a record five teams finishing under par, it took a playoff to decide the Shootout Champions for 2004.
On the second hole in sudden death, Joe Hill sank a 25-foot putt for the victory, earning his first wool jacket and partner Walter Lis his second. Hill and Lis defeated the team of Aaron Knight and Mike Kroening after both teams finished 18 holes of regulation play at 2-under 68.
Hill’s success in the playoff came after a crushing overtime defeat in 2003 to the team of Donley and Shinkle. “After such a long wait, I was completely focused on erasing last year from mind and nailing that putt in the playoff” said Hill. “I did not want to spend twelve months second-guessing myself like I did last year.”
After suffering a shocking defeat due to a miraculous 55-foot putt by John Russelberg in 2000 at Prairie Bluff, Walter Lis was also finally able to vanquish the pain with his victory in 2004. With the win, Lis showed unprecedented courage and resilience to become the first man to win the tournament in a playoff after previously losing in a playoff.
2008 Invitational Shootout
Waters Edge Golf Club – Worth, IL
Champions – Brett Armstrong/Bryan Armstrong
Brett Armstrong is the only player that could ever turn it on and off, and he never freakin’ turned it off.” Bryan Armstrong
Despite threatening weather throughout the day, Shootout rookies Bryan and Brett Armstrong outlasted the defending champions Dominic Dallio and George Les in overtime to capture the 2008 Invitational Shootout at Waters Edge Golf Course.
The Armstrong brothers vanquished Dallio and Les on the first hole of the sudden death playoff. “We drove all morning from Madison, Wisconsin to play in The Shootout” said Bryan Armstrong. “I just can’t believe we’ll be bringing the trophies back north of the Illinois border.”
“Winning last year in my first Shootout appearance felt amazing” said George Les. “But the pain of losing in a playoff is unlike anything I’ve felt in my life. I will be back and I will win this tournament again – multiple times.”
2013 Invitational Shootout
Waters Edge Golf Club – Worth, IL
Champions – Rob Garcia/Billy Les
The 20th Annual Invitational Shootout featured an historic battle of legendary champions. Two-time Champion Ray Shinkle and partner Mike Howley brought three wool jackets to the 2013 tournament and were among the favorites to capture the crown.
Their toughest competition featured the equally famous Les name, but a new entry into the upper echelon of Shootout competitors. This time it was Billy Les, not the legendary King George Les, and partner Rob Garcia, who eventually would battle the Shinkle/Howley dream team in overtime on a saturated Water’s Edge Golf Club.
Both Shinkle/Howley and Garcia/Les finished at -6 after 18 holes, necessitating the first playoff since 2008 when The Armstrongs defeated George Les and Dominic Dallio on the first hole in sudden death. With darkness looming, Rob Garcia made a 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to defeat Howley/Shinkle and capture the 2013 Invitational Shootout.
“I couldn’t be more proud of winning the 20th edition of such a special event” said Billy Les. “Rob and I battled the elements all day long by taking a positive approach. Everyone in the field was playing through the rainy and wet conditions, so we actually welcomed the tough circumstances. We weren’t going to quit and we kept hitting some good shots. It felt great to produce on a day like today under the bright lights of The Shootout.”
“The Les name means quality, and my partner Billy definitely produced a ‘Les quality’ performance today” said Rob Garcia. “King George is universally accepted as the greatest player in Shootout history. However, Billy is not far behind and could be the future of this great event. We had a great time out there today and are really looking forward to competing with George and Dom next year at The Invitational Shootout.”
2017 Invitational Shootout
Waters Edge Golf Club – Worth, IL
Champions – Shane Hennessy-York/Joe Schely
My mentality was to go out and win at any cost. If you don’t want to live that regimented mentality, then you don’t need to be alongside of me.” Shane Hennessy-York
Shane Hennessy-York and Joe Schely birdied the first playoff hole to win the first three-team playoff in tournament histort at the 2017 Invitational Shootout at Water’s Edge Golf Club. Hennessy-York and Joe Schely defeated George Les and Paul Manolitsis as well as Billy Les and Rob Garcia in sudden death on the 18th hole.
The win was the second for Shane Hennessey-York, who also won the 2015 Invitational Shootout with Greg Smith. Joe Schley finished T6 in 2014 in his first Shootout appearance with Hennessey-York. He also finished T4 in 2015 with Courtland Stansberry.
All three teams had approach shots within 100 yards on the playoff hole, but it was a clutch shot from Shane Hennessey-York to within seven feet that gave the eventual champions the advantage. After the other two teams missed their birdie attempts, the stage was set for Joe Schley to sink the biggest putt of his life to earn the 2017 Invitational Shootout title.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our accomplishment today” said Shane Hennessey-York. “Joe and I really didn’t think we did enough to earn a shot at the win. That’s why we were surprised and elated when we found out there would be a three team playoff. It was like we received a second life and it definitely strengthened our resolve.”
“Playing with Shane is a blast” said Joe Schley. “He seems to welcome the pressure and he sure proved it today with that chip shot in the playoff. When you have six guys looking to add a massive title like this to their resume, the intensity is incredible. Winning the Shootout is a life-changer in so many ways. I’m so proud to be a part of history.”