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 Brian 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 Brian 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 Brian 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 Brian 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.”