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Poker pro wins World Series of Golf

18 May 2009

by Steve Carp

LAS VEGAS, Nevada –- Under normal circumstances, Jody Garaventa would have had little chance of beating Kevin Dumont in a golf tournament.

But the World Series of Golf is anything but normal.

In the event's unique format, players tee off from varying distances based on their handicaps, and the poker-style betting system gives them a chance to ante, wager or fold before each shot.

It means an 11-handicap such as Garaventa can compete on relatively equal footing with a 3-handicap such as Dumont.

The poker strategy ultimately gave way to shot-making Thursday at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort, and Garaventa held on through two playoff holes to win the $300,000 first prize.

"I'd been practicing nine months with this event in mind," said Garaventa, a professional poker player from Raleigh, N.C., and, at 33, the youngest player among the five finalists. "It was probably the most nerve-racking thing I've done in my life."

The final five, which included former Mexico standout soccer goalkeeper Jorge Campos, endured an eight-hour marathon on Paiute's Wolf Course. Each player began Thursday staked to $250,000. When a player ran out of money, he was out of the competition.

Because bets are being made before each shot, play slows to a crawl, taking away any rhythm. That was evident late in the round when neither Garaventa nor Dumont could make a putt. They had eliminated Campos, KJ Fohannesen and David Morton after 16 holes, but Dumont was unable to secure the match as his putter went cold.

With Garaventa holding a commanding lead in terms of money ($1,080,000 to $170,000), he could afford to drop the first playoff hole and force a second and final extra hole.

That's exactly what he did, putting his tee shot in the water on the first playoff hole.

On the next hole, Garaventa hit a great third shot out of the left rough to about 20 feet. He two-putted to halve the hole, and because he still had more money than Dumont ($910,000 to $340,000) after two playoff holes, he was declared the winner.

"I'd been getting in and out of trouble all week," Garaventa said. "I told myself, 'You've been there before. Just relax.' At that point, it was strictly a golf tournament because the gambling element was gone."

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