The Nest Invitational Tournament (NIT) is No Laying Up’s year-end championship and the culmination of our 2023 event series presented by YETI. This year, 96 participants spanning 4 countries traveled to Omni PGA Frisco Resort in North Texas in hopes of becoming the 4th NIT champion. For more information on how to qualify for the NIT and No Laying Up’s 2024 events schedule, check our events website and sign up for the No Laying Up email newsletter.
FRISCO — Many years from now, when I have lived out my allotted days and my time on Earth is nearing a peaceful conclusion, I hope someone will lean in closely, and with curiosity and tenderness, ask me this question:
What was the most majestic, purely-struck golf shot that you ever witnessed in person?
There will be several contenders to consider. Brooks Koepka mashing a 4-iron to a back pin on the 16th hole during the final round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive. Rory McIlroy’s Saturday afternoon 3-wood into the 16th green at the 2023 Ryder Cup. Dustin Johson’s 6-iron into 18 at Oakmont to put a bow on the U.S. Open. It will be difficult to choose just one, because a great golf shot lingers in the mind like someone tattooed it there. Television can’t do them justice. You never forget that sound, the way the ball whistles as it pierces the air, the way it flirts with the heavens before it tumbles to earth.
I’ve never dreamed an amateur could hit a shot that would enter that conversation. They were not, by my calculation, even eligible. Mortals, to be blunt, do not throw lightning bolts like Zeus. But after witnessing the 2-iron that Derek Ho — better known to the No Laying Up community as “3PuttKing” — hit into the 13th hole at Fields Ranch East this past Saturday, I am tempted to reconsider. Because to borrow a line from poet John Gillespie Magee, I’m fairly certain that ball slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the face of God.
Was that 2-iron, which knifed through a wall of wind and nearly hit the flag from 230 yards, the most important shot in 3PuttKing’s eventual victory in the Nest Invitational Tournament?
Certainly not. The ball flew a yard too far and hopped into the back bunker, and Ho was not able to turn it into points, his short game being (admittedly) something of a weakness.
“I really do have hands of stone,” Ho said.
But anyone who played with Ho this week would be quick to testify to the purity of his ball-striking. That 2-iron was not an anomaly. Ho may have chosen an appropriate, self-deprecating message board handle in declaring himself the 3PuttKing, but as Jason Dufner and even Ben Hogan proved, you do not have to be great at everything to succeed in golf. If you compress the hell out of your irons, you write your name on a trophy.
“Knowing what my limitations are, and knowing where to hit it, having a plan and executing it, that’s what we did all day,” said the 39-year-old Ho. “I couldn’t have done it without my caddie, Ghost of Ty Webb. He kept me so calm. I was never looking at the leaderboard the whole day. I had no idea what was going on, but I felt like I had to be right up there.”
Ho was hardly considered one of the favorites coming into the event. A commercial property manager from British Columbia, he picked up the game when he and his family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from Hong Kong. But he mostly played it casually — not seriously — until his mid-30s.
“It was a sons of immigrants thing, just picking up whatever games were out there,” Ho said. “But it was more casual, maybe under 10 rounds a year.”
Things began to change during the pandemic. The golf scene in Vancouver became a vibrant safe haven for many, Ho among them. He started going to the Savage Creek driving range regularly, learning to use the muscles he honed as a soccer player to crush the ball. In June, he finished 2nd at the Major Mayhem Roost held at Mayfair Lakes in Vancouver, and when the winner chose not to attend, the invitation fell to Ho.
The legend of the 3PuttKing was set in motion. He came to Frisco with no expectations other than having fun.
“I met him when I played in the Mayhem Roost major and I told him when we linked up here, I said ‘Hey when you make the championship flight, I want to be on your bag,’” said Nick Bennett, aka Ghost of Ty Webb. “He came back to me (Saturday) and said ‘Did you mean that? Because if you did, I’m going to hold you to it.’ I’m glad he did because it was a blast.”
Ho said he felt a little out of sorts early in the competition. He made double bogeys on his first four holes. “I was really nervous,” Ho said. But on the 6th hole on the West course, he stuffed a gap wedge to five feet and made the putt.
“That got me some pep in my step,” Ho said. “Not only was it a good shot, but it got my mojo going. Honestly, it wasn’t until about Saturday morning that I even started to think this was possible. I was hitting the ball pretty good for my standards, so I just thought ‘Well, let’s go.’ ”
Bennett and Ho came up with a game plan before the final. They knew the East course presented a brutal challenge, and that some of the lower handicaps would have to press to find points. They just needed to take advantage of holes where they could score.
“We talked before the round and what our thought process was going to be for the day, and he said ‘Keep me conservative. Keep me between the mayo and the mustard,’ ” Bennett said. “We really stuck to that process, and I thought that he executed it flawlessly. I’m just really really proud of how he committed to every shot, and the results were almost always what we intended.”
Bennett’s only regret? That he didn’t make the 3PuttKing empty his golf bag before the championship round.
“We probably didn’t need three dozen golf balls,” Bennett said. “If I do this again, I probably will take some things out of the bag. I think he had his carry-on luggage in there, maybe some ankle weights, a rock collection. It was absurd.”
Ho steadily accumulated points throughout the final round, putting from off the greens and securing several crucial bogeys rather than rolling the dice with his short game. He also made crucial pars on 10, 15 and 17. But he did not waltz to victory. Both Sweet_Cupn_Cake and LeftySauce made a strong final charge.
“After the front nine, I said to my caddie ‘You know that Teddy Roosevelt quote: If you believe, you’re halfway there?’ Well, I believe,’ LeftySauce said. “I thought we were going to do it.
It was so dark that by the time the leaders reached 18, there was considerable debate over whether it was even possible to continue. The competition committee scrambled to come up with a solution that was even feasible. Should a champion be declared without everyone playing the final hole? Controversy and chaos loomed.
But then something beautiful unfolded. All along the 18th fairway, members of the No Laying Up community pulled out their cellphones. Like attendees at a rock concert or a prayer vigil, they used the flashlight function on their phones to light the way.
Sweet_Cupn_Cake and LeftSauce hit magical approaches to keep their hopes alive. Each had an eagle chip that could, if it went in, capture the NIT.
LeftySauce’s ball was on the apron in front of the green. Sweet_Cupn_Cake had a look from the back bunker. A noticeable hush washed over the crowd. The 3PuttKing could only watch, and wait, the fate of the tournament no longer in his hands.
LeftySauce’s chip skipped once, then trickled short of the hole.
Sweet_Cupn_Cake’s bunker shot floated through the air, looking for a second like it might find the pin, but it missed a foot to the right.
It was all over but shouting.
As 3PuttKing and Ghost of Ty Webb embraced, a hearty chant broke out among the patrons.
“Three! Three! Three!”
Eventually, the iPhone flashlights went out. But even in the dark, you could tell Derek Ho — your champion golfer of the year — was still beaming.
Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up
Email him at email@example.com.