Arizona's Tanigawa Enjoys Another Great Week in Birmingham September 30, 2016 | Birmingham, Ala. By David Shefter, USGA

Ken Tanigawa's performance helped Arizona have its best finish ever in the Men's State Team, a share of second place. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Even before he left home for the 12th USGA Men’s State Team Championship, Ken Tanigawa had good vibes about the biennial competition.

Three years ago on the Country Club of Birmingham’s West Course, Tanigawa made a run to the quarterfinals of the 33rd U.S. Mid-Amateur.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Tanigawa after posting a 2-under 69 in Friday’s final round of the Men’s State Team. “The course is great. The hospitality is great. The people are amazing. What’s not to like?”

The 48-year-old had one more thing to take away from his return trip: a silver medal. Tanigawa and his Arizona team posted its best-ever finish, a share of second place with North Carolina, three strokes behind champion Michigan. Arizona had never had a top-10 showing in the previous 11 competitions.

That all changed this year, thanks to Tanigawa’s 3-under total of 210, which placed him fourth among individuals in the 54-hole competition. Cory Bacon, 26, of Cave Creek, also contributed to the team’s score all three rounds, carding a 1-over 72 on Friday for a three-day score of 2-over 215.

“I love the golf course,” said Tanigawa, a native of Japan who came to the United States when he was 5. “It’s always fun to come back to where you played well before. It was just a treat and a lot of fun to play.”

Of the three Arizona players – Bryan Hoops didn’t figure into the scoring in the 3-count-2 format – Tanigawa might have been the most experienced. A 1990 graduate of UCLA, Tanigawa spent 11 years competing as a professional in Australia, Asia and Japan, and he had one unsuccessful season on the Nationwide Tour (now in the “early 2000s” before going into business with his brother. Family and work occupied much of his time until he decided to apply to regain his amateur, which was granted in 2012.

Since then, he has enjoyed plenty of success in Arizona, winning two state Mid-Amateur titles and the 2015 Arizona Amateur, when he was the Arizona Golf Association’s Player of the Year. This year he was the runner-up in the Arizona Amateur to Bacon. He also competed in a pair of U.S. Mid-Amateurs (2013 and 2014) and represented the state two years ago at the French Lick Resort in Indiana, where the team finished 29th.

“I just wanted to come and play well,” said Tanigawa, who resides in Paradise Valley. “I didn’t have any real expectations. But I knew the hospitality would be amazing.”

Cory Bacon's consistent play was pivotal in Arizona's success at the Country Club of Birmingham. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Bacon, a 2012 graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, has seen his golf game blossom since he left school and joined the staff at Ping as a design engineer. Last year he advanced to the quarterfinals of the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco with partner and fellow design engineer Matthew Simone. He also qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at the John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla., where he missed the match-play cut by a stroke.

This year, he won the Arizona Amateur, which automatically earned him a spot in this week’s event.

“I’ve gotten way better after college,” said Bacon. “Definitely working at Ping has helped me. I understand more about the game on the equipment side and it’s helped me get a lot better.”

Having an understanding boss helps. Marty Jertson, the director of product development, is a PGA professional who just qualified on Thursday for the upcoming PGA Tour Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, Nev. Two weeks ago, another Ping employee, Shannon Johnson, was the runner-up in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.

“They definitely support me playing,” said Bacon. “It’s nice that I have a boss who gets it. Obviously I can’t push too much, but I got to play in the Arizona Amateur, the Southwestern Amateur and this event. I’m appreciative of it.”

Playing in USGA championships also has given Bacon a benchmark to measure where his game needs to improve.

“I knew what to expect here, 100 percent,” said Bacon of the setup. “I knew it was going to be a grind and that even par was going to be a good score. The USGA puts on phenomenal championships and I can’t wait to get in another one.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at

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