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Payday makes Ping King
By John Reger, The Orange County Register

The La Habra man and his partner win $3 million in the match-play event, the largest prize in golf.

David Ping of La Habra grabbed a piece of one of the largest prizes in professional golf Monday when he won the inaugural Big Stakes Golf Championship at Casablanca Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev.

Ping, 27, teamed with Garth Mulroy of Raleigh, N.C., to win six rounds of match play and earn the $3 million first prize.

The two will share the money with NFL players Ross Verba and Barry Stokes, who paid their $100,000 entry fee. Ping and Mulroy will receive $975,000 apiece.

"This is incredible," Ping said.

Ping has been a professional since 2001 but has played in only one PGA Tour event, the 2001 Buick Open. He mostly has been playing mini-tours, including frequent appearances on the Golden State Tour.

The last check Ping cashed was for $613 at a Golden State event March 25, where he tied for third. Ping's biggest check was $10,000 for winning a mini-tour event in Florida.

The event was organized by former NFL quarterback Steve Bartkowski and his agent, Jim Thomas.

The tournament was open only to golfers who have not had exempt status on any professional golf tour the past three years. Golfers - or their sponsors - paid $50,000 each to enter. The $3 million first-place purse is the largest in a golf event, including the PGA Tour. Ping and his wife, Karen, moved to Orange County 18 months ago so Ping could play golf all year. Karen is a first-grade teacher in Whittier.

Ping was struggling, accumulating around $140,000 in debt, and he was contemplating giving up the sport. He initially wasn't interested in the Big Stakes event, but he decided to give it a shot.

"I was really putting all my eggs in one basket," Ping said. "Things were really starting to get tough."

Ping and Mulroy, who met last year on the Gateway Tour, played well in the five matches leading to the finals. In their first four matches, they won, 4 and 3, 3 and 1, 5 and 3 and 3 and 2. The pair defeated a team with former major-league pitcher Rick Rhoden in the fifth round, 4 and 3.

In the finals, Ping and Mulroy faced Rick Hartmann and Mark Mielke, two pros from Long Island, N.Y., who have 20 years of playing experience.

Ping and Mulroy were down two through five holes but tied the match on the seventh hole. The match remained tied until the 11th hole, when they won with a birdie.

On the 13th hole, Mulroy made a birdie to extend their lead to two. Hartmann and Mielke won the 17th hole to get to one, but another birdie by Mulroy on the final hole closed out the match.

"We played really well all week," Ping said. "We really hammed-and-egged it when we needed to."

In the consolation finals, Byron Schlagenhauf of Aliso Viejo teamed with Parker McLachlin of Scottsdale to win, 2 and 1, over Mitch Adcock and Bill Anderson of Covington, La. Schlagenhauf and McLachlin won $175,000.

Mike Miles of Huntington Beach and John Mallinger, who played golf at Long Beach State, also entered the tournament. They were knocked out in the third round.

Travis Johnson, a former All-American at UCLA, and UCLA golf coach O.D. Vincent lost in the first round.