Always fear the closers

Back in May of 2002, I was covering the Bassmaster Tour event (during the pre-Elite Series days) on Lake Eufaula, and they had just finished the Day 3 weigh-in when another writer remarked to me that it “looks like Ron Shuffield may actually win this thing.” And while it was true Shuffield seemed to be hitting his stride in the tournament, I cautioned my fellow scribe to be wary of Missouri legend Denny Brauer in fourth place.

In pro bass fishing, Brauer is what I always referred to as a “closer.” Him being in fourth place going into the final day was the equivalent of a hungry fox lurking around the henhouse. He wasn’t worried about what others were doing or anything bad that might happen. He was concentrating with deadly focus on the tasty reward sitting just past the flimsy chicken wire.

The next day, he slammed the door shut on his 13th career victory with B.A.S.S.

I couldn’t help but think of Brauer after the Day 3 weigh-in of the Bassmaster Elite Series event held on Lake Champlain July 30-Aug. 2.

New York hammer Jamie Hartman had led all three days and seemed poised to claim his second win in his home state in as many years. But there, in fourth place, sat Brandon Palaniuk.

Closer alert.

Even though it was one of the tightest Championship Sunday fields ever on the Elite Series, I told Bassmaster Senior Writer David Brown Saturday night my money was on Palaniuk.

Like there are some guys you don’t want making eyes at your girlfriend and some guys you don’t want to leave alone with your wallet, there are some guys you just don’t want three spots back of you in a major professional bass tournament going into the final day.

Palaniuk is one of those guys — and sure enough, on Sunday, he recorded the fourth victory of his young career with B.A.S.S.

Closers have a different makeup. They’re dangerous in that spot, more because of what they don’t do.

Closers don’t get rattled — just as Palaniuk didn’t when he trailed the first two days of the 2017 Elite Series event on Sam Rayburn before recording a career-changing win.

Closers don’t panic — just as Palaniuk didn’t when he was struggling to slam the door on an Angler of the Year title at the final 2017 Elite Series event on Mille Lacs. He got back on track with a 6-pound smallmouth he seemed to be expecting all along.

Many have worn the closer moniker.

Young pro Jordan Lee seemed destined to claim his first Elite Series win in 2016 after three days at Cayuga Lake. But lurking two places behind him was eventual winner Kevin VanDam.

Closer.

Rick Clunn blew people’s minds with a 31-pound bag on Day 3 of the 2016 Elite event on the St. Johns River. Then, with every eyeball in the fishing world focused on him and wondering if a man in his 70s could finish the deal, he responded with 19 pounds and sealed his 15th career victory.

Closer.

So remember, the next time you think someone has a tournament locked up with one day left, be sure to scan the standings just beneath them.

There may be a fox lurking around the henhouse who’ll still have something to say about it before the scales are closed.

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