Going into Tuesday’s final round of the Championship at Berkeley Hills, Alpharetta amateur Erik Martin was one shot off the lead, trailing co-leaders Richard Swift, an assistant at Berkeley Hills, and defending tournament champion Jacob Bayer, a Berkeley Hills member.
The three players comprised the final pairing of the second round of the 36-hole Georgia PGA event, with Swift and Bayer both holding a home course advantage over Martin, a member at Golf Club of Georgia.
While both Swift and Bayer failed to break par after opening with scores of 67 the previous day, Martin shot his second straight 68 to finish two ahead of Anthony Cordes, who made a late charge to finish second at 138.
It was the fifth straight year an amateur won the event at Berkeley, with Martin the first mid-amateur to take home the tournament trophy. The first three Berkeley Hills champions were college age players, with Bayer winning last year between his junior and senior years in high school.
“There’s more pressure playing on your home course,” Martin said after his victory. You have friends out there watching you and you’re expected to do a little more.”
Martin pointed to his own experience earlier this year in the GSGA Four-Ball Championship at Golf Club of Georgia, where he admitted he “did not play well.” Martin said he had enough experience at Berkeley Hills to have an idea how to play the course, but unlike Swift and Bayer, did not know all the trouble spots, which he said “was an advantage for me.”
For nine holes of the final round, Bayer was displaying the advantages of playing on his home course, rolling in four birdie putts of length to offset one bogey and take a two-shot lead over Martin to the final nine, with Swift four back after struggling on Berkeley’s greens.
But play was delayed about an hour with a thunder storm passing near the course, and when the tournament resumed, Bayer showed the effects of sitting on the lead during the delay while Martin continued his excellent play.
Martin made up six shots on Bayer on the first six holes on the back nine, playing them in 2-under while Bayer was 4-over on that stretch of holes after being 8-under for the first 27.
The comeback for Martin began on the par-5 10th, as he reached the green in two from the left rough while Bayer hit a low punch shot from a similar spot just short of the putting surface. Bayer was still in position for a matching birdie, but his pitch came up short and rolled down the slope, resulting in a long birdie attempt and the loss of one shot of his lead.
Bayer fell back into a tie when he missed a short par putt on the 12th after an off-target tee shot resulted in his approach finding a greenside bunker. He also missed a short par putt after missing the green at the par-3 eighth, but that was more than offset by the string of lengthy birdie tries he holed on the opening nine.
Martin took his first lead when Bayer missed the fairway and green on the long par-4 13th, and missed another short putt, this time costing him a double bogey. Martin stretched his lead to three when he hit it close on the par-3 14th and curled in his birdie attempt.
Bayer lost another shot when a missed from close range at the par-5 15th, but Martin’s lead was being challenged from two groups in front, as Cordes played holes 14 to 17 in 4-under with birdies at 14 and 17 around an eagle at the 15th.
Cordes, as assistant at Cherokee Town & CC, pulled within one of the lead when he birdied the 17th, but Martin matched that birdie minutes later, and Cordes closed with a bogey at the 18th to card a second straight 69.
After coming up a little short with his approach to the par-4 18th, Martin faced a long birdie attempt and wound up with his only bogey of the day after a three-putt. That was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless scorecard, which was representative of how well he played in the final round. His only mistake was a slightly pulled tee shot at the par-5 third that reached the pond that gives the hole its risk/reward character, but he hit his third shot on the green from long range to escape with a par.
Martin’s front nine birdies came at the par-4 fifth, when he holed a long putt, and the par-5 seventh, where he wedged it close to match one of Bayer’s four birdies on the front.
“I didn’t make any mistakes with my iron shots today,” Martin said. “I was just aiming at the fat side of the pins, and if I made the putt, I made the putt.
Martin’s 68 in the first round was highlighted by a hole-out for eagle from 110 yards on the fifth, and also included four birdies with a pair of bogeys.
It was the third time in recent years Martin has played in the last group of the final round in a Georgia PGA event. He struggled in the final round of the Atlanta Open at Atlanta National in 2014 and gave up the lead late in the day at Rivermont in 2015.
This time, Martin said he focused on trying to reach a target score instead of worrying about how he stood in relation to the lead. His target for the final day was to reach 9-under for the tournament, which he accomplished when he birdied the 17th. The meaningless bogey at the 18th left him with an 8-under 136 total.
Cordes was second at 138 to earn first place money of $1800, with Justin Martin (no relation), Director of Golf at the First Tee facility at Atlanta’s John A. White Park, third at 139 with scores of 69-70.
Swift, who managed just one birdie the final day after carding six birdies and an eagle at the 10th in the opening round, closed with a 73 for a 140 total to tie for fourth. Swift is a native of Australia who has lived in Atlanta for several years and has joined the staff at Berkeley Hills after playing professionally.
Also tying for fourth at 140 was Capital City Club assistant J.P. Griffin (68-72), Cherokee instructor Peter Jones (70-70) and Paul Claxton, the Director of Golf at Hawk’s Point in Vidalia. Claxton’s 67 was the low score of the final round and included eagles at holes 15 and 3, part of an 11-hole stretch he played in 7-under.
Claxton, a veteran of both the Web.com and PGA Tours, placed third in the recent PGA Professional Championship to earn a spot in next month’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte.
Bayer tied for eighth at 141 along with Stephen Keppler, whose 2012 victory at Berkeley Hills was the last win in the event by a Georgia PGA member. Keppler, who shot 67 in the opening round of the recent U.S. Senior Open, shook off a slow start to shoot 69 the second day, while Bayer finished with a 74 after going out in 33.
A 41 by Bayer on the back nine was 10 strokes higher than he shot last year, when he closed with a 65 to score a come-from-behind victory in the tournament. Bayer is an incoming freshman at Georgia Southern and will be a member of the Eagles’ golf team. Both he and Erik Martin will compete in the Georgia Amateur at West Lake in Augusta this week.
Also in the field for the Georgia Amateur is recent Georgia State golfer Nathan Mallonee, who was 10th at Berkeley Hills with scores of 70-72—142. Mallonee was runner-up to fellow amateur Davin White in the 2015 tournament.
Among those tying for 11th at 143 were pros Sonny Skinner and Hank Smith and amateurs Brandon Cho and Wyatt Larkin. Cho, who won the recent GSGA Junior title, shot a bogey-free 69 in the opening round, with Larkin, who returned after a long absence following back surgery last Fall, shot 69-73, with his second round including a hole-out for eagle on the fifth. Larkin is a member of the golf team at Kennesaw State.
It was a tough week for many of the Georgia PGA’s top players. James Mason, Seth McCain and 2017 points leader Kyle Owen all finished T29 at 147, with Craig Stevens and Shawn Koch T40 at 149. Tim Weinhart, who finished fourth or better five times in the first seven events at Berkeley Hills, shot back-to-back scores of 77 after making a triple bogey at the par-3 fourth hole in the first round and a 9 at the par-5 third the next day. He was even par after 11 holes the first day and 10 holes in the final round before suffering through a pair of disastrous three-hole stretches.
The Championship at Berkeley Hills was presented by Bridgestone Golf/AHEAD.