The Georgia Amateur returns to the Augusta’s West Lake CC for the third time this week, with a mostly new cast from the list of players who contended for the title last year.
Almost all the winners of the event for the past decade have been college age (or younger) golfers, resulting in a changing of the guard of top contenders on an almost yearly basis.
That will be no different this year, as only a handful of players who advanced deep into last year’s match play bracket are returning to the field for this year’s tournament, which begins Thursday and is returning to its traditional 72-hole, stroke play format.
Chris Harris is the only one of eight players who reached the quarterfinals last year at the Capital City Club to enter this year’s tournament, with champion Colin Bowles and runner-up Spencer Ralston, a pair of teen-agers, among those not competing this year.
College golfers Nick Budd, Steven Fisk and Nathan Mallonee all won their opening matches last year, along with mid-amateurs Chris Waters and Taylor Smith, with Harris the lone player in this year’s field to make it past the second round.
Among the three former Georgia Amateur champions who will be playing at West Lake this week are David Noll and Lee Knox, both of whom have won the event twice. Noll has been a frequent contender since winning at PInetree in 2003, adding a second title at Cherokee T&CC in 2011 along with four runner-up finishes between 2005 and ’12. His victory in 2011 was the last in the event by a mid-am, and the only time since 2006 that a player older than his early 20s has won the state’s top amateur tournament.
The third ex-Georgia Amateur champion in the field is David Denham, who won in 2004 at Athens CC and recently edged out Noll to take the GSGA Mid-Amateur title at Cartersville CC. Noll and Denham both played as mini-tour pros before regaining their amateur status.
Noll, Knox and Denham lead a strong mid-amateur contingent that will also include 2016 GSGA Mid-Amateur champion John Engler, Jr., one of the Augusta players in the field. Engler played at West Lake in the 2000 Georgia Amateur, tying for ninth, and spent one year on the PGA Tour before a serious foot injury cut his professional career short.
Also playing in the tournament that week was Dave Womack, a former USGA Mid-Amateur Champion. Womack tied for fourth in the 2000 Georgia Amateur. Jeff Belk, part of the winning team in the 2017 GSGA 4-Ball Championship, also played at West Lake that year and tied for 13th.
Another top mid-am in the field is 2016 GSGA Player of the Year Chris Waters, with Doug Hanzel, one of the state’s most accomplished senior amateurs competing along with 2016 Georgia Senior Open champion Billy Mitchell. All three have contended in recent Georgia Amateurs.
Although the college field is missing some of the state’s top players, there are still plenty of potential championship contenders.
Among that group is UGA golfer Will Chandler, who twice challenged for victory while he was in high school in 2015 at Sea Island GC and 2014 at Idle Hour in Macon, where he tied for second. Georgia teammate David Mackey is also competing at West Lake, along with players from all the state’s other Division I college golf programs except Georgia Tech.
Mallonee and Budd both played on the Georgia State golf team in 2016-17, with Mallonee having completed his college eligibility, as has Augusta’s Emmanuel Kountakis, along with Engler one of the top local hopes.
Other state collegians in the field include Connor Coffee of Kennesaw State, the Georgia Southern trio of Fisk, Brett Barron and incoming freshman Jacob Bayer, and Brennan Bogdanovich and Justin Connelly of Mercer.
Also in the field are college golfers Jared O’Kelley (Cincinnati), Campbell Fisher (Minnesota) and Jason Mendel (South Alabama), who lost in a playoff in the 2016 Atlanta Open along with Dalton State golfer Adam Morris. Jake Milanowski (Auburn) and JonErik Alford (Ohio State) will both begin their college careers this Fall, with recent GSGA Junior champion Brandon Cho and Nicolas Cassidy among the state’s top high school age golfers competing in the Georgia Amateur.
There are also several recent college golfers from the state in the tournament, including Sam Straka (Georgia), Tyler Gruca (Georgia State), Jonathan Klotz (Kennesaw State) and Taylor Floyd, a member of Augusta State’s back-to-back national championship teams.
The 144-player field will be tested by a West Lake course that is on the short side by modern standards (just over 6,800 yards), but yielded winning scores of 287 and 286 the two times it hosted the Georgia Amateur (1980, 2000). Those scores would be over par this year, as the par-5 ninth hole is being played as a 499-yard par 4, reducing West Lake’s par to 71 for the tournament.
While West Lake will feature two tour-length par 4s (the 15th is 495), the third longest par 4 is a modest 433, with six of the 11 under 400 yards. The longest of the three par 5s is 514, with West Lake’s absence of serious length offset by its narrow, tree-lined fairways and demanding putting surfaces.
The finish at West Lake offers the possibility of late lead changes, with the 15th the No. 1 handicap hole and 16, 17 and 18 all having in hazards in play, with the par-5 18th an excellent risk/reward finale.
Qualifying results and exempt players for the 2017 Georgia Amateur:
Monroe G&CC —65: Tre Lamb, 68; Jason Mendel; 69: Will Chandler; 70: Thomas Whitley, Chan Metts; 71: Mark Lyons, Grant Crowell; 72: Jason Murphy, Mike Cromer, Alex Williams, David Mackey; 73: Kyle Stiles, Zach Pritchard, Eli Stripling; alternate – Brad Davis 73.
Georgia Southern GC — 72: Wilson Andress; 73: Taylor Floyd; 74: Paxton Shuman, Andrew Chong; 75: Clay Grantham, Matt Bernstein; 76: Jason Quinlan, Jordan Secret; 77: Matthew Meyer, Cameron Shiels, Tyler George; alternate – Danny Clay 78.
Summit Chase – 69: West Strieb, Todd Eaker, Tyler Gruca, Mark Sweeney; 70: Hunter Fry, JonErik Alford; 72: Sam Lape, Corey Chrzanowski; 73: Jacques Lamothe; 74: Ryan Emery, Larry Harris, David Noto.
Stonebridge (Rome) – 69: Campbell Fisher, 70: Adam Morris; 71: Alex Ross, Henry Gee, Nicolas Cassidy; 72: Brian Farrer, Tyler Young; 73: Paul Bloodworth, Trent Leggett; 74: Tevis Upton, Alex Markham, Justin Kim; alternate – Will Morrow 75.
Eagle’s Landing – 70: Justin Connelly, 71 – Jake Milanowski, Scott Odell; 72: Caleb Greiner; 74: Connor McKinnon, Jordan Long; 75: Bailey Means; 76: Dave Womack, Andy Bacchus, Daniel Fienemann, Jeremy Schmiedeberg.
River Forest – 69: James Flores; 70: Brady Keran, Brandon Cho, Coleman Tidwell, Jr.; 71: Bo Bradford; 74: Travis Steed, Ryan Huber.
Maple Ridge – 71: Taehyung Kim, Kason Partridge; 74: Sam Straka, Carson Vaughn; alternate – Noah Kuranga 77.
Glen Arven – 66: Chip Thompson; 71: Sam Barrett, Brady Park, Matthew Giesler; 73: Rob Benton, Payton Trancygier; 74: Grant Sutliff.
White Columns – 69: Brett Barron, Kevin Burns; 70: Billy Mitchell, Michael Motz, Miles Lathem, Davis Brainard; 71: Drew Schmidt, Jonathan Klotz; 72: Jared O’Kelley, John McGoogan, Scott Hootselle, Brennan Bogdanovich, Kenny Park; 73: Jacob Bayer, Patrick Bridges, Trey Odom, Taylor Welborn, Paul Giles; 74: Tyler Hogan, Bill Faith, Chase Knox, Peter Dash; 75: Jason Coolik, Andrew Lafferty, Harrison Stafford; alternate – Chris Smith 75.
Bartram Trail – 68: Hunter Dunagan; 69: Jay Mundy, Emmanuel Kountakis; 70: Jordan Johnstun, Andrew Duffie; 70: Doug Carter, States Fort; 71: Will Rogers, Graham Hill; 72: Keith Guest, Jr., Dalton Reese, Jared Macky; alternate – Alex Rogers 72.
Frog – 69: Connor Coffee, Matthew Cleary; 70: James Williams; 71: Kane Whitehurst; 72: Jackson Schultz, Zan Banks; 73: Eamon Owen, Logan Perkins.
Exempt players – Jeff Belk, Nick Budd,David Denham; Vance Embry, John Engler, Jr., Steven Fisk, Stan Gann, Jr., Doug Hanzel, Chris Harris, Mike Kerbelis, Josh Klipstein, Lee Knox, Nathan Mallonee, David Noll, Trey Pearson, Reid Rathburn, Taylor Smith, Carson Spears, Harrison Stewart, Rob VanGorder, Jr., Chris Waters, Austin Weathington.