When the Georgia Amateur was first played at Augusta’s West Lake CC in 1980, the winning 72-hole score was 1-under par 287.
The next time the club hosted the Georgia State Golf Association’s championship event was 2000, and the winning score that time was 2-under 286.
The Georgia Amateur returned to West Lake for a third time last week, with the course playing to a par of 71 for the tournament, with the 540-yard, par-5 ninth hole played as a 499-yard par 4.
Instead of the winner barely breaking par as occurred the first two times the Ellis Maples design hosted the Georgia Amateur, the winning score was 17-under par 267, the lowest score in tournament history.
The tournament champion was McDonough’s Justin Connelly, who recently graduated from Mercer in Macon, but has college eligibility left and will play his final season at nearby Georgia College in Milledgeville.
Connelly won a final round duel with Kennesaw State golfer Connor Coffee of Peachtree City, who finished two shots behind Connelly at 269.
Nathan Mallonee of Lexington, who has completed his college career at Georgia State, was third at 274, followed by Georgia Southern’s Steven Fisk of Stockbridge (275), recent U. of Cincinnati golfer Jared O’Kelley of Canton (276) and Augusta State’s Emmanuel Kountakis of Martinez, the low Augusta area golfer at 278. UGA golf team member David Mackey of Watkinsville tied for seventh at 279 with former Georgia College golfer Taylor Smith of Covington, the low mid-amateur in the field.
Connelly trailed O’Kelley by three shots after 36 holes after posting back-to-back score of 69 the first two rounds. He took the lead when he matched the tournament’s low round of 64 on Saturday to lead by one over Coffee and by four over O’Kelley and Mallonee. Connelly put the tournament away with a final round 65.
Coffee, who also opened with a pair of 69s, was 11-under over the weekend with scores of 65-66, but lost one shot each of the last two rounds as Connelly posted the low score of the day Saturday and matched the best score of the final round.
Connelly took a 2-shot lead on Sunday after a birdie at the fifth, and his lead held steady at either two or three strokes the rest of the day. Coffee carded six of his seven final round birdies on the back nine, but also had two bogeys on Sunday, while Connelly played bogey-free golf with six birdies, four of them on the final nine.
Coffee’s third round 65 also consisted of six birdies and no bogeys, but he lost a shot to Connelly, who started his round with an eagle at the par-5 second and a birdie at the third. He took over the tournament when he ran off six birdies in an 8-hole stretch beginning at the seventh, concluding his torrid stretch with four consecutive birdies.
Other than Coffee, none of the other contenders on a crowded leader board after 36 holes could stay with Connelly over the weekend. Mallonee closed with score of 67-68, but lost three shots to Connelly both days. He played his last eight holes in 4-under to finish third.
Fisk shot 68 in each of the final three rounds, but his Sunday challenge stalled after he started the day with three straight birdies.
O’Kelley held the lead midway through the tournament with scores of 68-67. He had four birdies on the back nine Saturday, but a double-bogey at the 16th proved costly as he went from one shot ahead at the beginning of the day to four behind going to the final round. He shot 71-70 on the weekend.
Kountakis, who was a teammate of Connelly for two years at Mercer before transferring to Augusta, has completed his college career. He finished as low Augustan in the field, ahead of 2016 GSGA Mid-Amateur champion John Engler Jr. (281, T11), Jordan Johnstun (282, T14) and Jay Mundy (283, T17).
Will Rogers of Evans, an Augusta suburb, was the surprise first round leader at 66, but fell out of contention with a 77 the next day and wound up T55 at 293 after a final round 78.
Smith, who was the runner-up to Engler in the 2016 GSGA Mid-Amateur at Augusta CC, made the 36-hole cut on the number at 148 before shooting 66-65 on the weekend. Mackey matched Connelly and Smith for low Sunday score with a 65 to tie Smith for seventh.
Tying for ninth at 280 was Chris Waters of Atlanta, one of the state’s top mid-amateurs and Dalton Reese of Warrenton.
Engler was three back after 36 following a second round 67, but shot 73 on Saturday and tied for 11th at 281 with incoming Georgia Southern freshman Jacob Bayer of Lawrenceville. Bayer, who won the 2016 Georgia PGA tournament at Berkeley Hills and led that event earlier last week going to the back nine of the final round, was one back at 136 after 36 holes, but shot 71-74 on the weekend. Scott Odell of Claxton also shot 281.
Tifton native David Denham, the 2004 Georgia Amateur champion and a former UGA golfer and ex-mini tour pro, tied for 14th at 282 with Johnstun and Atlanta’s Chris Harris. Denham shot 65 in the second round after an opening 75, while Harris rallied from an opening 77 with scores of 67 Friday and Sunday.
Tying Mundy for 17th at 283 was two-time Georgia Amateur champion David Noll of Dalton and Nicolas Cassidy of Johns Creek, one of the state’s top high school golfers. Noll, the most frequent contender in the tournament dating back to his first win in 2003 at Pinetree, was just two back at 137 after 36 holes, but closed with scores of 72-74. Cassidy moved up with a final round 66.
UGA golfer Will Chandler, also a contender in recent Georgia Amateurs, was just two off the lead going to the third round, but shot 74-73 on the weekend and tied for 20th at 284 with recent UGA golfer Sam Straka of Valdosta and Tyler Young of Kennesaw.
Tying for 23rd at 285 was Kyle Stiles of Athens, who matched Connelly for the tournament’s low score with a second round 64. Tre Lamb of Macon was tied for second at 136 at the midway point with Bayer, but fell back with a 79 on Saturday and tied for 30th at 287.
Perhaps the oddest score line of the tournament was turned in by Augusta native and two-time Georgia Amateur champion Lee Knox, who won the event in 2010 and 2012. Knox tied for 32nd at 288 with scores of 77-66-66-79.
Prior to last week, the lowest score in Georgia Amateur history was 268 in 2009 at Country Club of Columbus by Macon’s Russell Henley, then a member of the golf team at UGA and currently a top player on the PGA Tour. Henley tied the record for low score to par set in 1996 at Coosa CC in Rome by Danny Yates in at 16-under, but Connelly broke that mark with a birdie at the 72nd hole to finish 17-under.
Connelly emerged as the top player on Mercer’s golf season this past season after playing a total of only nine events his first three years on the golf team, just one each in his first two seasons. He led the team in scoring average his senior season at 73.45 and finished in the top five in three tournaments, twice placing third in events in Kentucky and at Hilton Head.
He will be pursuing his masters at Georgia College and will have one year of eligibility remaining, Connelly’s younger brother is a member of the Georgia College tennis team.