Peachtree Golf Club head professional Donn Perno put a quick end to a long day of golf, holing a birdie putt of some 35 feet on the first extra hole to win a 4-man playoff in the Georgia PGA Rivermont Championship.
The third-year tournament played all 36 holes in one day, and Perno’s lengthy birdie effort kept the playoff from continuing and possibly running out of daylight.
Perno almost won the tournament without a playoff, just missing a 10-footer for eagle on his final hole of the second round – the par-5 second. To get in 36 holes in one day for the approximately 80-player field, the tournament utilized a shotgun start for both rounds, re-pairing after the morning round with the leaders paired together.
Hank Smith, James Mason and Ted Meier shared the opening round lead at 2-under 69, with Todd Ormsby, Seth McCain and Georgia State golf team member Hayden Poole one shot back at 70. Another college golfer – Florida State’s Jonathan Keppler – was part of a 4-way tie at 71 along with Georgia PGA members Tim Weinhart, Kyle Owen and Bill Murchison.
Perno was one of six players who shot 72 in the morning round, 2014 Rivermont winner Chris Nicol among them. Ormsby, the head pro at Highland CC in LaGrange, and Mason, a Champions Tour member for more than a decade, were the fastest players out of the gate in the afternoon.
Ormsby got off to a torrid start with a birdie on the first hole and an eagle at the second. Mason matched Ormsby’s birdie on the first and took the lead when he birdied the fourth after Ormsby made bogey at the third. Both players bogeyed the fifth and Mason also bogeyed the sixth, dropping the two into a four-way tie with McCain and Poole, who birdied both par 5s on the opening nine.
Poole added birdies on the par-5 10th and drivable par-4 11th, and followed with four straight pars to retain the lead with just three holes to play. But the Georgia State sophomore could not retain his advantage, three-putting 16 and 18 for bogeys with a bogey at the downhill par-3 17th caused by an errant tee shot into the vegetation left of the green.
That brought seven other players back into contention, with the shotgun start resulting in the eight main contenders finishing on five different holes.
Mason had a chance after getting back to 3-under with a birdie at the 16th, his third on the back nine, but he also bogeyed the 17th for a 71 and a 2-under 140 total. McCain, an assistant at Jennings Mill, birdied the par-5 10th and par-4 13th, which features a pronounced two-tier green, to get to 2-under and parred in from there for a second straight 70 to tie Mason at 140.
Owen, the head pro at Dunwoody CC, was five shots behind Poole midway through the back nine, but birdies at 13, 16 and 18 gave him a 69 and 140 total after a par at the first hole, his 18th of the round.
Perno, playing in the group in front of Owen, was also well back as he neared the end of his round, but birdies at 16 and 18 gave him a chance with two holes to play. He parred the first and ended his day with a terrific second shot to hit the par-5 second in two, two-putting for birdie and a 68 to make it a four-way playoff.
Mason and Owen both hit their second shots in the playoff on the par-4 18th closer to the hole than Perno, but both missed after Perno rolled in his lengthy putt that gave him his second victory in an individual Georgia PGA event.
Perno said he “felt pretty good” when he was told the playoff would begin on the 18th. “I birdied the 18th three times today. When they said we’re going to 18 for the playoff, I said I’m gonna birdie it again.”
His first birdie of the day at the 18th was one of just two for Perno in the morning round. He shot 72 with a double bogey on the 12th, which was again converted from a par 5 to a par 4 for the tournament. Perno had five birdies in an afternoon 68 and said, “I don’t think I missed a shot.”
Perno’s fifth birdie was a little more adventurous than he would have liked. After giving himself an excellent opportunity for an eagle and a victory in regulation, Perno ran his 10-footer about five feet past the hole, making his comebacker to get into the playoff.
Prior to missing his 10-footer for eagle, Perno holed putts of 10 feet on 16 and eight feet on 18, but had no idea those birdies gave him a chance for victory.
“I thought maybe three, four or five-under would win. When I was 1-over (for the tournament) late in the round, I was just hoping to finish in the top 10.”
Perno said he thought he might get into a playoff if he holed the eagle putt on his final hole of the day, and was certainly relieved when he was told that 2-under was good enough for a playoff.
The only other individual victory for Perno in the Georgia PGA Section came in the 2013 Match Play Championship. He also teamed with Peachtree assistant Brian Corn to win the 2010 Pro-Assistant Championship.
“I always thought I’d win more,” said Perno. “I’ve had a couple of chances.”
Perno did not play in the Rivermont Championship either of the first two years it was held, and said it had been about a decade since he played the course. In his last round at Rivermont, Perno was one of two players to survive a 6-for-2 playoff in a U.S. Open local qualifier. The other successful qualifier was a high school golfer from Macon who has made a name for himself since then – Russell Henley.
The switch from a two-day tournament to a one-day, 36-hole event met with Perno’s approval.
“I’m fine playing 36 as long as we play in a cart. It’s better playing one day so you don’t miss a day of work.”
Perno took home $2,000 for his victory in the tournament, which was again sponsored by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
Poole, who played his high school golf at nearby Johns Creek HS, was one of four golfers to tie for fifth at 141, one shot out of the playoff. Poole played sparingly as a sophomore for Georgia State this season, and was not in the lineup when the Panthers competed in the NCAA Regionals the week after the Rivermont event. He shot 70 the first day, playing the front nine in 4-under 32, and did not have a 5 on his scorecard the second day before his nervous finish.
Among the players also tying for fifth was amateur Kane Whitehurst, like Poole a star athlete at a north Fulton high school, but in a different sport. Whitehurst was a member of the 2010 state championship football team at Chattahoochee and went to Arkansas on a scholarship before transferring to South Carolina, where he played as a wide receiver. Whitehurst closed with a 67 that included three straight birdies on holes 1, 2 and 3, before finishing his round with two straight pars.
Amateur Donny Phillips and Fox Creek instructor Brian Dixon also shot 67 in the afternoon round to tie for fifth at 141. Phillips had seven birdies in the afternoon round, including three on his last five holes, but a double bogey at the par-4 ninth, his fifth hole of the day, proved costly. He shared low amateur honors with Poole and Whitehurst.
Dixon, a two-time Georgia PGA Match Play champion, gave himself a chance to get into the playoff when he birdied the 18th and eagled the second, but like playing partner Phillips, also parred his last two holes to come up one shot short.
Tying for ninth at 142 was Cartersville CC head pro Bill Hassell and amateur Billy Mitchell, who won the recent Georgia Senior Open. Mitchell shot 69 in the afternoon, closing strong with a birdie at the first and an eagle at the second, his 16th and 17th holes of the round.
Ormsby and Nicol tied for 11th at 143 along with Cherokee T&CC assistant J.P. Griffin. Ormsby was among the contenders until back-to-back double bogeys at holes 12 and 13 and a bogey at 14, more than offsetting three birdies on the back nine. Nicol, an assistant at Georgia Golf Center, had 16 pars in a final round 71, with his lone birdie coming at the ninth.
Weinhart, the Director of Instruction at Heritage Golf Links, and Keppler, the son of Marietta CC head pro Stephen Keppler, both shot 73 in the afternoon to tie for 14th at 144. Weinhart managed just two birdies in his final round, while Keppler’s afternoon round was highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 11th after driving the green.