Although he didn’t exactly do it on purpose, Robert Mize employed a very shrewd plan that earned him a victory in the Georgia Amateur, played at Idle Hour in Macon.
Mize, the son of 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize of Columbus, stayed within range of the leaders throughout the tournament, but never got too close to the player leading at the end of the first three rounds.
An opening 69 put Mize four in back of Eatonton’s Trey Rule, coming off a win in the recent Dogwood Invitational. Rule shot 75 in the second round, with Kelby Burton of Evans firing a 66 to take the 36-hole lead at 136. Mize shot a 71 and was five back at the midway point.
Burton shot 71 in the third round, yielding first place to Bonaire’s Stan Gann, Jr., who moved to the front with a 66 to lead by three heading to the final day. Mize stayed within four of Gann with a 67, beginning the fourth round in a tie for third and playing in the next to last group.
Four bogeys on the opening nine cost Gann his 3-stroke lead, and neither Burton nor Rule could take full advantage of Gann’s struggles, with all three 3-under for the tournament when they made the turn.
Mize got to 3-under with a birdie on the vulnerable par-3 third hole, but was still two shots behind Gann when he reached the seventh tee.
A beautiful approach to three feet on the 454-yard par 4 put Mize in the lead, and he rolled in putts in the 15 and 20-foot range on the next two holes, the latter from the fringe, for a 4-under 31 on the opening nine.
After the round, Mize admitted “That’s when the nerves started to kick in.” He pulled a 5-wood on the short par-4 10th into the left rough, but wedged his third to around 12 feet and holed it for a fourth straight birdie.
After teeing off on the par-3 12th, which is located just a few feet from the clubhouse, Mize could not help but notice the nearby electronic scoreboard.
“I knew I was leading by two (actually three) and that was a little surprising.”
Mize had an inkling before seeing the leader board, noting that “On the seventh hole, there were about six people following me. Then I got to 12 and there were 30 or 40 people.”
After letting a birdie opportunity get away on the drivable par-4 13th, Mize gave himself another good birdie look at the 14th and made it to go 6-under for the day and 8-under for the tournament.
By that time, Mize’s lead had reached five shots, and he was four ahead as he stood on the tee at the 17th, the most difficult hole at Idle Hour.
Mize said he “just over-cut” his tee shot, which sailed right into the hazard. The ball clipped some tree branches and bounced around on some rocks in a small stream, forcing him to pitch back to the fairway after taking a penalty stroke. His fourth shot was just a little long, resulting in a touchy downhill chip with little green to work with. He lipped out his putt for double bogey, with the triple bogey dropping him to 5-under, just one ahead of Gann, who birdied the long 15th.
While Mize was playing the par-3 18th, Gann was just behind him in the 17th fairway and encountering problems on the hole comparable to those of Mize minutes earlier. Gann’s second shot was pulled into trees left and short of the green and wound up in bushes near a shelter. He also was forced to take a penalty stroke, and just like Mize before him, wound up with a triple bogey on the hole.
When all the scorecards were added up, Mize had a 4-stroke victory, with Rule, Burton, Statesboro’s Carter Collins and Atlanta’s Will Chandler tying for 2nd at 279. Gann, Matt Mierzejewski and Brad Davis were 6th at 280, with Sepp Straka 9th at 281.
Mize, who plays on the golf team at Columbus State, closed with back-to-back 67s, with his final round the low score of the day.
Rule, who shot 71 the final day, was second at 3-under before taking double-bogey on the 18th. The rising Mercer senior was Player of the Year in the Atlantic Sun conference and was looking to be the second straight college player to win the Georgia Amateur on a course that hosts his college team.
Burton, the teammate of 2013 Georgia Amateur champion Jimmy Beck, who did not defend this title, was 3-over on his final eight holes after a birdie at the 10th put him in second place at 4-under.
Collins, an assistant golf coach at Georgia Southern, closed with a 70 to join the tie for 2nd, with Chandler leading a strong group of junior players in the field. Chandler closed with a 68, capped by a 3-under back nine of 32 on the par-70 layout.
Mierzejewski, a senior on the Georgia Southern golf team from Alpharetta, shot a final round 72 to tie for 6th with Gann and Lawrenceville’s Davis, who closed with a 70. Valdosta’s Straka, a member of the golf team at Georgia, also shot a final round 70 to place 9th.
Duluth’s Charles Huntzinger, the 2014 GSGA Junior champion, and Albany’s Jacob Joiner, a Georgia Tech signee, were 10th at 283. Georgia signee Zach Healy of Peachtree Corners tied for 12th at 284 with Tim Arnoult of Atlanta.
Mize stayed within range of the lead after 36 holes despite three double bogeys, offsetting them with five birdies in each of the first two rounds. He was still 1-over for the tournament midway through the third round when an eagle at 10 and a birdie at 11 kept him within striking distance of the lead.
“This is huge,” Mize said of his victory. “There are so many great champions on the trophy. To win it is amazing.”
Mize spent one resdshirt year at Furman before transferring to his hometown college, and enjoyed a successful second season at Columbus, He won two Fall tournaments, one at the Country Club of Columbus, where he went birdie-eagle-par over the last three holes to win by one.
The other college victory for Mize came when he led by three shots going to the final round. “It’s easier to chase than play with the lead,” he observed.
Going into the final round, Mize said he “never had a number in mind, but 67 is pretty solid.”
Mize very nearly failed to qualify for the Georgia Amateur, losing in a playoff at Savannah Golf Club for the final spot from that qualifier. Mize was 1-under after a birdie at the 16th and well inside the qualifying line, but a triple bogey at the 17th knocked him into a playoff for the last spot at 2-over 72.
“I was a little too upset for the playoff and not totally there,” Mize said.
Mize got his spot in the field when one of the exempt players withdrew, with the second alternate from the Savannah qualifier also getting into the field. Gann, Rule and Chandler were among the eight players who qualified from Savannah, with every player to qualify from that field except the second alternate making the cut.