May 18th, 2012
By Mike Blum
Standing on the 18th tee in the final round of an American Junior Golf Association tournament last month at Country Club of the South, Lee McCoy was focusing on just finishing strong and securing second place.
McCoy, a Clarkesville resident and U. of Georgia signee for the 2012-13 season, trailed Joshua Martin, who was playing the 17th hole, by four strokes. In a resigned, almost joking manner, he asked someone who was following the scores on-line, “Is there any way I have a shot?”
Bogeys at 15 and 17 and a missed birdie opportunity at 16 had seemingly doomed McCoy’s hopes. He briefly shared the lead on the back nine with Martin, who was 4-under for the day and 6-under for the tournament after playing his first 16 holes without a bogey.
But as McCoy was teeing off on the 18th, Martin was hitting his tee shot on the par-3 17th under the lip of a greenside bunker, leaving himself with no viable option for recovery. He wound up with a triple bogey on the hole, reducing his comfortable four-stroke lead to just a single shot.
Faced with a 20-foot birdie putt on 18, McCoy rolled it in, and watched as Martin missed the 18th green with his approach shot and was unable to save par.
Just like that, what appeared to a third runner-up finish in an AJGA event for McCoy turned out to be his first victory. With scores of 70 and 71, McCoy finished with a 3-under 141 total and a one-stroke margin over Martin, who shot 70-72—142 to take 2nd.
“I was shocked,” McCoy said when he was told that Martin had made triple bogey on the 17th to place the two players in a tie after McCoy’s closing birdie. “He was solid every time I’d seen him today behind me. I was not sure he had made a bogey all day.”
McCoy was accustomed to finishing second in AJGA events, having been the runner-up in two invitational tournaments, the top events on the national tour.
After the unexpected conclusion, McCoy was able to experience the achievement of winning a tournament on the AJGA tour for the first time.
“It feels great,” he said. “It’s great to get it behind me and it gives me some momentum going into the summer.”
McCoy is the only player UGA coach Chris Haack has signed for next season, and will have the chance to break into the lineup as a freshman for the Bulldogs, who don’t have a senior on this season’s roster after losing their top four players from the 2011 squad that lost in the finals of the NCAA Championship.
Although he grew up in the Tampa area, McCoy had his eye on Athens well before he moved to Clarkesville with his parents prior to the start of his senior year in high school. McCoy, who is about to graduate from Habersham Central High School, committed to Georgia as a sophomore in Florida.
“They’ve got a great program,” McCoy said of the Bulldogs. “They’ve got a lot of tour pros who played there, and Coach Haack is a great guy. I’d play for him wherever.”
Haack was on the course during the final round, and got a good look at McCoy’s talent and resilience. Several times during the round, McCoy shrugged off a disappointment, immediately responding with something positive to keep himself in the hunt.
McCoy began the final round tied for 2nd, three strokes off the lead of Brandon Pierce, who opened with a 67. But Pierce played his first four holes in 5-over par and wound up shooting 79, tying for 6th at 146.
Several players, including McCoy, were suddenly thrust into a battle for the lead, and McCoy began his round with five straight pars before bogeying the par-5 sixth hole for a second straight day.
McCoy came right back with a birdie at the par-3 seventh, but gave that shot back when a overly aggressive attempt to make birdie on the ninth resulted in a three-putt bogey. McCoy was three shots back of Martin as he made the turn, but again was able to quickly rebound after suffering a setback.
“I was frustrated,” McCoy said of his play in the opening round. “I had not putted well all week.”
McCoy let a little of that frustration out on the par-5 10th, unleashing a huge drive to give himself an easy opportunity to reach the green in two. He rifled his iron shot within about 15 feet for eagle and holed the putt to vault right back into contention.
Another aggressive tee shot and a short iron to tap in range gave McCoy a birdie at the 14th, but Martin stretched his lead with a pair of birdies on the back nine, while McCoy was struggling a bit on the closing holes.
An errant tee shot on the 15th resulted in a bogey for McCoy, who got a nice break after pulling his attempt at a recovery shot from the woods. His ball somehow managed to avoid several trees left of the gap he was aiming for, ending up in a greenside bunker.
McCoy put his second shot just over the green on the hazardous par-5 16th, but he was left with a very delicate pitch, and was unable to get within birdie range. He again left himself in a tough spot when his tee shot was long on the 17th, and had little chance of saving par.
But he came right back on the 18th, splitting the fairway with his tee shot and giving himself a chance at birdie after a well-placed approach shot to a tough-to-reach pin. That set up a chance to what proved to be the winning birdie putt.
“I made a couple of bogeys down the stretch,” McCoy said. “But I held it together on the last hole.”
Two Atlanta area boys also posted top-10 finishes in the tournament, which was sponsored by Exide Technologies and presented by Mizuno.
Zachary Healy of Norcross tied for 4th at 72-72—144, making a move with three birdies on the back nine the final day.Michael Pisciotta of Alpharetta tied for 7th at 146 with scores of 72-74. Both are sophomores in high school.
Andy Shim of Duluth was T14 at 149, with Chris Guglielmo of Cumming T22 at 152. Guglielmo was in contention after an opening 72, but fell back on the back nine in the final round. Preston Rimer of Johns Creek was 25th at 153.
Three Georgians tied for 3rd in the girls division, including defending champion Mariah Stackhouse of Riverdale. Stackhouse pulled off a huge final round comeback last year, but left herself too far behind last month after an opening 75.
Stackhouse came back with a 71 for a 2-over 146, with her hopes at a repeat victory dashed by two holes. Stackhouse was 3-over on both the 4th and 10th holes, neither among the toughest at Country Club of the South, playing the other 32 holes in 4-under.
Floridian Samantha Wagner, who lost in a playoff last year to Stackhouse, won in impressive fashion this time, finishing five strokes ahead of her closest pursuer with scores of 68-70—138.
Tying for 3rd at 146 along with Stackhouse were Jessica Haigwood of Roswell and Rachel Dai of Milton.
Haigwood, who contended in the tournament last year, was one back of Wagner after an opening 69, which included six birdies. A poor front nine the next day dropped her out of contention, but she held steady on the back nine to remain among the leaders.
Dai was done in by a poor back nine in the opening round. She shot 2-under 34 on her opening nine that day and carded a 70 in the final round, but a 42 coming in the first day knocked her out of contention.
Stackhouse, a senior in high school, is headed to Stanford on a golf scholarship. Haigwood is a junior and Dai is a freshman.
Alpharetta’s Amira Alexander opened with a 73 highlighted by an eagle on the 10th, and wound up 11th at 148. Roswell’sRinko Mitsunaga tied for 12th at 150.