The dominant figure in golf in 2015 did some of his best work in Georgia. Thanks to his victories in the Masters and Tour Championship, Jordan Spieth tops Fore Georgia’s list of the top headliners in the state for the past year.
Following is a list of the golfers who made the biggest headlines in Georgia in 2015, beginning with the state’s standout group of tour pros and including Georgia’s top club professionals, current and former amateurs, college players and even a few Peach State residents who enjoyed some rare accomplishments on the golf course.
1 – A Spieth sweep: The 22-year-old Texan swept through the state’s two most prominent events in a manner rarely experienced since the Civil War. First, he set a number of tournament records in a dominant performance in the Masters, the beginning of his march toward an attempt at a Grand Slam that included a title in the U.S. Open, finishing a shot out of a playoff in the British Open and a runner-up showing in the PGA Championship. Spieth closed out the season with another comfortable victory in the Tour Championship at East Lake, clinching the FedExCup title. Including the $10 million bonus, Spieth collected more than $22 million for a season that included five wins and four second place finishes.
2 – Zach a Major player: St. Simons Island resident Zach Johnson collected his second major championship title, winning the British Open in a three-way playoff, with 2015’s dominant duo of Spieth and Jason Day both one shot back. Johnson’s final round 66 at St. Andrews got him into the four-hole playoff, and he dispatched Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman with birdies on the first two extra holes after his eighth birdie of the round on the 72nd hole got him into the playoff. He capped a successful 2015 season with a 3-0-1 record in the Presidents Cup, pairing with Phil Mickelson to go 2-0-1 in team matches before scoring a vital 3&2 singles victory over Day.
3 – Kirk in the clutch: One of Johnson’s Presidents Cup teammates was former St. Simons resident Chris Kirk, who was winless in his two appearances in team play before holing what proved to be the deciding birdie putt on the 18th hole of his match, giving the U.S. a narrow victory. Kirk, a Woodstock native who recently returned to Athens where he starred in college as a Georgia Bulldog, also collected his third win over the past two seasons, edging Spieth and fellow Georgian Jason Bohn by a shot at Colonial. A broken hand suffered shortly after the victory sidelined him for more than two months before his return late in the season.
4 – Kisner coasts to first win: Kirk was not the only member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team to win on the PGA Tour in 2015. After four runner-up finishes earlier in the year, including three valiant efforts that ended in playoffs, Kevin Kisner finally broke through on familiar turf, scoring a runaway six shot victory in the re-named RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club. Kisner was a winner in both his seasons on the Web.com Tour, but did little to distinguish himself in his first three years as a PGA Tour member. That changed with a pair of outstanding showings at Hilton Head and in the Players, where it took exceptional efforts by Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler to deny him. After a third playoff loss in the Greenbrier, Kisner was solo second in the 2015-16 WGC event in China before his win at Sea Island moved him into the top spot in the FedExCup standings at the holiday break.
5 – Love lingers: With his 52nd birthday approaching, Davis Love became the third oldest winner in PGA Tour history, capturing the long-running event in Greensboro for his first tour title in more than seven years. Love shot a final round 64 to best a crowded leader board that included a late entrant into the event who received 99.9 percent of the attention before Love’s dramatic Sunday showing. That was the only real bright spot of the year as a player for Love, who also made news with his selection as U.S. Ryder Cup captain for a second time, as well as his good work as a caddie (see below).
6 – Billy, Billy, Billy: After collecting four victories in his 20-plus seasons on the PGA Tour, Atlanta resident Billy Andrade was without a win since 2000, but almost matched that total on the 2015 Champions Tour. Andrade won three times, including a season-ending victory in the Charles Schwab Cup to finish the year as the tour’s fourth-ranked player. Andrade, in his second season on the tour, also teamed with Joe Durant to win the Legends of Golf and collected his first individual title in Seattle, edging Bernhard Langer by a shot. Andrade took down the tour’s top player for a second time, winning a sudden-death playoff in the Schwab Cup to cap an outstanding season.
7 – No. 1 from nowhere: When Patton Kizzire began 2015, he was 1548th in the world rankings and had made exactly one cut each on the Web.com and PGA Tours since turning pro in 2008. When the former Auburn golfer and St. Simons resident took a much deserved break for the holidays, Kizzire had cracked the top 75 in the rankings after a startlingly successful that spanned both tours. He was the No. 1 player on the Web.com Tour in 2015 by a sizeable margin thanks to two wins, two runner-up showings and nine finishes of sixth or better. After a short break that included his wedding, Kizzire debuted as a PGA Tour member with a tie for second in Las Vegas, and followed with a tie for fourth in Mississippi. Kizzire begins 2016 16th in the FedExCup standings.
8 – Mulligan for Norlander: Former Augusta State star Henrik Norlander earned a second shot at the PGA Tour, winning the first of four Web.com Finals events. Along with Patrick Reed, Norlander was one of the Jaguars’ two aces who led the team to back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2010 and ’11, but the native of Sweden has not enjoyed Reed’s success as a pro. He played on the PGA Tour as a rookie in 2013 and spent the last two seasons on the Web.com Tour, with his 2015 victory in Indiana ensuring him a return to the PGA Tour. Norlander was third on the money list in the four-tournament Web.com Finals, and was joined on the 2015-16 PGA Tour by Roberto Castro and Luke List, who also were among the top 25 money winners in the Finals series.
9 – Ramsey an LPGA rookie: Milledgeville’s Ashlan Ramsey qualified for the 2016 LPGA Tour with a top-10 finish in the finals of qualifying. Ramsey was one of the country’s top juniors and was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for a stretch in 2013 and ’14. She turned pro after playing one season at Clemson, and scored her first professional victory in the 2015 Georgia Women’s Open. Ramsey played about half the 2015 Symetra Tour schedule, and will be among the most closely-watched LPGA rookies in 2016.
10 – 8 is enough: Although he did not win a tournament in 2015, Tim Weinhart captured Georgia PGA Player of the Year honors for a record-breaking eighth time, breaking a tie with Gregg Wolff. Weinhart, who recently moved from the Standard Club to take the position of Director of Instruction at Heritage Club, finished first in the points standings on the strength of a number of top finishes in Section events. He placed second or third in five of the Georgia PGA’s seven points events, twice earning first place points when the only players ahead of him were amateurs or non-Class A PGA members. Weinhart, one of just four active Georgia PGA members to win all four of the Section’s major tournaments, previously earned Player of the Year honors from 2002-05 and 2009-11.
11 – Paolozzi makes history: Druid Hills assistant pro Karen Paolozzi made Georgia PGA history, becoming the first woman to win the Section’s Professional National Championship, the qualifier for the national PGA PNC. Paolozzi also won the Section’s Assistants’ Championship to qualify for nationals, where she tied for 17th. Paolozzi will lead a Georgia PGA contingent into the 2016 PGA PNC at New York’s Turning Stone Resort. Paolozzi also tied for second in the Georgia Women’s Open, an event she won in her first appearance in 2014, and recorded a second straight runner-up finish in the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional tournament, played at the Reunion Resort in Orlando. In six tournament rounds at Brookfield, Laurel Springs and Dunwoody CC, Paolozzi shot par or better six times and was a combined 15-under in the three events.
12 – White a double winner: Amateur Davin White, who completed his college career at Georgia State in 2015, scored consecutive victories in Georgia PGA events this past Summer, taking the Section’s tournament at Berkeley Hills and the Georgia Open. White, a Locust Grove resident, outdueled college teammate Nathan Mallonee at Berkeley Hills with a 12-under total for 36 holes. He then took the Georgia Open at Pinetree by one stroke with a final round 69, highlighted by four birdies on his last five holes, including the last three in a row.
13 — …When I’m 64: Although his Champions Tour is pretty much at an end, 64-year-old James Mason remains a force in Georgia golf, winning five times in 2015 including a victory in the Georgia PGA Championship at Sea Island Golf Club, his fourth career title in the event. Mason shot 6-under 138 in the rain-shortened tournament on the Plantation course, and finished the year third in the GPGA’s Player of the Year standings. Mason also won four times in senior events, including the Georgia Senior Open at the UGA course and the Senior Tour Championship at the Legends at Chateau Elan. At the national level, Mason tied for 11th in the PGA Senior PNC in south Florida after sharing the 36-hole lead. He tied for second in that event late in 2014. Mason will be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in January.
14 – ‘Dogs chase title: The Georgia golf team made a run at a third NCAA Championship since 1999, falling in the semifinals to eventual champion LSU. With a team consisting of five home-grown players in the starting lineup, the Bulldogs tied for third in the stroke play portion of the event after being seeded 26th out of 30 teams that competed in nationals. Led by Clarkesville’s Lee McCoy, a first team All-American, Georgia won its quarterfinal match, but McCoy was the only Bulldog to win against LSU. Georgians Zach Healy, Greyson Sigg and Sam Straka are back in action this season, with Mookie DeMoss the lone loss from the 2014-15 squad. McCoy, a senior, had a memorable 2015, qualifying for the U.S. Open, and representing the U.S. in the Pan-Am Games and Walker Cup.
15 – We are the champions: While the Bulldogs fell short in their attempt to win the NCAA title, the state had its share of national champions. The lone team champion was Coastal Georgia, which repeated its NAIA title. The team included three Georgians – Hunter Cornelius of Ringgold, Allen Bradford of Elberton and Trevor Smith of Newnan, with Cornelius tying for fourth individually. Jonesboro’s Mariah Stackhouse led Stanford to the NCAA women’s title, rallying from 2-down with two holes to play in the championship anchor match to win on the 19th hole, giving Stanford a 3-2 victory over Baylor. She birdied the 17th and 18th holes to extend the match, which she won with a par on the first extra hole. Dalton State had both individual champions in NCAA Division II – Sean Elliott and Julia McQuilken, who won by eight and four strokes respectively.
16 – Playing for pay: After a busy and successful conclusion to his amateur career, recent Georgia Tech standout Ollie Schniederjans turned pro and will be a rookie on the 2016 Web.com Tour. Schniederjans, who had a somewhat disappointing senior season, joined Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as the only amateurs in the past 50 years to make the cut in both the U.S. and British Opens, ended his amateur career with a tie for 12th at St. Andrews. In his first two PGA Tour starts as a pro, Schniederjans tied for 22nd in the Canadian Open and for 15th at Congressional, but missed by the narrowest of margins of earning enough FedExCup points to get into the Web.com Finals and have a shot at a spot on the 2016 PGA Tour. Schniederjans, who grew up in Powder Springs and is living in Alpharetta, had a top-10 finish in qualifying for the 2016 Web.com Tour, and will also play some on the PGA Tour, where he made three straight cuts in early events on the 2015-16 schedule. He will be joined on the Web.com Tour by Tech teammate Anders Albertson of Woodstock.
17 – New Love: About a month before his father won in Greensboro, Dru Love captured the Georgia Amateur on Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside course with Davis serving as his caddie. It took Love, a member of the golf team at Alabama, five playoff holes to take the title over fellow collegians Sigg and Elliott. He became the second straight son of a famous golfer to win the Georgia Amateur, joining 2014 champion Robert Mize, son of Larry Mize.
18 — USGA Champion: Roswell’s Rinko Mitsunaga, a freshman on the Georgia women’s golf team, was half of the winning team in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Four-Ball championship, pairing with California teen Mika Liu to win 4&3 in the finals at Bandon Dunes Resort in the finals over two other teen-agers. The highlight of the match was a hole-out for eagle on the par-5 12th by Mitsunaga that gave the winning team a 4-up lead. Mitsunaga is a freshman on the UGA women’s golf team, and along with fellow freshman Bailey Tardy of Peachtree Corners, is helping the Lady Bulldogs return to national prominence after a stretch of lean seasons.
19 – No repeat for Shirley: East Cobb native Margaret Shirley reached the finals of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship for the third straight year, but lost in the finals for the second time, dropping a 2&1 decision in the title match in Louisiana. Shirley, the Executive Director of Atlanta Junior Golf, won the tournament in 2014. A victory would have given Shirley two USGA titles in a month, as she teamed with Lauren Lightfritz and Emilie Meason to win the USGA Women’s State Team Championship in Missouri, Georgia’s third victory in its last four tries in the event and fourth triumph overall.
20 – Four for the record books: The last four months of 2015 produced four amazing golf feats by four Georgians ranging from Augusta to Valdosta to two courses on the southern and northern tips of metro Atlanta. On Sept. 21, Augusta’s Roger Tant shot a 58 at Green Meadows Meadow Country, with the 64-year-old Tant beating his age by six shots. On Oct. 15, Newnan’s Michael Bugden scored a double eagle on the par-5 10th hole on the Seminole course at White Oak after having to replace his golf shoes earlier in the round when the soles of both became detached on different holes. On Nov. 1, Rob Elder scored holes in one on consecutive par 3s at Stone Creek in Valdosta, a 57 million to 1 pair of shots. The aces came on the fifth and eighth holes. On Dec. 15, Karen Barber aced the 14th hole at Fairways of Canton, in and of itself not that unusual a feat. What made her shot so memorable was that her husband Ron Barber also aced that hole exactly one year to the day prior to his wife’s hole-in-one – Dec. 15, 2014.