The last three times Athens Country Club hosted the GSGA Championship, the event was won by golfers who were either members of the golf team at UGA or had recently completed their college careers in Athens.
That did not happen Sunday in the 2018 Georgia Amateur, as Georgia Southern golfer Brett Barron captured the title in relatively easy fashion, carding four rounds in the 60s to finish with a 9-under 271 total and a 4-stroke victory, the largest margin in the tournament since former Georgia Bulldog Russell Henley won by eight in 2009.
The Georgia Amateur has typically featured down-to-the wire finishes in the final round, but there was little suspense regarding the outcome Sunday.
Barron took a three-shot lead after 54 holes thanks to a third round 66, and was never threatened the final day, posting a bogey-free 68 to extend his lead. Savannah’s Jack Hall, one of the state’s top senior amateurs, and junior golfer Preston Topper of Johns Creek, began the final round tied for second, but neither player was able to break 70 Sunday.
Hall shot 71 and tied for fourth at 277, while Topper tied for eighth at 279 following a final round 73. Atlanta’s Alex Ross, who plays on the golf team at Davidson, closed with a 68 to tie for second at 275, with Kennesaw State golfer Grant Sutliff also shooting 68 Sunday to place third at 276.
Barron and Sutliff were teammates on Lambert High School’s 2015 state championship team, which featured several other players currently playing in college. Barron has played two seasons at Georgia Southern, starting in all the team’s matches as a freshman and playing in most of the tournaments for the Eagles this past season as a sophomore.
During his sophomore season, Barron broke 70 just once in 23 rounds, shooting a final round 67 the final day in a tournament hosted by Notre Dame. He had five scores of 68 or better as a freshman, including an opening 63 in an event at Furman, where he tied for fifth for his best finish in a team event in his two seasons in Statesboro.
Prior to taking the lead with his third round 66, Barron stayed close to first place after each of the first two rounds. He opened with a 68 to tie for sixth, three shots behind Macon high school golfer Luke Dasher, who recently won the GSGA Junior title.
Barron followed with a 69 the second day to move within two shots of the lead shared by Sutliff and his Kennesaw State teammate Brady Keran of Cumming, along with Augusta’s Jeff Knox, a two-time GSGA Mid-Amateur champion and three-time runner-up in the Georgia Amateur. Sutliff shot a 64 on the par-70 Athens CC layout, with Knox carding a 66 and Keran a 69 after opening with a 66.
Knox (72), Keran and Sutliff (both 73) all shot over par in the third round, enabling Barron to turn a two-stroke deficit after 36 holes into a three-shot lead after 54. Ross, who shot 68 Saturday, and Knox both began the final round four off the lead along with former Georgia Amateur winner David Denham, and former Georgia State golfer Tyler Gruca of Alpharetta.
Gruca moved into contention with a third round 63, the low score for the tournament, and closed with a 71 to tie for sixth at 278 with Park Brady of St. Simons, who played two seasons on the golf team at Presbyterian. Tying for eighth at 279 was Topper, who fell back the final day with a 73, Taylor Smith of Covington, one of the state’s top mid-amateurs, and Ryan Stachler of Alpharetta, who won a Georgia PGA tournament at Berkeley Hills earlier in the week.
Stachler, a member of the golf team at South Carolina who is coming off hip surgery that forced him to sit out his entire junior season with the Gamecocks, and Smith both shot 68 the final day.
First round leader Dasher, who dropped back after a 75 Friday, tied for 11th at 280 with two-time Georgia Amateur champion David Noll of Dalton, Mercer golfer Spencer Ball, a high school teammate of Barron and Sutliff who won the Georgia PGA Yamaha Atlanta Open in June, and Scott O’Dell of Claxton, who plays at Lee University in Tennessee.
After sharing the 36-hole lead, Knox and Keran both tied for 17th at 282.
Since future, current or former Georgia Bulldogs won the state amateur six years in a row from 2004-09, no UGA golfer has won the event, although several have come close. Gainesville’s Spencer Ralston, who lost in the Georgia Amateur match play final in 2016 and is the No. 1 player on the current UGA team, did not play in the GSGA Championship at Athens CC, with most of the state’s top-ranked college players, who attend schools both in and out of state, also not competing this year.
Griffin’s Tye Waller was low among current UGA players in the tournament, shooting 69-68 the last two days to tie for 22nd. Georgia teammate Will Chandler of Atlanta, who contended in the tournament as a high school golfer, shot 69 the final day to tie for 25th at 285.
Denham and Hall, who played at UGA in the late 1970s, were the low players in the field with UGA ties, tying for fourth at 277. Denham won the Georgia Amateur at Athens Country in 2004 following his junior season, and was a member of the Bulldogs’ national championship team in 2005 along with PGA Tour members Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner and Brendon Todd.
The win in ’04 by Denham began a six-year run by future, current or former Bulldogs, with current PGA Tour members Brian Harman and Harris English winning in 2005 and ’07 shortly before beginning their freshman years in Athens.
Former UGA golfer Bill Brown was the champion in between Harman and English, with Henley winning back-to-back in 2008 and ’09.
Barron’s winning score was considerably lower than the previous years Athens CC served as tournament host. Denhan shot 280 to win in 2004, with Paul Claxton finishing first in 1992 with a 279 total en route to his 20 year-career as a member of the Web.com and PGA Tours. The course played as a par 72 that year, but the two holes that have been converted from par 5s to par 4s are essentially the same holes they were then.
Lyn Lott, like Claxton a future PGA Tour player after his days as Bulldog, shot 281 at Athens CC to win in 1972.