Golf news from tournaments around the state, including two items from Georgia’s most famous golf course in Augusta:
BHATIA EDGES THOMPSOM IN JONES CUP PLAYOFF
Akshay Bhatia, the 2018 American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year, won the Jones Cup at Sea Island’s Ocean Forest GC this past weekend, taking a playoff over St. Simons resident and UGA golfer Davis Thompson.
The scheduled final round of the tournament was rained out Sunday, with Bhatia and Thompson tied after Saturday’s second round at 2-under 142. The playoff Sunday lasted only one hole, with Thompson taking bogey after driving into a water hazard left of the first fairway. Bhatia won the playoff with a par.
Bhatia, who lives in Wake Forest, N.C., won four of the top junior events in the U.S. in 2018 – the Rolex Tournament of Champions, the Polo Classic, Junior PGA Championship and the Sage Valley Invitational. He was the only junior golfer invited to participate in a practice session for potential members of the 2019 U.S. Walker Cup team.
With the victory, Bhatia earns a spot in the 2019 RSM Classic at Sea Island GC. Had Thompson won, he would have gotten a spot in the PGA Tour event played on St. Simons Island. Thompson is the son of Todd Thompson, a former UGA golfer and the Tournament Director for the RSM Classic.
Both Bhatia and Thompson shot 72-70 to tie for first, one stroke ahead of Ohio State golfer Will Grimmer and England’s Alex Fitzpatrick, a freshman at Wake Forest. Grimmer led after an opening 68, but shot 75 the next day, with his fifth bogey of the round at the par-3 17th denying him a spot in the playoff.
Fitzpatrick carded six birdies in his final round, including three in a row at holes 14, 15 and 16, but also bogeyed the 17th for a 69 and a 143 total.
Bhatia took the lead on the back nine Saturday with birdies at 14 and 16, but bogeyed the 18th to end up tied with Thompson, with both players beginning what turned out to be the final round four shots behind Grimmer.
Thompson took the tournament lead midway through the final round, playing the front nine in 3-under 33 with a trio of birdies. But he carded eight pars on the back nine Saturday along with a bogey on the par-4 11th hole. Bhatia held the lead late in the round until his bogey at the 18th.
Alpharetta’s Chandler Eaton, a member of the golf team at Duke, tied for fifth at even par 144 with scores of 73 and 71. Gainesville’s Spencer Ralston, Thompson’s teammate at Georgia, shot 75-71 to take eighth at 146, with Atlanta’s Keller Harper, who plays in college at Furman, tying for ninth at 147 after closing with a 70.
Jake Fendt of Kennesaw State, who played in high school at Lambert in Forsyth County, tied for 20th at 150.
AUGUSTA NATIONALWOMEN’S INVITATIONAL SET FOR APRIL
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur will be played for the first time this year, with 72 of the top amateurs in women’s golf competing in the inaugural event.
The tournament will be played in early April, with the first two rounds scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday (April 3-4) the week before the Masters at Champions Retreat in Evans, a suburb of Augusta.
The top 30 after 36 holes will compete in the final round on Saturday (April 6) at Augusta National, and will be broadcast on NBC. The 30 players who make the cut will play a practice round at Augusta National on Friday.
The field will feature a mix of both American and international players. Among those who will compete are Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest, the top-ranked player in the Women’s World Amateur Rankings, and Andrea Lee of Stanford, No. 5 in the rankings. Lee was ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division 1 after the Fall season by Golfstat, with No. 2 Dylan Kim of Arkansas also in the ANWA field, as is Sierra Brooks of Florida.
16-year-old Californian Lucy Li, who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 11 and is a top-10 player in the women’s amateur rankings, is also in the field.
The lone Georgian among the 72 players competing is Atlanta’s Amanda Doherty, a junior at Florida State. Doherty, a three-year starter, was an honorable mention All-America selection as a sophomore. She won the GSGA Women’s Top 60 event last Summer at the Manor and recently captured the South Atlantic Amateur in Ormond Beach, Fla.
The Augusta National Women’s Amateur will be played opposite the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA major formerly known as the Dinah Shore. That tournament annually invites about a half dozen amateurs and will have four of the top 11 in the women’s amateur rankings in its field – three college golfers and one of the top juniors in the U.S.
The Saturday broadcast of the ANWA will precede Golf Channel’s coverage of the ANA Inspiration, and there is some concern that the new event could draw some attention from the LPGA major, the women’s equivalent to the Masters.
The first two rounds of the ANWA will be played over the Island and Bluff nines at Champions Retreat, a 27-hole private club that features nines designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The Bluff nine (Palmer) will be the opening nine and features several holes constructed on an island between the Savannah and Little Rivers in a gorgeous, coastal setting.
The Bluff nine (Nicklaus) features the most rolling terrain on the property, with a variety of holes mixing uphill and downhill shots, along with doglegs turning right and left. The nine is the tightest of the three and also features the most undulating putting surfaces. It concludes with a dramatic par-5 18th that proved to be the pivotal hole in the 2007 Georgia Open, when young tour pro Luke List, who recently moved to Augusta, hit his second shot in the water to lose by a shot to club professional Jeff Hull.
The Island/Bluff nines measure 6,282 yards from the member tees, but are listed on the ANWA web site as playing 6,435 yards for the tournament. Augusta National plays 6,365 yards from the member tees. This will be the first women’s tournament for Augusta National, which was scheduled to be the site of men’s and women’s golf in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics before local and international politics killed the attempt to add golf to the Games that year.
AUGUSTA NATIONAL LENGTHENS FIFTH HOLE FOR MASTERS
After extensive changes to Augusta National over the past two decades, the first major lengthening of a hole since 2010 has been announced prior to the 2019 Masters.
The fifth hole has added 40 yards since last year’s tournament, and will now measure 495 yards, 40 yards longer than its traditional length.
The change was made by moving the tee back 40 yards, across what used to be Berckmans Rd, which bordered the course on its west side behind the fourth green and fifth tee. Some dense foliage and a fence separated the course from the road, but Augusta National purchased the land on the opposite side of Berckmans Rd. and re-routed it, creating additional space for the new tee.
With the construction of a new tee, there will be more room for spectators behind the fourth green and around the fifth tee.
From a players’ standpoint, the change will make one of the tougher holes at Augusta National even more difficult. The hole was the sixth most difficult on the course last year, playing to an average of 4.16. Over the history of the tournament, it is the fifth most difficult hole in the Masters.
The lengthening of the hole will now require an uphill carry of 313 yards to clear the deep pair of fairway bunkers down the left side of the fairway. The uphill nature of the tee shot will now likely leave the shorter hitters in the field with approach shots in excess of 200 yards.
With the change, Augusta National will now measure 7,475 yards, up from 7,435 after the first tee was reduced several years ago from 455 to 445 to create more space behind the tee. Other than the 350-yard third hole, which has been shortened a bit over the years, the par 4s on the course now average 466 yards, with the 14th and 17th holes the next shortest at 440 yards each.
The next (and possibly final) change to Augusta National’s layout will be the lengthening of the par-5 13th hole. Augusta National purchased land behind the 12th and 13th holes from the adjoining Augusta Country Club, which required significant alterations to two holes at ACC. Augusta National’s 13th remains at 510 yards, with the additional yardage expected to be added in the near future increasing the course’s total to around 7,500.