The Legends at Chateau Elan hosted the Georgia Open for a second straight year, and once again proved to be a demanding test for the field of mini-tour pros, club professionals and amateurs, with one notable exception.
Jonathan Fricke defended his 2012 title with an impressive four-day performance, joining a group that includes a trio of players who won the event while playing on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Fricke scored a narrow victory last year, winning by just one shot over Matt Nagy. He repeated as champion of the Tilted Kilt Georgia Open in considerably more convincing fashion, finishing seven shots ahead a trio of pros, all mini-tour players, as is Fricke.
After posting a 5-under 283 total last year. Fricke was 11-under for 72 holes in his title defense, taking the outright lead in the third round and pulling away the final day.
The top 10 finishers are all tour pros, with Tim Weinhart the low finisher among the Georgia PGA competitors, placing 11th at 294. Tyler Mitchell of Chatsworth was low amateur, tying for 14th at 296.
The first two rounds belonged to Fricke and Matt Hughes, who led Fricke by one after an opening 68. Fricke followed with a second straight 69 to tie Hughes at 138 after 36 holes. A third round 70 gave Fricke a 3-shot advantage going to the final round, and he was one of just four players to shoot in the 60s, closing with a 69 to win going away.
Fricke, a Snellville native who lives in Covington, has been a familiar figure on the Georgia golf scene for the past decade. He contended in the Georgia Amateur in 2002 while a member of the Georgia State golf team, and has played professionally since 2004. He has enjoyed most of his success on the North Carolina-based Tar Heel (now eGolf) Tour, and played two seasons on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour in 2008-09.
Prior to his victory at The Legends, Fricke’s best showing of 2013 was a tie for 3rd in an eGolf event in High Point, N.C. He has played in a number of Monday qualifiers for Web.com events, coming close to playing his way into several tournaments, including a recent one in Utah when a 66 wasn’t good enough to earn one of 12 qualifying spots.
Fricke will go through Q-school again later this year, even though it will only qualify players for the Web.com Tour in 2014. He made it to the finals in 2007, earning his Nationwide Tour spot for 2008, and hopes to repeat that effort this Fall.
Four strong rounds at The Legends, which hosted the Georgia Open for the fifth time since 2002, gave Fricke a confidence boost he hopes will carry over to upcoming tournaments.
“That was a lot of good stuff, a lot of positives,” Fricke said of his play throughout the tournament.
“I set some goals this week, and one of them was to execute each shot the best I could. For four days I did that, even on the back nine today (with a big lead). I’m proud of that.”
Fricke was three ahead of Warner Robins’ Chris Wolfe, a former Armstrong Atlantic golfer who plays on the NGA (formerly Hooters) Tour. When Fricke birdied the second hole and Wolfe bogeyed, the lead was five, and no one got closer than that all day.
“I focused on what I could control and that really helped all four days,” Fricke said.
Of his game, Fricke said “everything was working. I drove the ball beautifully. Yesterday, I did not hit my irons that well, but I had some incredible up and downs.”
Fricke cited his lag putting as a key to his final round 69, with only one slip, a three-putt on the sixth. Fricke hit it close for birdies on holes 2 and 4, and reached a pair of par 5s (10 and 14) in two for his other birdies, rarely having to deal with testy par putts.
Winning the Georgia Open “is an absolute honor,” Fricke said. “I look at that trophy and see all the great names on it. To win it two times in a row is pretty awesome.”
Previous back-to-back winners include DeWitt Weaver (1972-73), Tim Simpson (1980-81), Gene Sauers (1985-86) and Stephen Keppler (1994-95), with Dicky Thompson (1998-99) the most recent player to accomplish the feat.
Fricke had just five bogeys in 72 holes, none in his opening 69. Hughes, a Dalton resident who played his college golf at Alabama, did not make a bogey in either of his first two rounds, but fell five behind Fricke when he shot 3-over on the back nine in the third round. He was 4-over after five holes the final day before birdies at 14, 15 and 16 gave him a 73 and 7th place at 286.
Tying for 2nd with Wolfe at 284 were Atlanta’s Jordan Mitchell and Brett Witcher. Mitchell’s 68 was low the final round and included an eagle on the par-5 fifth after he started 3-over after three holes. He made a run at solo 2nd with six birdies in a 7-hole stretch beginning at the 9th. Witcher, who played on the Web.com Tour last year, shot a final round 69, including birdies at 16 and 17 to get into the tie for 2nd.
Wolfe moved into 2nd with a third round 69, but five bogeys the final day offset four birdies, with his bogey at the 18th enabling Mitchell and Witcher to tie him. The three runners-up took home $3,167 each. Fricke’s winner’s check was $7,500.
Former Georgia Tech golfer Kyle Scott of Decatur and Duluth’s Eddie Lee tied for 5th at 285. Scott shot 69-68 the second and third rounds to get into the final group in the fourth round, but struggled to hit fairways and settled for a 73. It was the second straight strong showing in the tournament for Lee, who was 3rd last year. Wolfe tied for 8th last year.
Jay McLuen of Forsyth, the 2011 champion, shot a final round 69 to tie for 8th with Cochran’s Joe Young, who tied for 5th last year. McLuen was 6th in 2012. Recent Kennesaw State standout Nagy was 10th at 289 after his 2nd place showing last year.
Weinhart, who won the Georgia Open at The Legends in 2004, edged Sonny Skinner by one shot to take first place points among the Georgia PGA members. Weinhart, an instructor with the Nuclear Golf program based at the Standard Club, shot around par in each round, but did not break 72 in the tournament.
Skinner had the club pro lead before a final round 76 dropped him into a tie for 12th at 293 with 2010 Georgia Open champion Samuel Del Val.
Tying low amateur Tyler Mitchell for 13th at 294 was 2012 Big Break Greenbrier winner Mark Silvers of Savannah, who has made two recent PGA Tour appearances.
Brookstone instructor Craig Stevens was 3rd among the club pros and tied for 16th at 295. Stevens was among the leaders after 36 holes, shooting a second round 69 for a 143 total, but closed with scores of 77-75.