The first Georgia PGA points event of 2019 introduced a few new names to the list of tournament contenders from the Section, while marking the return of the state’s most successful club pro over the past 15 years to a prominent position on a leader board.
Matt Elliott, who joined the Georgia PGA after completing his college career at North Georgia, collected his first tournament victory, winning the Milton Martin Honda Classic by one shot Tuesday at Chattahoochee Golf Club.
Elliott, an assistant at Achasta GC in Dahlonega, posted back-to-back scores of 67 for a 10-under 134 total. Tying for second at 135 was Ansley GC assistant Jacob Tilton and veteran Georgia PGA member Tim Weinhart, the Director of Instruction at Heritage Golf Links.
Tilton, who shared the first round lead with Elliott, played in the last group of Tuesday’s second round, with all the members of the final foursome shooting 67 the day before. Tilton shot 68 Tuesday to tie Weinhart at 135. It was Weinhart’s best finish in a points event since his victory in the 2017 Georgia PGA Championship.
Weinhart, a nine-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year, last earned that title in 2016, narrowly losing out in his effort to win it for a 10th time in 2017. He slipped to ninth place last year, but is back on top after closing with an 8-under 64 at Chattahoochee. With Elliott not yet a PGA Class A member, he is not eligible to compete for Player of the Year, and Weinhart and Tilton both earned 1,050 points to share the early season lead.
Elliott has appeared in only a handful of Section events since becoming an assistant at Achasta last year, but after his play earlier this week at Chattahoochee, should be a more frequent contender in events he is eligible to participate in. He made only one bogey over 36 holes, that coming early in his round Monday, which utilized a shotgun start.
The four players who shot 67 the first day – Elliott, Tilton, Georgia PGA veteran Sonny Skinner and amateur Chad Thomas – all took a while to get going in the final round, with a birdie by Tilton at the par-3 fifth the only one for the foursome over the first six holes.
Elliott, who began his round with six straight pars, hit his second shot stiff on the par-4 seventh for his first birdie of the day, matching Tilton, who bombed his drive and holed a 10-footer for his second birdie in three holes. Both players reached the par-5 eighth in two and made birdie, with Elliott pulling into a tie with his third straight birdie at the par-4 ninth, holing a putt in the 10-foot range.
Another precise short iron at the par-4 10th produced a fourth consecutive birdie for Elliott and gave him the outright lead for the first time. He never relinquished it, as he and Tilton matched scores over the final eight holes. Their only birdies during that stretch came on the par-5 13th, when both again reached the green in two.
Tilton had a few chances to pull even, but missed excellent birdie putts at 14 and 15, the latter after having an iron for his second shot on the par 5 but missing the green.
Elliott’s only slip over the final eight holes was a slightly errant tee shot on the par-4 11th, which resulted in a missed green. But he saved par with a deft chip and never gave Tilton another opening.
After attending school and now working in nearby Dahlonega, Elliott was familiar with the layout at Chattahoochee, and said “I like playing over here.” He notched 11 birdies against just one bogey over 36 holes, and played fairways and greens golf throughout the second round while protecting a slim lead for almost the entire back nine.
“I hit a lot of greens,” Elliott said of his play for the two rounds. “I probably missed only two or three. I gave myself a lot of looks and missed in the right spots.”
Elliott is a native of North Carolina and wound up at North Georgia after fellow conference member UNC Pembroke dropped its golf program while he was on the team there. He enjoyed some success during his time at North Georgia, winning the conference championship in 2017, and also worked at Achasta part time before joining the staff as an assistant pro following his graduation last year.
Tilton has been one of the top players in the Assistants’ Division the past few years, with his best showing in a Section points coming at Rivermont in 2017, where he tied for third. That was the last time Rivermont hosted its own Georgia PGA tournament, with the event at Chattahoochee replacing it on the schedule.
The rangy Tilton is one of the longest hitters in the Georgia PGA Section, but kept his driver in the bag for much of the day Tuesday, especially on Chattahoochee’s shorter par 4s. He played well enough tee to green to win, but was unable to convert on a number of excellent birdie opportunities, including one at the 18th that would have forced a playoff.
For most of the day, the battle for first place was limited to three players in the final group, with Skinner hanging close to his much younger playing partners until late in the round.
Skinner played in the tournament after failing to qualify for the PGA Senior Championship, which is being played this week at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. Fellow Georgia PGA members James Mason and Paul Claxton are playing in that event, which resulted in Claxton being unable to defend his title at Chattahoochee after winning the inaugural Milton Martin Honda Classic last year. Skinner was an alternate for the PGA Senior, but did not expect to get into the field as he left Chattahoochee for the long drive home to south Georgia.
Birdies at holes 8, 10 and 13 kept Skinner close to Elliott’s lead, but he missed the green long at the par-4 16th for his only bogey of the day, and needed a par save at the 18th to tie for fourth at 137 with Capital City Club assistant J.P. Griffin, who had seven birdies on his scorecard Tuesday for a 67.
Elliott did not know about Weinhart’s final round 64 until he was on the 18th tee, but was unfazed by the news, hitting his tee shot down the middle and giving himself a decent look at what would have been a clinching birdie.
Weinhart began 2019 by teaming with Woodmont pro Corey Evans to win the Pro-Pro Scramble in March at the Standard Club, but after a trip to Australia for an in-law’s wedding and some long days teaching, his game was not in tournament condition when he lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship or played poorly in a U.S. Open qualifier at Marietta CC.
After a 1-under 71 in the opening round, Weinhart was four shots off the lead, and lost ground after making the turn Tuesday in 2-under. He birdied six of the nine holes on Chattahoochee’s back nine, with his only pars coming on the two par 5s and the difficult 16th. Of Weinhart’s 11 birdies in the tournament, none came on Chattahoochee’s par 5s, with most of the 11 the result of some excellent approach shots.
Weinhart turns 50 in July, which will add to the Georgia PGA’s deep and talented group of players eligible to compete at the senior level.
Elliott collected $1,800 for his victory, with Tilton and Weinhart taking home $1,150 for their second place tie. Cherokee Town & CC assistant Anthony Cordes was sixth at 139 behind Skinner and Griffin, with Chris Shircliff of the Standard Club tying for seventh with a pair of amateurs at 140.
Sharing low amateur honors were Thomas and Brandon Cho. Thomas shot 67-73, while Cho carded a pair of 70s. Thomas, who plays out of West Pines in Douglasville, played in the final group Tuesday, and acquitted himself capably apart from two miss-steps on the greens. He four-putted the opening hole for a double bogey and three-putted from close range for bogey at the 11th. He earned his share of the low amateur award with three birdies over his final five holes.
Cho, who plays out of Hamilton Mill, was the GSGA Junior champion in 2017 and runner-up last year. Like Thomas, his second round got off to a shaky start when he made triple bogey on Chattahoochee’s opening hole, but he was 5-under the rest of the day with no bogeys.
Scotty Scott was third among the amateurs at 141, tying for 10th overall with Georgia PGA members Peter Jones, Luke James, Greg Edwards, David Potts and Craig Stevens.