When Bobby Jones won the inaugural Georgia Amateur in 1916, the legendary golfer was just 14 years old.
When the Georgia State Golf Association celebrated the 100th anniversary of the playing of its championship event, the winner was the youngest player since Jones to capture the title.
Colin Bowles, a 16-year-old from Albany who has lived in the state for only about a year, defeated fellow teenager Spencer Ralston of Gainesville 1-up in the finals at Capital City Club, the course that hosted the first Georgia Amateur 100 years ago.
Bowles moved to Albany when his father acquired River Pointe Golf Club, and was not well known in Georgia amateur circles prior to his victory, unlike Ralston, who has been one of the state’s top junior golfers for several years and is headed to the U. of Georgia this Fall on a golf scholarship.
Ralston was looking to repeat the accomplishments of current PGA Tour members Brian Harman and Harris English, who both won the Georgia Amateur shortly before beginning their college careers in Athens. He appeared to be closing in on a victory when he took a 3-up lead in the title match after 10 holes, but Bowles won four of the next five holes, one with an eagle and the last two with birdies, to take a 1-up lead with three holes to play.
A birdie at the par-5 16th by Ralston squared the match, but the future Bulldog hit his tee shot on the par-3 17th into the water to lose the hole, and made bogey at the 18th, with Bowles also taking bogey for a half and a 1-up victory.
Until he made bogey at the par-3 11th, Ralston was in control of the match, winning holes 2 and 8 with birdies and going 3-up when Bowles bogeyed the par-4 10th. At that point, Ralston was 3-under for the match, also making birdie on the par-5 fourth. But Ralston had three bogeys and a double bogey over the final eight holes, while Bowles played some outstanding golf down the stretch after hitting his tee shot on the par-4 10th into the water.
After Ralston suffered his first bogey of the day at the 11th, an eagle by Bowles at the par-5 12th cut Ralston’s lead to one hole. Bowles pulled even when he hit the flagstick with his second shot to the par-4 14th and made birdie, and took the lead when he again hit his approach close on the par-4 15th for another birdie.
Ralston’s birdie at the 16th squared the match for the last time before his double bogey-bogey finish decided the outcome.
Bowles came to Georgia from West Virginia, when he made some national news last year by shooting 56 on his home course, beating his previous best score of 58 on the course, which was operated by his father.
The 2016 Georgia Amateur was Bowles’ first in the GSGA’s championship event, and he announced his presence with a 66 in the first round of stroke play qualifying, played at Capital City Club’s Crabapple course. Bowles shot 72 the next day to tie for seventh in qualifying, and was seeded 10th for match play, which was played at Capital City Club’s Brookhaven course.
To celebrate the tournament’s 100th anniversary, the GSGA concluded the event with match play for the first time since 1963. Match play decided the championship from 1916 to 1959 before stroke play was used from 1960-62. After a one-year return to match play in ’63, the tournament returned to stroke play in 1964 until last year.
Bowles won seven holes, four with birdies, to take his opening match 3&2 over Dacula’s Trey Pearson, and won five straight holes on the back nine that afternoon, four with birdies, to erase an early 2-up deficit and defeat 2013 GSGA Mid-Amateur champion Cameron Hooper of Atlanta, the seventh seed, 4&3.
In the quarterfinals, Bowles was 2-up against Roswell mid-amateur Tim Arnoult after an eagle at the fifth before Arnoult pulled even with birdies at 6 and 11. Bowles won the next two holes, taking the 12th with a birdie, before closing out the match 3&2 with a birdie at the 16th.
Bowles faced another reinstated amateur in the semifinals that afternoon, defeating former Georgia Tech golfer Kris Mikkelsen 2-up in a match that was halted by weather before resuming the next morning. Bowles won the par-3 13th with a bogey to go 3-up before the match was postponed, and Mikkelsen cut his deficit to one hole the next morning when Bowles double bogeyed the 15th and bogeyed the 17th before ending the match with a winning par at the 18th.
Georgia State golfer Sean Murphy of Decatur was the qualifying medalist at 68-66–134, one shot ahead of Steven Fisk of Stockbridge, who plays at Georgia Southern. Fisk shot 63 the first day. Albany’s Tyler Joiner, who plays at Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State signee Benjamin Shipp of Duluth tied for third at 136, with defending champion Dru Love, who plays at Alabama, and former GSGA Match Play and Public Links champion Chris Waters fifth at 137.
Bowles, Ralston, Hooper and 2015 GSGA Junior champion S.M. Lee all tied for seventh at 137.
Almost all the top seeds won in the first round, with Murphy and Lee the only top 10 seeds losing their openers. Murphy lost 2&1 to Brandon Price of Talking Rock, one of nine players to survive a 12-man playoff to get into the match play field.
Among the nine to survive was 2004 Georgia Amateur champion David Denham of Tifton, a member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team and a recently reinstated amateur. Georgia Tech golfer Michael Hines of Acworth and Georgia State golfer Nickolaus Budd of Woodstock also advanced, while two-time Georgia Amateur champion David Noll of Dalton and recent Dogwood Invitational winner Charles Huntzinger of Duluth, who plays at Penn State, were among the three who were eliminated.
Budd won his first match 3&2 over the eighth-seeded Lee, winning six of the last nine holes after trailing 3-down after seven. Ralston defeated Hines 4&2 with seven birdies and Shipp, the fourth seed, won three of the first four holes to eliminate Denham 4&3.
In other notable first round matches:
Georgia State golfer Nathan Mallonee of Lexington defeated recent GSGA Mid-Amateur champion John Engler of Augusta 4&3, holding off an Engler comeback after leading 5-up after eight. Georgia Tech signee Luke Schniederjans of Powder Springs knocked out 2014 Georgia Amateur champion Robert Mize of Columbus 4&3, carding five birdies to win a match that was all square after nine. Hooper was all square after 15 against David Sullivan of Woodstock before birdies at 16 and 17 gave him a 2&1 victory.
In the tightest matches of the second round, Ralston got past Budd, Arnoult defeated Fisk and Love edged Mallonee , all by scores of 1-up.
Trailing 2-down after 12, Fisk birdied 13 and 16 to pull even, but Arnoult won 18 and the match with a par. Ralston took a back-and-forth match, with only five holes halved, playing the last five holes in 2-under to win. Love was 4-up after eight before Mallonee won four of the next seven to close to within one hole, carding five birdies in an 8-hole stretch. Love held on, halving the last three holes with par.
Schniederjans birdied three of the first four holes and led 4-up after four, closing out his match with three straight birdies to defeat Shipp 5&4. Mikkelsen was 4-up after six with four birdies and won 5&3 against Waters. Joiner was all square after 11 holes before scoring a 3&1 victory over Taylor Smith of Covington, and Atlanta’s Chris Harris won by the same score over Price.
The quarterfinals featured the only match of the tournament to go extra holes, with Schniederjans scoring his seventh birdie of the match on the first playoff hole to knock out defending champion Love, who trailed by two holes with three to play. Mikkelsen won 5&4 against Joiner in a match of former and current Yellow Jackets, winning five of the last six holes, four with birdies.
Ralston reached the semifinals with a 3&2 decision over Harris after leading 4-up after 10. Ralston got past future college rival Schniederjans 3&1in the semis, leading 2-up after 15 when play was postponed. Schniederjans led 1-up after 10, but Ralston eagled the 12th and won the next two holes to pull ahead before play was stopped. He closed out the match with a par at 17.