The 2019 Georgia Amateur returns to Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek for a third time July 11-14, with no clear favorite among the 144-player field.
A strong field of mid-amateurs will be looking to win the event for the first time since Dalton’s David Noll scored his second GSGA Championship title in 2011. But a sizeable contingent of college players will endeavor to continue their dominance of the event, even though many of the state’s most prominent collegians will be playing elsewhere that week.
Georgia Southern’s Steven Fisk, Georgia Tech’s Luke Schniederjans and Georgia’s Spencer Ralston all have top finishes in the Georgia Amateur in recent years, but none is in the field this year. The only recent champions entered are Georgia Southern’s Brett Barron, who won last year at Athens Country Club, and his Georgia Southern teammate Collin Bowles, who defeated Ralston in match play to take the 2016 title at Capital City Club’s Brookhaven course while he was still in high school.
The first time Settindown Creek hosted the Georgia Amateur, soon-to-be Georgia Bulldog Harris English won by a shot over a trio of top mid-amateurs, part of a stretch of four titles in five years for UGA golf team members who went on to become multiple winners on the PGA Tour.
Brian Harman began the run with a hometown win at Savannah Golf Club in 2005, like English winning just prior to entering his freshman year in Athens. After former Bulldog golfer Bill Brown won in 2006, English scored a narrow victory in ’07, followed by back-to-back wins by UGA teammate Russell Henley in 2008 and ’09.
The streak of Bulldog champions began in 2004 when David Denham, a member of the golf team at the time, won at Athens Country Club. But after nine wins by current or former UGA golfers in the 1990s and 2000s, the Bulldogs have been shut out since despite several close calls.
While Georgia has been shut out over the past decade, Georgians who played their college golf at Alabama won the GSGA Championship three times between 2010 and ’15, with Lee Knox winning in 2010 and ’12, the latter at Settindown Creek, and Dru Love scoring a playoff victory in his home town at Sea Island GC in 2015.
With the exception of Noll’s victory at Cherokee Town & CC in 2011, no mid-amateur has won the GSGA Championship since Brown in ’06. Noll, the most frequent contender in the tournament the past two decades, will be in the field along with Denham, who played several years as a pro before regaining his amateur status, and 1999 champion Rick Cloninger, who has returned to Georgia after years of living in South Carolina.
Noll comes into the tournament off his fourth title in the GSGA Mid-Amateur six weeks ago at the River Club in Suwanee, rallying from a 3-stroke deficit with a 68 in the final round. Noll also has a successful history in the Georgia Amateur at at Settindown Creek, tying for fifth behind English in 2007 and finishing as runner-up to Knox in 2012, just one shot out of a playoff, after a strong weekend rally.
Doug Hanzel and Stan Gann, who tied for second in the Mid-Am, have both contended in the Georgia Amateur in recent years, with Denham finishing fifth at the River Club. Denham tied for fourth in last year’s GSGA Championship last year at Athens CC, the site of his 2004 victory. Also tying for fourth at Athens CC last year was Jack Hall, like Hanzel one of the state’s top senior amateurs.
Nick Cassini, a former tour player and ex-UGA golfer, tied for sixth at the River Club along with Billy Mitchell and Taylor Smith. Mitchell was runner-up to Noll at Cherokee n 2011 and Smith has place d in the top 10 in the Georgia Amateur each of the past three years.
Other prominent mid-amateurs in the field include Bob Royak, Chris Waters, John Engler, Tim Arnoult and Matthew Hayes, a Settindown Creek member who won last year’s GSGA Match Play Championship and was a contender in the recent Atlanta Open. Tim Schaetzel, the club champion at Settindown Creek, is also competing.
Barron and Bowles are part of a strong contingent from the 2019 Georgia Southern golf team that qualified for the NCAA Championship.
The hottest player in the field is likely Ben Carr, one of five of Georgia Southern’s top six players this past season who is in the Georgia Amateur field. Carr demolished the field in the recent Southeastern Amateur, played in his home town at CC of Columbus.
Carr shot 19-under 261 to win by 10 strokes, setting a course and tournament record with a 61 in the third round. He followed that up with a fifth place finish in the Rice Planters, a top national amateur event in South Carolina.
Jake Maples, one of Georgia Southern’s starters in the NCAA Championship along with Carr, Barron and Bowles, is also in the Georgia Amateur field, as is Wilson Andress, a starter for most of the season. Barron won last year’s GSGA Championship by four shots, with Bowles still in high school when he won at match play in 2016.
The player who finished as runner-up last year to Barron will be one of the most closely watched players in the field. Alex Ross, who enjoyed a strong sophomore seasons at Davidson, attracted national attention when he shot 57 at Druid Hills GC in the recent Dogwood Invitational.
Four members of the UGA golf team will attempt to win the Georgia Amateur for the first time in a decade. Will Chandler tied for second at Idle Hour in 2013 while in high school and contended again the next year, finishing just two shots out of a playoff at Sea Island GC. Will Kahlstorf, a starter for the Bulldogs this past season, is also in the field along with Tye Waller and Nicolas Cassidy.
Cassidy, who helped lead Johns Creek to three straight high school state championship before graduating early and joining the UGA golf team for the spring season, will be joined in the field by former high school teammate Andy Mao, who will be a freshman this fall on the golf team at Georgia Tech. Mao led Johns Creek to a recent fourth straight state title.
Among the large group of college golfers in the field are the Kennesaw State trio of 2017 Georgia Amateur runner-up Connor Coffee, Brady Keran and Justin Kim, who tied for second in the Atlanta Open at Pinetree. Mercer’s Spencer Ball, who won the 2018 Atlanta Open at Cherokee Town & CC, is also competing along with Augusta’s Alex Shead and Georgia State’s Josh Edgar and Owen Sertl.
Ross and Florida State’s Jonathan Keppler are among the top Georgia golfers playing at colleges out of state.
Mao is among a strong group of golfers yet to enter college, with Bowles, English and Harman all winning the GSGA Championship prior to beginning their college careers. Sam Lape, a Furman signee, was part of the winning team in the GSGA 4-Ball Championship earlier this year, and lost to Hayes in the finals of last year’s Match Play Championship. Brock Hoover (GSGA) and Hogan Ingram (Georgia PGA) won the two recent state junior championships, and Preston Topper, a teammate of Mao and Cassidy at Johns Creek, was a top-10 finisher in last year’s Georgia Amateur.
The 144-player field will take on one of the state’s most challenging courses, with Settindown Creek having previously hosted the Nike Tour Championship, multiple U.S. Open sectional qualifiers, a U.S. Women’s Amateur, a Georgia Open and numerous other top events for the GSGA and Georgia PGA.
The yardage for the tournament is listed at 7,150 yards, about 180 less than its maximum distance.
Settindown Creek is an outstanding Bob Cupp design that will test all aspects of the games of the tournament participants. With four of the longest holes on the back nine not playing from the tips, length will not be an inordinate factor, with the 468-yard sixth the only par 4 longer than 455, and two or three of the par 5s reachable in two.
With some exceptions, Settindown Creek is not an especially tight course off the tee, but there are plenty of opportunities to find trouble, with water hazards in play on 11 holes and OB stakes within reach on several others, along with some penal fescue that is mostly out of play, but will impact a few shots.
Most of the hazards that are in play are in proximity to Settindown Creek’s putting surfaces, and players are likely to face a number of shots in each round to pin positions cut uncomfortably close to red stakes. The greens are expected to be firm and fast for the tournament (weather permitting), and the challenge posed by the excellent putting surfaces are as exacting as the tee to green test Cupp’s layout presents.
The shorter front nine offers some early scoring opportunities, but not without risks. The par 5 opener is a three-shot hole for most, with the putting surface sloping in the direction of the pond fronting the green. The second hole is the shortest par 4 on the course, but water that hugs the left edge of a smallish green is a serious concern.
The fourth is the shortest of the par 5s at 524 yards, but a hazard extends the length of the hole down the left and is in play on both the tee shot and second. The short (137-yard) seventh appears simple, but a small green surrounded by sand and drop-offs along the edges make it a significantly tougher hole than its yardage.
Like the second, the eighth is a short par 4 with water protecting the green, but it will require a precise second to take advantage of its unimposing length.
With a shorter tee in use, the par-5 10th will offer a chance to get home in two, but the water front right of the putting surface the hole shares with the first will present a major risk. Birdie opportunities are in short supply after that on the back nine, which includes a strong group of par 4s, the longest of the par 3s (12) and another par 3 of modest length (17) that features perhaps the most perplexing putting surface on the course, along with greenside bunkers that are not fun to play from.
The downhill par-4 18th starts with one of the more unsettling tee shots at Settindown Creek, with trouble on both sides and a pond fronting a challenging putting surface with some treacherous pin positions.
The winning scores the two previous times Settindown Creek hosted the Georgia Amateur was even par in 2007 and 6-under in 2012. Weather conditions will likely determine whether players can go deeper into red figures this year, but the course has yielded some low scores in recent U.S. Open qualifiers.