A strong field of college golfers from Georgia will be looking to claim a title in the 2018 Dogwood Invitational, which will be played June 6-9, about a month earlier than the tournament has been scheduled in recent years.
The Dogwood, which is again being played at Druid Hills GC, is one of two events that will start the national amateur summer schedule, along with the annual tournament at Palmetto GC in Aiken, S.C. The Southeastern Amateur at Country Club of Columbus will be played June 13-16 along with two other long-time events in the Northeast.
Entered in the Dogwood are many of the top players from Division 1 schools all over the South, with Georgia’s colleges well-represented.
Leading the way is Georgia Tech’s Luke Schniederjans of Powder Springs, who was runner-up in the Dogwood last year behind Lloyd Jefferson Go, who will return this year to defend his title.
Go, a native of the Philippines who has completed his college career at Seton Hall, shot 21-under 267 with a final round 66 to edge Schniederjans by one shot. The two players staged an exciting final round battle last year, with Schniederjans matching Go’s final round 66. Go began the final round in a 3-way tie for the lead with Schniederjans one shot back, but the two separated themselves from the other contenders with stretches of outstanding play on the closing holes of the front line.
Schniederjans took the lead when he went birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle on holes 6 through 9, moving past Go who birdies holes 7, 8 and 9 in succession. Go quickly regained the lead when Schniederjans bogeyed the 10th and Go holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 11th.
Another torrid stretch of golf enabled Schniederjans to again take the lead when he birdied the 13th, eagled the 14th and birdied the 16th, but Go stayed close with birdies at 14 and 15. The deciding hole turned out to be the par-3 17th, as Go made birdie after Schniederjans bogeyed to lose the outright lead.
The runner-up finish by Schniederjans matched the second place finish of his older brother Ollie in 2013. Luke also tied for 10th in 2016 shortly before beginning his freshman season at Georgia Tech.
Joining Schniederjans in the field are his Georgia Tech teammates Andy Ogletree and James Clark of Columbus, who redshirted this past season. Ogletree tied for ninth in the Dogwood in 2017.
Leading the UGA contingent in the field is Spencer Ralston of Gainesville, who has been a factor in the tournament each of the last two years. Ralston tied for eighth in 2016 just before enrolling in Athens, shooting 65 in the final round and finishing the tournament with 25 birdies. Ralston was only one shot off the lead after 54 holes last year, but shot 76 in the final round and fell into a tie for 17th.
Other UGA golfers in the field are Atlanta’s Will Chandler and Jack Larkin, Zach Healy of Peachtree Corners, Davis Thompson of St. Simons and Trevor Phillips.
Steven Fisk of Georgia Southern heads the state college contingent from schools other than Georgia and Georgia Tech. Fisk, from Stockbridge, tied for third in the Dogwood last year, a week after placing solo third in the Southeastern Am in Columbus. Coming into the NCAA Regionals, Fisk was ranked 22nd nationally by Golfstat, the highest ranking of anyone in the Dogwood field.
Also in this year’s field are Atlanta’s Alexander DeRosa, Fisk’s Georgia Southern teammate, Woodstock’s Nick Budd of Georgia State and Cumming’s Jake Fendt of Kennesaw State.
Several Georgians who attend college outside the state have enjoyed success in the Dogwood in recent years and will be back in the field this year. Duluth’s Charles Huntzinger of Penn State won the Dogwood in 2016 and tied for ninth last year. Huntzinger shot 17-under 271 two years ago to finish one shot ahead of a trio of players, and tied for ninth last year at 274.
Also recording top-10 finishes last year were Villa Rica’s Austin Fulton, who plays at Mississippi State, and Alpharetta’s Chandler Eaton, who plays at Duke. Fulton tied for third at 272 along with Fisk, while Eaton tied for ninth at 274.
Also in the field are Auburn’s Jake Milanowski of Peachtree City, Furman’s Keller Harper of Atlanta, and McDonough’s Justin Connelly, who played at Mercer before completing his college career at Georgia College. Connelly won the 2017 Georgia Amateur and will be joined in the Dogwood by 2016 Georgia Amateur champion Colin Bowles of Albany, who will begin his college career at Ohio State later this year.
Among the top junior golfers in the field is Nicolas Cassidy of Johns Creek, who has committed to Georgia. Cassidy recently won an American Junior Golf Association tournament at Country Club of the South. S.M. Lee of Buford, a former Georgia Junior champion, is one of country’s top NAIA players at Dalton State, and was the first player from that classification to be selected to the Palmer Cup team.
Top players from schools in the Southeast in the Dogwood field include Bryson Nimmer, tied for sixth last year at Druid Hills, and Turk Pettit of Clemson, Phillip Barbaree and Trey Winstead of LSU, William Buhl of Arkansas, Jacob Solomon of Auburn, Scott Stevens of South Carolina, R.J. Keur of UAB and Ryan Gerard of North Carolina.
Past winners of the Dogwood include Georgians Trey Rule (2014) and Brian Harman (2009), with Harman’s future UGA teammate Hudson Swafford winning in 2006. The 2007 Dogwood was won by Webb Simpson, who won last week’s Players Championship. The Dogwood runner-up in ’07 was Danny Lee, Simpson’s playing partner in the final round of the Players.
The Dogwood has been played since 1941, taking a break from the early 1970s to early ‘90s before resuming in 1994. Allen Doyle of LaGrange won the tournament that year prior to turning pro in his late 40s and enjoying an outstanding career on the Champions Tour.
Druid Hills GC has been renovated and lengthened a bit in recent years, but at only 6,840 yards from the back tees with few holes of serious yardage, typically yields low scores to the field of primarily college players. All four par 5s are reachable in two, half the par 4s are under 400 yards and only two of the par 3s have significant length. Big hitters are capable of taking advantage of the mostly generous fairways, but skilled wedge players are also able of going low without overpowering Druid Hills’ layout, which has been renovated by both the late Bob Cupp and Bill Bergin.
A qualifier will be held on Monday, June 4 to complete the field, which will cut to the low 40 and ties for the final round.
Mercedes Benz USA is the title sponsor for the tournament.