Cink’s British title heads the list
By Mike Blum
The biggest headlines in Georgia golf in 2009 were the product of some exceptional individual performances by a wide array of the state’s top players, among them names very familiar to most golf fans as well as the usual sprinkling of unexpected up-and-comers.
Here’s a look back at the top stories in Georgia golf in 2009, winding from 1 to 18 in something approximating a logical progression. The No. 1 story is fairly obvious, and the rest sort of flow from it.
1) Stewart the Spoiler: What would have been one of the most improbable stories in golf history fell was dramatically re-written by Duluth’s Stewart Cink, who snatched the British Open’s Claret Jug away from Tom Watson with some late Sunday heroics and one tiny but costly slip by the almost 60-year-old Watson. Cink’s playoff victory was initially overshadowed by Watson’s improbable effort for 71-plus holes, but the ex-Georgia Tech standout more than earned his first major title with a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole and a brilliant effort on the four extra holes.
2) Not their Masters: The big story in Augusta was not so much who won, but who didn’t. And why they lost. Angel Cabrera claimed his second major in three years, repeating his workmanlike effort of 2007 at Oakmont with the aid of a fortunate bounce off an Augusta pine in the playoff. But it was a trio of contenders who came up short who left a more lasting memory, beginning with Phil Mickelson and what could have been one of the greatest final rounds in Masters history. It ended with Kenny Perry bogeying the final two holes of regulation and the second playoff hole to give away the green jacket. In between was Chad Campbell, whose failure was not as dramatic, but equally disheartening.
3) Phil sizzles, Tiger fizzles: After stinging disappointments in the Masters and U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson ending a difficult year for him with a superb final round effort in the Tour Championship at East Lake to overtake Tiger Woods and Kenny Perry. It was the second time in just over a month that Woods fired blanks on Sunday with a victory within his grasp (PGA, Y.E. Yang), while Perry returned home again with unpleasant memories of a Sunday afternoon in Georgia.
4) Slocum stuns ‘em: The 2009 FedExCup playoffs began with a surprise conclusion, as Alpharetta resident Heath Slocum holed a lengthy putt on the 72nd hole to win The Barclays at the touted Liberty National GC just across the Hudson River from New York City. Slocum, who was 124th among the 125 qualifiers for the Playoffs, prevented what could have the Mother of All Playoffs, with his par save on the final hole giving him a 1-stroke victory over a foursome of some note: Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.
5) 2 Jackets finish in style: Two former Georgia Tech standouts scored wins in the Fall Finish, the second career PGA Tour wins for both of them. Matt Kuchar won a playoff over Augusta’s Vaughn Taylor at the Turning Stone Resort and went on to earn a 2010 Masters berth by finishing in the top 30 on the money list. Troy Matteson also needed extra holes to win the Frys.com Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., the second time he has won an event with the electronics company as the title sponsor, the first one coming in Las Vegas. Both Kuchar and Matteson have settled in the Atlanta area and both play out of the Golf Club of Georgia.
6) 2 of the 25: Two former U. of Georgia teammates were among the 25 Nationwide Tour players to earn spots on the 2010 PGA Tour, taking different routes to arrive at the same destination. Lake Oconee resident Blake Adams set a tour record for most money won in a season without a victory, ending up third in earnings, and will be a PGA Tour rookie. Roswell’s Justin Bolli scored his third win in four Nationwide Tour seasons to finish among the top 25 for a third time, and will be playing his third season in golf’s major leagues.
7) Persistence pays off: Matt Nagy kept playing when it was dark and showed up when he didn’t have a tee time, but somehow wound up in the U.S. Open and even got a little love from the media. Nagy, a Buena Vista resident who plays on the golf team at Kennesaw State, won an extended playoff in a U.S. Open local qualifier at Marietta CC for second alternate status, and made it into the sectional qualifier at Hawks Ridge when a fellow Georgia collegian no-showed. Thanks to a record-tying 63 in the second round of the 36-hole qualifier, Nagy captured a spot in the U.S. Open field at Bethpage Black, and his exploits garnered him some well-deserved attention from both the New York and national media.
8 ) Jean’s dream week: Newnan’s Jean Reynolds played her way onto the 2010 LPGA Tour by finishing second on the Futures Tour money list, but it was her play in the U.S. Women’s Open that vaulted the diminutive Reynolds into the national spotlight. Reynolds was in the top three at the end of each of the first three rounds at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa., before a rough final round dropped her into a tie for 17th. Her finish did not detract from what was truly a week to remember for Reynolds, who will be the only Georgian on the LPGA Tour this year.
9) Summer of Stackhouse: Over the past few decades, Georgia has produced a long list of outstanding junior female golfers who have enjoyed success at the national level. The latest addition is Riverdale’s Mariah Stackhouse, who enjoyed a stellar 2009, including a nice run of titles at different levels during the summer. Stackhouse won an American Junior Golf Association event in Ringgold, defended her title in the Georgia Women’s Golf Association Championship at Idle Hour by erasing a 5-stroke deficit heading to the final round, and added her first title in a professional event, taking the Yamaha Georgia Women’s Open at SummerGrove over a strong field.
9A) Stackhouse later added a USGA title to her already impressive resume, teaming with Valdosta’s Dori Carter and Augusta’s Laura Coble to win the USGA Women’s Team State Championship in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Carter, who completed her college career at Mississippi in ’09, went on to qualify for the 2010 Futures Tour, while Coble capped another successful year by reaching the finals of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in Ocala, Fla., before losing to Savannah native Martha Stacy Leach. Coble won the GSGA Women’s Match Play title, defeating Stackhouse in the finals on the third playoff hole, and also won the Greater Atlanta Golf Women’s Amateur Championship. Marietta’s Brenda Pictor, the GSGA Senior Women’s champion, also contended in a USGA event, reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur in Hot Springs, Va.
10. Junior Champions: Stackhouse wasn’t the only Georgia junior to make headlines in 2009. Powder Springs’ Ollie Schniederjans shot 133 at Cartersville CC to win the Georgia PGA Junior Championship, finished second in both the GSGA Junior (behind a record-setting effort by Scott Wolfes) and the PING Invitational, one of the country’s top junior events, and scored a victory at the adult amateur level, taking the GSGA Public Links title. He closed out the year with a win in the prestigious Polo Golf Junior Classic.
Among those winning American Junior Golf Association titles in their home state were:
Alpharetta’s Franco Castro (Country Club of the South); Augusta’s Ashlan Ramsey Chateau Elan); Acworth’s Michael Hines and Alpharetta’s Amira Alexander (Callaway Gardens); and Auburn’s Drew Czuchry (West Lake). Duluth’s Jordan Janico, one of a number of Georgians to post runner-up finishes in AJGA events, set a Southeastern Junior Tour record by shooting a 62 at Huntsville (Ala.) CC for a 131 total.
11. Castro cashes in: Former Georgia Tech standout Roberto Castro, Franco’s older brother, had a profitable year in 2009. He scored a pair of victories on the eGolf Professional Tour, one at Savannah Harbor, and finished third on the money list with more than $110,000, and added a third win in the Georgia Open, which is sponsored by Your Community PhoneBook, one of Castro’s sponsors. The Alpharetta resident closed out 2009 by finishing 6th and 12th in back-to-back tournaments on the Nationwide Tour, but his season ended on a disappointing note, as he failed to make it past the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying.
12: Grand Slam duo: Matt Peterson and Tim Weinhart, two of the Georgia PGA’s top players, completed career Grand Slams of Section events with victories in 2009. Peterson, the head professional at the UGA course in Athens, opened the ’09 schedule with a victory in the Match Play Championship at Callaway Gardens, adding to previous wins in the Georgia Open, Atlanta Golf Open and Section Championship. Weinhart completed his Slam with a victory in the Atlanta Golf Open, an event he had come close to winning several times. Weinhart went on to earn his fifth Georgia PGA Player of the Year award, making a strong run at victory in the PGA Professional National Championship in New Mexico to earn a spot in the field of the PGA Championship for a fifth time.
13: McCain takes 2: Jennings Mill club professional Seth McCain was more successful on the golf course in 2009 than the politician who shares his last name was in the 2008 Presidential election. The golfing McCain stamped himself as a player on the rise in the Georgia PGA, scoring back to back wins at Section events at Griffin CC and Chicopee Woods. McCain out-dueled an impressive group of challengers, winning by one stroke with a victory on the final hole of the two day, 54-hole event. McCain made it two in a row three weeks later with a win in the Griffin Classic, coming from behind with a 68 in the final round of the 36-hole tournament.
14. GSGA trio defend titles: Three of the state’s top amateur players repeated their victories of 2008 in three of the GSGA’s top events in 2009. Augusta’s Jeff Knox, who had come close to winning a number of GSGA events before his breakthrough victory at the ’08 Mid-Amateur Championship, defended his title with a three-stroke victory at White Columns. Macon’s Russell Henley won the Georgia Amateur for a second straight year, posting a tournament record total of 16-under 268 at Country Club of Columbus to win by eight strokes. Dalton’s David Noll was the third repeat winner, taking the Atlanta Golf Amateur Match Play title at Rivermont CC for the second straight time and the third time in the last five years. A few weeks later, Noll led Dalton CC to a victory in the GSGA Team Championship.
15: Georgians on winning teams: It was a good year for the U.S. in international team competition and Georgians were part of all the victories. Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson, who now calls Sea Island home, were part of the winning U.S. side in the Presidents Cup. Sonny Skinner of Sylvester enjoyed an outstanding week in helping lead the U.S. PGA team to a win over their Great Britain/Ireland counterparts in the PGA Cup in Ireland. Savannah’s Brian Harman competed on his second straight winning team in the Walker Cup, which also included Adam Mitchell, Harman’s UGA teammate, and Georgia Tech’s Cameron Tringale, who went on to qualify for the PGA Tour in his first attempt.
16. ‘Dogs dominate Dogwood: Three members of the 2009 UGA golf team went 1-2-3 in the annual Dogwood Invitational at Druid Hills, with Brian Harman capturing the title in one of his final appearances as an amateur. Harman closed with scores of 67-64-66 for an 18-under 270 total and a 4-stroke win over Russell Henley, with Adam Mitchell third at 276. Teen-ager Ollie Schniederjans was the low non-Bulldog at 278.
A Georgian also won the state’s other national amateur event, as Alpharetta’s Derek Chang captured the Southeastern Amateur at CC of Columbus in record-setting fashion. He tied the course record with a second round 63, setting a tournament mark of 16-under 268 to win by seven strokes.
17. Oglethorpe takes title: While Georgia’s highly-touted team fell short of claiming an NCAA Division 1 golf title, Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University captured the Division III title inn Port St. Lucie, Fla. The Petrels won the event by four strokes, shooting 1-under over the final 54 holes after a slow start. Albany’s Hap Kuofeld and Alpharetta’s Matt Bernstein made key contributions to the Oglethorpe victory. Georgia reached the semifinals of the new match play format in Division 1. Columbus State and Georgia College were third and fifth in the D-II championship, with Rome’s Berry College fifth in the NAIA Championship.
18: More Canongate expansion: While the Canongate family of courses continues to grow, 2009 was a mostly quiet year on the golf course front throughout the state. Few courses opened and few closed, although the latter may change this year, as the struggling economy forces some struggling facilities to shut down. Among the courses to debut in ’09 was another excellent Denis Griffiths design (Old Union in Blairsville), while Lanier GC and Mallard Point in Rochelle were among those to re-open. One of the more prominent courses to shut down was Lake Lanier’s Pine Isle Resort, with the year ending with Fayetteville GC (formerly Rivers Edge) and Sky Valley among many with an uncertain future, including a number of clubs that have reverted to ownership by lending institutions. The Eagle Greens company that owned a number of courses in metro Atlanta and northeast Georgia has sold its remaining facilities, but Canongate continues to grow. Among its more recent acquisitions/additions were Sun City Peachtree, Laurel Canyon (formerly Fairways of Canton), Bentwater, Smoke Rise, The Frog and Cateechee, the latter two daily fee facilities, a first for the company in Georgia.