Throughout the final round of the recent Rivermont Championship, Travis Nance thought the best he could do was finish as low pro in the Georgia PGA tournament.
Nance, an assistant at Coosa Country Club in Rome who lost in a playoff in the inaugural Rivermont tournament last year, began the final round three shots off the lead in a tie for fifth. Nance closed with a solid 69 to finish the tournament at 3-under 139, but with first round leader Erik Martin 7-under for the tournament after 29 holes, Nance had all but conceded the victory to Martin, an amateur and a former Rivermont member.
But Martin struggled over the last seven holes after playing his first 11 holes of the final round in 3-under without a bogey. Over his final seven holes, Martin made four bogeys and a double bogey, managing a par and a birdie on the two par 3s on Rivermont’s back nine.
Martin, who opened with a 4-under 67 to lead by two shots, held a comfortable lead for most of the final round, but played holes 12 through 16 in 5-over to fall one behind Nance as he was playing the dramatic downhill par-3 17th. Martin rolled in a nice birdie putt to regain a share of the lead, but suffered his second three-putt on the incoming nine on the 18th for a bogey to hand Nance a surprise victory, his first win of consequence in almost a decade.
When asked when he first knew that he had a chance to win the tournament, Nance replied, “Not until I finished. I thought I was tied for low pro. No joke.”
Nance was non-committal about not knowing where he stood in relation to the overall lead coming down the stretch.
“It wouldn’t have made any difference as aggravated as I was with my putting.”
Nance holed an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-4 third and rattled in a putt in the 20-foot range on the difficult par-5 seventh. He missed from just outside tap-in range on the 10th, but managed two more birdies on the short, par-4 11th and the par-3 14th, holing a putt of similar length to the one he made on the third hole.
The birdie on the 14th followed a bogey on the previous hole, and Nance ended his round with four pars, playing “pretty steady” after the birdie at 14 got him back to 3-under for the tournament.
Nance had an excellent chance to win last year’s tournament at Rivermont, but missed short birdie putts in the final round at 16 and 17 and three-putted the 18th to end in a tie at 6-under with Chris Nicol of Georgia Golf Center, who won on the first hole of a playoff after Nance could not find his errant tee shot.
“It feels better to be on the other side, for sure,” he said. “It hasn’t set in yet. It’s hard to believe I won.”
Martin, who was in the first group off the first tee in the opening round, was in control of the tournament from the outset. He birdied four holes on his first nine and ended the day with a 67 to lead by two shots over Country Club of the South instructor David Potts, Brunswick CC instructor Mark Anderson and Rivermont head pro Matthew Evans, who was looking to win on his home course.
When Martin pitched within a few feet for an easy birdie on the short 11th the second day, he was 7-under and four shots clear of the field. But he three-putted the 12th from long range, bogeyed the 13th after hitting a tree with his second shot and made double bogey on 15 after topping his tee shot into the thick native grass in front of the tee.
That dropped him in a tie with Nance and West Pines pro Chris Cartwright, who dropped out of the lead when he bogeyed the 17th. Martin came up short with his approach on the par-4 16th and made bogey, but regained a share of the lead with his birdie at 17.
Cartwright, who posted back-to-back scores of 70, tied for 2nd at 140 with Martin, who shot 4-over 39 on the back nine for a 73, and seven-time Georgia PGA Player Tim Weinhart, who also shot a pair of 70s. Weinhart, an instructor at the Standard Club, had three birdies on the back nine the second day, but bogeys at 12 and 15 stalled his comeback effort.
With neither Nance nor Cartwright yet to achieve Class A status within the PGA, Weinhart wound up with first place points and is looking to break a tie with Gregg Wolff and earn his eighth Player of the Year title.
Rob French, an instructor for PGA Tour Superstores, finished 5th at 141 with scores of 70-71, with a bogey at the 18th costing him a tie for 2nd and a share of first place points with Weinhart.
Nicol was 6th at 142 after a final round 70, with three bogeys on the front nine stalling a round that began with birdies on the first two holes.
Tying for 7th at 143 were Potts, Highland Country Club head pro Todd Ormsby and Sonny Skinner, who left immediately after the tournament to compete in the Senior PGA Championship, which began two days later in Indiana.
Ormsby closed with a 67, matching the low score of the tournament, shooting 3-under 32 on the back nine, where he started his second round. Potts shot himself out of contention with a 40 on the front nine, playing the back nine in 1-under with a birdie on the par-5 10th followed by eight straight pars. Like Nicol, Skinner began his final round with birdies on the first two holes, but managed only one more birdie the rest of the round and shot 70.
Evans was among a group of players tying for 10th at 144. He shot 4-under on the front nine the opening round with five birdies, but settled for a 2-under 69 and fell back with a 75 the second day, including a costly double bogey at the par-3 sixth.
Also tying for 10th were Gary Miller, the head pro at the Oaks, Cherokee Town & CC assistant Peter Jones, Towne Lake Hills instructor Bill Murchison, and amateur Gus Wagoner, who played on the Georgia State golf team this past season.
Murchison made a big early surge with consecutive birdies at holes 2, 3 and 4, but went bogey-double bogey on holes 5 and 6 and made another double on the 14th. Miller closed with a 69, with his only bogey of the day coming on the 18th.
Nance, who took home $2,200 for his victory, shot 70 the first round, with a bogey at the ninth, his final hole of the day. Nance has broken par in all four rounds at Rivermont the last two years, shooting back-to-back 68s in 2014 highlighted by a pair of eagles on the drivable par-4 11th.
Prior to joining the staff at Coosa, Nance played nine years as a tour pro, mainly on regional mini-tours in the Southeast. He played one season on what is now the Web.com Tour, and enjoyed some success as a tour player, winning twice on the 2006 Hooters Tour, including the Tour Championship at St. Marlo, ending the year sixth on the money list.
Less than a year later, Nance was done as a tour pro, and has worked at Coosa for five years, making the adjustment from full-time player to occasional participant.
“I don’t have my time to put into my game that I used to. In my head, I can still make shots, but I physically can’t. I’ve learned to accept certain shots, and being older, wiser and more mature, I understand my limitations. “
Nance still has plenty of game, particularly from tee to green. Although he has played a limited schedule in recent years, he has recorded top-5 finishes in both the Atlanta Open and Championship at Berkeley Hills, and has several solid showings in recent Georgia Opens against fields that include current mini-tour pros.
Nance said that Coosa head pro Brian Albertson and club members “have been asking when are you gonna win one? This trophy is something I can put in the shop for the members.”
The Rivermont Championship was presented by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.