Experience key at Tillinghast

Joe Avento • May 31, 2014 at 5:31 AM

Experience might be more important than preparation when the Tillinghast Invitational golf tournament begins today at Johnson City Country Club.

At least that’s what a couple of the favorites are hoping.

Chip Spratlin and Mark Baggarly, who combined to win four Tillinghast championships before Craig Reasor and his final-round 64 broke their string last year, haven’t spent much time on the course because of demands on their time.

It’s been a formula that has worked in the past for Spratlin, who won three titles in a row, and Baggarly, the 2012 champ.

“Sporadically,” the 43-year-old Baggarly said when asked if he’s been playing much.

The former University of Florida golfer spends more time working with his daughter, Addie, who was a member of Science Hill High School’s state-championship team in the fall.

“I’ve been practicing a little bit,” he said. “I haven’t played much, but when I have, I’ve been playing OK. I think I’ll be as ready as I’ll ever be. I feel as good as can for as little as I have played.”

The 36-hole tournament begins today and runs through Sunday. It is the first stop on the Tri-Cities Amateur Tour and a points event for the Tennessee Golf Association player of the year award.

This will be the first competitive event of the year for Baggarly and Spratlin.

“I’ve played two or three times in the last couple of weeks and I’ve hit some balls,” said Spratlin, who won the 1995 NCAA individual championship while playing for Auburn. “Up until then, I’ve been staying pretty busy.

“A lot for me at the club comes down to putting. I’ve played it enough that I can spray it and get it around. You’re hitting a lot of wedges and short irons. You just have to make some putts.”

Spratlin has won this tournament twice because of his putter. His middle championship, though, came from an almost perfect week of ball striking. In 2010, he hit 34 of the 36 greens in regulation and made only two bogeys.

“That made it a lot easier,” he said.

The 6,402-yard Johnson City Country Club course puts a premium on accuracy and placement of approach shots more than just pure distance, which suits experienced players such as Baggarly and Spratlin just fine.

“The country club can be a little tricky,” Spratlin said. “There are a lot of dog-leg holes. “Some of the younger guys are little more aggressive, and sometimes that hurts you here. You look at it and say ‘I’m gonna kill this place,’ hitting driver all over the place.

“I always take a more conservative approach. For years and years I hit driver on every hole. But in the tournament, I only hit driver maybe four or five times.”

Las year, the two former champions finished in the top four. Spratlin was fourth while Baggarly was second, with a chance to win.

With Reasor, who has since turned professional, in the clubhouse at seven under par, Baggarly needed a birdie on the final hole to force a playoff. His approach stopped on the wrong level of the green, leading to a long and difficult putt.

Trying to make the necessary birdie, Baggarly wound up three-putting. He still finished second.

“He just played a great round,” Baggarly said. “It’s tough to beat a 64.”

A tough winter left most area courses with Bermuda fairways facing large areas of winter kill, and Johnson City Country Club wasn’t immune. Tournament officials have decided to allow the players to lift, clean and place their ball in the fairway this weekend.

“Everybody’s dealing with winter kill,” Baggarly said. “The greens are exceptionally good. I think (superintendent) Bill (Henderson) will do a great job of getting the course ready. It’ll be fun.”

Follow Joe Avento on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.

Recommended for You