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Ratliff wins ETA in record fashion

Joe Avento • Jul 7, 2014 at 7:49 AM

ELIZABETHTON -- Cayman Ratliff saved his best for last, and boy, his best was pretty spectacular.

Two late eagles enabled Ratliff to run away with the Carter County Bank East Tennessee Amateur golf tournament in record-breaking fashion on Sunday.

Clinging to a two-stroke lead midway through the back nine, Ratliff made two eagles in a three-hole stretch at Elizabethton Golf Course to pull away. The result was a 10-stroke victory in the most dominating performance in the tournament’s 20-year history.

Ratliff shot a six-under-par 66 on Sunday, putting him 16 under par (200) for the tournament. He broke the event’s scoring record by two shots and his margin of victory was the largest ever as well.

“It’s pretty cool,” Ratliff said. “I’ve been playing in these for four or five years. It’s pretty awesome to actually win one of these. I was really ready to do it.”

Ratliff, an 18-year-old East Tennessee State signee, walked off the 13th green at 12 under par, two strokes ahead of Milligan College junior Mitchell Sutton. At the par-five 14th, Ratliff hit the shot that effectively won the tournament, a 5-iron from 197 yards that almost went in for double-eagle.

Late in tough tournaments, tap-in eagle putts are nice. And that’s what Ratliff had.

Two holes later, he drove near the green and chipped in for another eagle.

“Hats off to Cayman,” Sutton said. “He played awesome and took advantage when he had the chance. It’s tough to make up two shots when he’s chipping in for eagle. Fourteen sealed the sealed the deal, I think. He was playing out of his mind right there.”

A bogey at the par-three 17th was Ratliff’s only blemish of the day.

Then he won it in style. With a sizable gallery watching on the 18th green, he hit a wedge shot that landed past the hole and spun back to about eight feet. He made the birdie and gave a little fist pump. By the gallery’s reaction, he was a popular choice as champion.

“I wasn’t thinking anything other than birdie,” he said.

Ratliff, a Sullivan South graduate, broke the 54-hole record set by Brad Robinson in 2008 and equaled by Carlson Cox in 2011.

Chip Spratlin, who began the day two shots back after a second-round 65, shot 74 and finished tied for second at 210, six under par, with Dakota Norton, who closed with a 69.

“Cayman was by far the best player here,” said Spratlin, the 1995 NCAA champion. “He hit it the best, the most solid, and he putted the best. You eagle a couple holes coming in, it’s tough to keep up with that. He should have a bright future, starting this fall.”

Sutton, who climbed into contention with a hole-in-one on Saturday, finished fourth after closing with a 74.

Ratliff continued his stellar play at Elizabethton Golf Course, where he is 36 under par over his last seven competitive rounds.

“I just went out and tried to play solid golf,” he said. “I was just trying to do the best I could and I hit two really good shots and made eagle.”

Next for Ratliff is the Tennessee Junior Amateur, where he is the defending champion. Then it’s on to Newton, Kansas, for the U.S. Public Links Championship, the winner of which traditionally earns an invitation to the Masters.

Boddie Bible, Tyler Lane, and Joe Brooks finished at four under par, while defending champion Lucas Armstrong was three under.

Bryan Sangid finished one under, while Tommy Miller was even par.

In the senior division, Ronnie Breeden was a surprise winner. The Elizabethton member from Jonesborough was the most consistent of the 50-and-over players, posting rounds of 72, 71 and 71. He won the overall senior championship by two strokes over Dwight Scott, Bill Hardin and James Fender, who went seven under par in a seven-hole stretch on Sunday.

“I ain’t never won anything before,” Breeden said. “It feels good. I didn’t miss too many fairways and I had some good luck. I putted real well today.

“When you’re shooting even par and one under, that gives you confidence.”

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