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Sports Joe Avento Local Golf

Junior champ proved ready at ET Amateur

July 13th, 2013 11:05 pm by Joe Avento

Cayman Ratliff’s victory in the Tennessee State Junior Championship might have been foreshadowed at the recent East Tennessee Amateur.
Ratliff, who will be a senior at Sullivan South this fall, broke 70 in all three rounds at Cleveland Country Club, including a final-round 68, to win the state’s top junior tournament by two strokes.
His final two rounds in the ET Amateur showed his game was in good shape heading to Cleveland. Just days before claiming his biggest championship, he posted rounds of 66 and 68 at Elizabethton Golf Course to play the final 36 holes in 10 under par. Only an opening 78 that left him 14 strokes behind the leader prevented him from being in contention at Elizabethton. He finished tied for fifth.
At the State Junior, Ratliff held off runner-up Jack Smith of Knoxville, a Tennessee signee, by making all pars on the back nine.
“I’m not sure that it has really hit me yet,” Ratliff said. “But winning something of this magnitude is a huge boost to my confidence. There are a lot of big names on that trophy. And now mine is there, too.”
Ratliff, who is coached by local pro Euggie Jones, received an exemption into next month’s Tennessee State Amateur at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.
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East Tennessee State’s Rhys Pugh will be on golf’s biggest stage this week when he plays in the British Open at Muirfield.
Pugh, a native of Wales, has built quite a resume on his home side of the ocean. He was the star of the Great Britain & Ireland team’s victory in the 2011 Walker Cup. He won this year’s Welsh Open Stroke Play title and qualified for the British Open by winning last year’s European Amateur.
Pugh’s results for ETSU have been mediocre at best, and perhaps his affinity for links-style golf is the reason. American courses don’t always suit the golfers from Ireland or the United Kingdom, and there is usually a learning process. Pugh will be a junior this year.
“I love hitting the ball low and hitting a lot of punch shots,” he said during a recent interview. “Links suits my game because it’s all about keeping the ball on the ground and using the land to get it close to the hole.”
Pugh’s biggest moments — the Walker Cup and the European Amateur — have come on links courses, so keep an eye on him this week when the world’s oldest tournament begins at Muirfield, a links course built in 1891.
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In case you missed it, ETSU’s Chris Hickman did something practically unheard of last week. He won the Delaware State Amateur by 21 strokes.
Hickman, who will be a sophomore this fall, was 20 under par for four rounds. Nobody else managed to break par.
The final-round 67 capped what is being called the most dominant performance in Delaware golf history.
Last year, Hickman had a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the same tournament only to come up short with a 74.
This time there was no drama. He began the final round with a 12-stroke lead and never wavered.
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Teleri Hughes, who began her junior golf career in Johnson City, finished second in the Tennessee State Girls Junior Championship. She shot a final-round 71 at Foxland Harbor Golf and Country Club in Gallatin.
Hughes’ family moved to Knoxville a few years back, and she has continued to excel on the golf course. She graduated from Farragut High School and will play for the Tennessee Lady Vols in the fall. Her brother, Eifion, played at Science Hill.
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Glenrochie Country Club in Abingdon, Va., has rebounded nicely from the devastating storm damage it suffered more than two years ago.
In April of 2011, the beautiful tree-lined course was hit by a tornado. More than 400 trees were destroyed and the course was left in shambles.
The club’s members banded together with general manager Ben Abel and head professional Jake Spott and began the long and grueling recovery process. After a lengthy cleanup effort, numerous trees were donated by members and planted around the course.
“Our members really stepped up sand helped out,” Abel said. “I think we turned the corner last fall and now we’re looking ahead.”
The damage was estimated at more than $500,000.
These days, the club seems to be thriving. Tall rough and fairway bunkers have been added in strategic spots, taking the place of the trees as some of the course’s defenses. The undulating greens still remain the layout’s top defense.
“I think it’s playing a little tougher now,” Spott said. “At least when you were in the trees you could punch it out. Now, with this rough ... it’s a lot tougher.”
While the course has a dramatically different look than it once did, it’s still a gem.

Joe Avento is a sports writer@johnsoncitypress.com. Contact him at javento@johnsoncitypress.com.

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