You can say one thing about Chip Spratlin. He finished a whole lot better than he started.
A day after he incurred a two-stroke penalty for hitting a wrong ball on the first hole, Spratlin birdied the final three holes to win the Tillinghast Invitational golf tournament by one stroke on Sunday.
It was his fourth Tillinghast victory in the nine-year history of the event held annually at Johnson City Country Club.
“They might have to change the name of this to the Spratlin instead of the Tillinghast,” said Bryan Sangid, who finished tied for second.
Spratlin finished at six-under-par 138 after closing with a 70. He fought his swing all day long, but managed to stay close enough to remain in contention.
And then he won it in style.
Spratlin’s approach shot at the final hole bounced past the flag, caught a slope and rolled back, stopping less than a foot from victory. A mere tap-in later, he was the champion once again.
“It feels great,” said Spratlin, who won the 1995 NCAA championship while playing for Auburn. “That’s why we play. The chance to birdie a couple holes to win.
“Put me on 16 or 17 and say that’s what you have to do, that’s what everybody wants. That’s the fun part, whether you do it or you don’t.”
The win was set up with a birdie at the short par-four 16th and a 20-foot chip-in for birdie at No. 17.
“Chip can pull out a lot of great shots when he needs to,” Sangid said. “I really wasn’t expecting him to chip in on 17. And then on 18, he just had a tap-in. He’s a great player.
“It was great competition and it was fun to come out and play with all these great players. I couldn’t ask for anything better, except to maybe win the tournament.”
Sangid birdied the final two holes to finish in a tie for second with Chattanooga’s Chris Schmidt, who was the leader in the clubhouse at five under before Spratlin’s finishing flurry.
“When someone birdies the last three holes, they earned it,” Schmidt said. “I was in pretty good position. He just did what he had to do. He deserves all the credit.”
Lucas Armstrong shot a 69 to finish fourth at three under par. Richard Lowe and Dan Crockett tied for fifth at two under.
Spratlin said he wasn’t confident in his ball-striking, and that was never more evident than at the par-five 15th. He hit two shots that could have gone out of bounds but stayed in. He made bogey, but it could have been worse and he was still just two back with three holes to play.
“Sometimes you need a little fortune,” he said. “Pretty much if anybody wins, they get a break or two.”
It forced him to hit driver on the driveable 16th for two reasons: He had to make up some ground and he was worried about playing safe and hitting his 5-iron into the trees anyway. It was only the second time he hit driver on that hole in 12 rounds in this tournament.
“If I hit the iron, I’m basically giving up on this hole and I’ll probably hook it into the trees,” he said. “The driver was going as straight as my irons, so that was the thinking there.”
Marc Runyan birdied the final hole to win the seniors division. He closed with a 69 to finish at five under par. He beat Bill Hardin, making his senior debut, by one stroke.
Runyan played in the group in front of Hardin, and his 10 foot birdie putt at the home hole gave him a two-shot cushion. It was one he needed, as Hardin knocked his approach shot on the final hole to gimme range and made a closing birdie of his own.
“It’s always good to be in contention,” said Runyan, who pumped his fist when his final putt slid in the side of the hole. “You always want to win, but it’s great just to compete with these guys.”
Runyan, whose father Len was on hand to watch the victory, has a nice collection of senior championships. He’s also won the East Tennessee Amateur and the Graysburg Senior Amateur twice.
Runyan and Hardin were the only two players to break par. Doug LeVan, a newcomer on the local scene, finished at even par after a 73. Mike Freels and Tony Gouge tied for fourth at one over.
Lyman Fulton made a hole-in-one on the 185-yard 12th hole with a 5-iron.comments powered by Disqus