ELIZABETHTON — Nick York is about to return to the scene of his best competitive round of golf, and he kind of likes hearing the words “defending champion” before his name.
York won the Carter County Bank East Tennessee Amateur last year thanks, in part, to a record-setting 62 in the second round, and he’s looking forward to getting another crack at Elizabethton Golf Course. The 54-hole tournament begins today and runs through Sunday.
“It’s a great feeling,” York said about being the defending champ. “No pressure, really. I just have to go out there and do my thing and see what happens.
“My game’s starting to turn back around. I’m just gonna do the best I can to try to get another one.”
York’s 62 in the second round last year was the tournament record, beating out Adam Shanks’ 64 from 2001.
“I did not miss a putt,” York said emphatically. “Honestly, I didn’t hit the ball that great. I just made everything I looked at.”
York, a Kingsport native who plays at Tusculum College, said he took some time off over the winter, and when he came back to the game, he noticed “a few minor things” wrong with his swing.
“Those minor things turned into some major things,” he said.
With the help of his swing coach, Jerrod Funk, York says he’s worked out the kinks.
“We got all that under control,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to this weekend.”
York is in what has to be considered the featured threesome in today’s first round, joining 2009 champion Brad Robinson and 2008 winner Richard Lowe in the 12:48 p.m. grouping. They all finished in the top five last year. Robinson holds the 54-hole tournament scoring record of 14 under par. York shot 12 under last year.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the first time we’ve been able to do that, put three past champions in the same group,” tournament director Mike Matheson said. “We talked about that and thought it would be good — it would be good for them and good for the tournament.”
Another interesting group has ETSU senior Devin Komline, a former U.S. Amateur qualifier and Vermont State Amateur champion, joining Carlson Cox and Dane Voss. Cox, who plays at the University of Memphis, was the inaugural Tri-Cities Amateur Tour points champion last year. Voss plays for MTSU.
Justin Harvey comes in as the points leader in the Tri-Cities Amateur Tour standings. He won the Link Hills Invitational and finished second at Cedar Hill.
Chip Spratlin is back for another shot. He has won the last three Tillinghast Invitationals at Johnson City Country Club.
A strong championship field of 72 — no less than 14 players have won local invitational tournaments — will compete for the coveted title and the first-place voucher worth $750.
Mike Poe is the defending senior champ. He opened a big lead last year with a first-round 66 and won by eight strokes.
Elizabethton Golf Course might have a slightly different feel this year. Recent rains have left the course much softer than it’s been for past East Tennessee Amateurs. The course might play a little longer than its 6,400 yards.
“I think it’ll be much softer,” Matheson said. “We had thunderstorms for three or four nights in a row. I don’t think the greens will be as firm or as quick because of the weather.”
Matheson said superintendent Louie Hopkins and pro Steve Howard have been instrumental in making the East Tennessee Amateur the most popular tournament on the local schedule. This year’s overall field has 153 players, 72 in the championship, 33 in seniors and 48 in match play flights.
“Steve and Louie just do a great job,” Matheson said. “With the amount of help Louie has, I don’t know if there’s enough words to describe what a job he does. He takes pride in what he does and in the course. That’s probably the best thing you can say about somebody. I can’t remember anybody ever complaining about the course in our tournament. It’s in great shape.”