When Chip Spratlin and Ben Campbell tee it up for the first round of the 12th annual Tillinghast Invitational golf tournament Saturday at Johnson City Country Club, they’ll be considered among the favorites.
After all, the two golfers have combined to win six of the 11 previous Tillinghasts and they share the tournament scoring record.
They recently returned from Pinehurst, North Carolina, where they competed in the USGA Amateur Four-Ball.
The two were in solid contention after the first day when they shot even par in the better-ball format at the famed No. 2 Course. That left them 12th out of 64 teams, meaning a solid second round would get them into match play.
As it turned out, after the second round — at the No. 8 Course — they were three shots off the mark.
“We played OK, almost well enough to get in,” Spratlin said. “We shot three over our last nine holes and all it took was even par. There were a couple of holes where we kind of messed up from the middle of the fairway.
“That’s what that kind of golf will do to you. The wind was blowing, the greens were firm and the pins were tucked. We were just trying to force it a little bit.”
Despite not making match play, Spratlin came home with fond memories of his first trip to Pinehurst, mostly because of the company.
“Ben’s a really good guy and he’s a really good player,” Spratlin said. “He’s one of those guys that’s always positive and confident, the kind of people you like to be around.
“If he had a little stronger partner, he might still be there.”
Campbell has won the last two Tillinghasts, equalling the tournament scoring record of nine-under-par 135 last year before winning in a playoff. Spratlin, a four-time champ, shares that record, as do 2013 champion Craig Reasor and last year’s runner-up Blake Howard.
“I think his game is tailor-made for his place,” Spratlin said of Campbell. “He wedges it so well and putts so well. Anybody who does that here is going to do well. I look for him to play really good.”
As for Spratlin’s game, he knows his way around the Johnson City Country Club course well enough that it could come down to one club for him.
“My putting lately has not been that great, so hopefully I can work on that a bit,” he said. “If I can make a few putts, then I hope to have a chance there at the end.”
Campbell and Spratlin will be facing perhaps the strongest field in the history of the tournament.
Howard, whose tee shot in the playoff last year stopped directly behind a tree, will be back for another try.
In addition, the field will have more of an East Tennessee State University flavor than in recent years.
Geuntae Kim, who won the individual championship at the Southern Conference tournament, is in a threesome with Spratlin and Campbell.
Also playing from ETSU are Trevor Hulbert, a member of the SoCon’s all-freshman team, and Jack Rhea, the reigning East Tennessee Amateur champion who will begin his career with the Bucs in the fall.
Hulbert is the son of three-time PGA Tour winner Mike Hulbert.
Kingsport’s William Nottingham, fresh off a spectacular freshman year at Clemson, is also playing. Nottingham set the Clemson record with a round of 62 during the Wolfpack Open at N.C. State. That round included seven consecutive birdies.
Nottingham finished in the top 10 in the ACC tournament and the NCAA Regional.
Action begins Saturday at 8 a.m. when the Championship Flight goes off first.