The Kingsport native didn’t set any records in the first round of the 12th annual Tillinghast Invitational at Johnson City Country Club, but his five-under-par 67 on Saturday was the lowest score of the day.
“It was a good day,” said Nottingham, who set the Clemson single-round record with a 62 this spring. “I was hitting it well all day. It was just a matter of the putts falling in on the last few holes.”
Nottingham held a two-stroke lead over East Tennessee State University golfer Trevor Hulbert and Johnson City’s Garrett Whitfield, who will play for Austin Peay in the fall. They both carded 69s.
Ten players broke par on a course with fast, firm greens that made approach-shot placement more important than ever.
Nottingham was one over par through eight holes. He got up and down for birdie out of a greenside bunker on No. 9 to make the turn at even.
Then he went to work on the back nine, with three birdies and a eagle on the par-five 13th when his second shot stopped 10 feet from the hole.
“You had to think about where you wanted to place your drive so you would leave yourself a full shot in,” Nottingham said.
Nottingham made national news during the Wolfpack Spring Open at N.C. State when he made seven birdies in a row and eight in a nine-hole stretch while shooting his 62.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said in the understatement of the year. “We played 36 that day and the first 18 I was hitting it well. I just didn’t make any putts.
“On the next 18, I kept hitting it the same and the putts just kept falling in. I was kind of laughing after the seventh birdie went in, and then I got a few more coming in.”
Jack Rhea, an ETSU signee, was in a group at 70 that included Tory Davis, Taylor Smith and Lawrence Largent.
Shooting 71s were defending champion Ben Campbell, four-time champion Chip Spratlin and last year’s runner-up Blake Howard.
Among those chasing Nottingham in the second round will be two players with ETSU ties. Hulbert recently finished his first season with the Bucs and was chosen to the Southern Conference’s all-freshman team. Rhea will begin at ETSU this fall.
“I hit a lot of good approach shots,” said Hulbert, whose father Mike won three times on the PGA Tour. “As long as I had a shot toward the pin, I was very confident I could get in there close and have good chance at birdie.
“It was definitely playing tough. You can’t spin it coming out of the rough and if you get on the wrong side of the hole, you’re basically playing for bogey. You have to miss on the right side to give yourself a chance.”
Rhea played the front nine in one over par before making his move.
“I said I just need to make a few birdies on the back to get some confidence going into tomorrow,” he said. “Luckily, I was able to do that.”
Rhea played the back nine in three under par, capped by a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th hole.
“That gave me a lot of confidence,” Rhea said. “I feel like the difference between 70 and 71 is pretty big, mentally, more than anything.”
The final group, consisting of Nottingham, Hulbert and Whitfield, will tee off at 1:20 p.m. on Sunday.
In the senior division, Tim Moore shot 73 and holds a one-stoke lead over Lyman Fulton, Eddie Bailey and Rick Hudson.