On the 20th hole of Saturday’s 48th annual Tennessee Four-Ball tournament championship match at Toqua Golf Course, former Sullivan South and East Tennessee State standout Cayman Ratliff sank a seven-foot birdie putt to send he and cousin/teammate Brandon Worley to a playoff win over Knoxville’s Mitchell and Chip Thomas.
“That match was truly amazing,” said Worley, who also went to Sullivan South. “Chip played unbelievable. Mitch played amazing. We were lucky to keep up with them and pull it through in the playoff.”
Ratliff added: “I think we covered each other well this week. If I was out of the hole, Brandon would cover me, and if he was out of the hole I would cover him. I think that’s the important thing in four-ball, to have each other’s back.”
Ratliff and Worley were 15-under as a team through the 20 holes played. Mitchell Thomas fired a 61 on his own personal card in the 18 holes of regulation.
Mitchell Thomas made a 30-footer on No. 17 to square the match. Then, after Worley hit his approach shot to within three feet on 18, Mitchell tapped Worley’s ball with his approach. They agreed to go good-good and move on to extra holes.
On the first playoff hole, Worley made a sweeping 10-footer to save par and force another extra hole. Ratliff’s drive settled on a downslope on the 20th, but he was able to stop his approach to within seven feet and then made the putt to win the match.
“I had a downhill lie in the rough,” said Ratliff, the 2013 Tennessee Junior Amateur champion. “It was kind of an awkward lie. I had a good yardage but it was kind of weird to get contact on it. I was trying to hit a cut off a draw lie, just to make sure it got up, and it ended up being the right distance.”
When Worley and Ratliff arrived at Toqua on Tuesday, they weren’t exactly expecting to be raising the trophy on Saturday after Worley turned his ankle during the practice round to reaggravate an injury he had surgery on back in November.
By Worley’s own admittance, Ratliff carried them through Wednesday’s stroke play qualifying round as it was painful for Worley to hit his long irons and woods.
“I didn’t even think I could play, to be honest,” Worley said. “Cayman played really well during the stroke play. I managed some birdies, but I had a few Xs as well. I played a lot better in match play.”
Worley and Ratliff didn’t compete in the tournament last year, but they did in 2015 and 2016. They didn’t advance past stroke play either of those years.
They said that experience, along with the fact that they’ve been playing golf together since a young age, definitely benefitted them this week.
“We know each other’s games real well so we can help out each other,” Ratliff said. “We kind of stay out of each other’s way when it comes to reading greens and figuring out yardages. But if we need help, we know each other’s games so well, we can step in.”
The Thomas brothers were playing in their second Tennessee Four-Ball together. Mitchell is a former Tennessee Tech University standout, while Chip is a rising junior at Middle Tennessee State University. They both attended Farragut High School.
Team Thomas took the early lead in the match as Mitchell made three straight birdies to begin the day. Ratliff made eagle on the par-five, No. 6 to square the match and it stood that way until Ratliff chipped in on No. 11 to put his team 1-up.
Chip Thomas pulled he and his brother even again with a birdie on No. 15, but Worley answered with an approach shot to within a couple of feet on the very next hole.