14th annual Tillinghast Invitational set for this weekend at JCCC

Joe Avento • Jun 1, 2019 at 6:21 PM

Nick Cohen called it a good day when, in fact, nobody had ever had a better day in the Tillinghast Invitational — even if it only led to a third-place finish.

Cohen closed last year’s tournament with an eight-under-par 64 at Johnson City Country Club, tying the single-round record for the tournament. It wasn’t good enough to catch Ken Miller, who won with a record score of 12 under par, but it did get him in the record book. Zach Botts, then a 16-year-old, shot the only previous 64 in Tillinghast history in 2010.

“It was just a good day, really,” Cohen said, looking back on the historic Sunday afternoon. “Actually, I remember missing a few putts. That’s about it. I hit the ball better in the first round than the second round. I just missed a lot of putts.”

The 14th annual Tillinghast Invitational gets underway Saturday and runs through Sunday — and Cohen is hoping for a breakthrough. He opened with a 71 last year and his 135 total would have been good enough to win in any of the previous 12 years.

Last year’s tournament was marred by thunderstorms which caused the first round to be completed on Sunday before the final round could start. It also left the course soft and susceptible to scoring.

This year, the course had been playing firm and fast before rain came overnight on Thursday and continued into Friday. It’s uncertain if it was enough rain to affect the setup.

“The course has been really hard and fast this week,” said Cohen, a 32-year-old who lives in Johnson City. “That’s how this course is supposed to play. The scores won’t be as low as last year because it won’t be as soft. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three former champions are in the field. In addition to Miller, Chip Spratlin and Ben Campbell will be trying to add to their trophy collection. Austin Carter, an East Tennessee State golfer from Kingsport, is back after finishing second last year.

Spratlin, who won the 1995 NCAA individual championship while playing at Auburn, has won the Tillinghast four times, including three in a row from 2009 to 2011. Campbell won it in 2015 and 2016.

North Carolina native Mike Wood will be back to defend his senior title. He’ll be facing a strong field that includes the likes of Mike Poe, Tim Dinwiddie and James Fender.

“The course is in great shape,” said JCCC pro Jeremy Beachner, who is running the Tillinghast for the first time. “Chad Barnett and his crew are doing a great job. We’ll mess with the tees for a couple of days and see what happens.

“It’s not anywhere near U.S. Open style, but it’s definitely firmer than we’ve been accustomed to. It’s going to be a great weekend. We’ll see how low they can go. I’m thinking no 64s this year, but you never know when these guys get the putter rolling.”

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