ELIZABETHTON — Ask Nick Cohen about his chances to repeat as champion at the William B. Greene East Tennessee Amateur golf tournament this weekend and he just laughs.
“My game’s not in a good place,” Cohen says. “I’ve been working too much and just bought a house. Golf has kind of been on a back burner.”
The 28th annual ETA starts Friday at Elizabethton Golf Course and 140 players are registered.
While he’s coming in with low expectations, Cohen still has high hopes.
“This has always been a comfortable place for me,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll find something. I always seem to play good on Sundays, but I never put myself in position the first two rounds. If I can just put myself in position to start out, that would be fantastic.”
Cohen closed with a seven-under-par 65 last year and birdied the first playoff hole to beat Blake Howard for the title in what he called his favorite tournament. Howard was bidding for his second ETA championship. His first one came in 2005 as a 16-year-old.
Last year was the most hotly contested final round ever with nine players finishing three or fewer strokes out of the playoff. Cohen came from eight shots back at the start of the round.
“It didn’t really get fun until the playoff because I didn’t think I had a chance, which probably freed me up a little bit,” Cohen said. “I never thought I had a chance until the end.”
Even in the playoff, it came down to a razor-thin margin. Cohen’s tee shot on the extra hole, No. 18, was way right. In fact, it was so far right he had a shot to the green without the trees that frame the fairway being in his way. He knocked his approach close and when Howard’s bunker shot narrowly missed going in for birdie, Cohen calmly sank his putt to win.
“I got lucky,” he said.
Seven former champions are in the strong field this year. In addition to Cohen and Howard, Cayman Ratliff, Tyler Lane, Lucas Armstrong, Ben Treadway, Blake Howard and Nick York will be trying for another ETA championship.
Among the other golfers who could contend are Johnson City's Jackson Skeen and Joe Brooks, who comes up from Franklin, North Carolina, each year and always seems to be in contention. Tommy Miller, a former Auburn golfer from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, has posted some low rounds and solid finishes at the ETA. Former Milligan golfer Brandon Mathis, who held the first-round lead last year, could be back in contention.
In the Senior Division, Mike Poe is back and trying for his 10th ETA title He picked up his ninth last year with a five-stroke win.