By Chris Dortch, Staff Writer
last updated 08/16/08 09:29 PM

Council Fire, Honors, Lookout Mountain, Valleybrook in Semis

Tournament Results

Derek Rende had his cell phone with him on the golf course on Saturday.

“And I was checking it every hole,” he said.

Why would Rende, who last week won the Tennessee Amateur and is about to begin his junior season playing for UTC’s golf team, worry so much about his phone possibly ringing while he’s playing golf? You just never know when the USGA might call.

Rende was first alternate at the Knoxville 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifier earlier this month, and though the tournament begins at Pinehurst on Monday, he’s still holding out hope of getting the call.

In the meantime, what’s a guy to do but take his mind off things? And what better way to do that than playing golf? And when the golf is played with some old buddies, so much the better.

The stakes were a lot more low-key this week than they were at last week’s state amateur, which Rende won in a playoff, giving him two major state titles (including the 2007 Tennessee Open) the last two years. This time, good friend, sometime caddy and former UTC golfer Mike Craig was alongside in the Chattanooga District Golf Association Four-Ball Match Play Tournament at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. Rende, it’s safe to report, is still feeling the mojo with his putter. And he’s not too bad with the rest of his clubs, either.

He demonstrated as much during a four-hole stretch against the team of Mitch Hufstetler and Greg Ehmig, who was also representing Valleybrook. Craig and Rende held a 1-up lead heading into the par-3 ninth hole, only to lose it on Ehmig’s masterful chip-in for birdie. So the match was all square and tighter than a new pair of golf shoes heading to the back nine.

Four holes later, it was all but over.

That’s because Rende went off. Both teams parred No. 10, then Rende reeled off four straight birdies as Craig, who’s caddied for Rende in the last two U.S. Amateur qualifiers, watched in admiration.

The outburst started at No. 11, the 300-yard par 4. Rende drove it with a hybrid club and two-putted for birdie. On the next hole, the 469-yard par-4 12th, Rende hammered out a 341-yard drive, struck a sand wedge to about 12 feet behind the hole and rammed home the birdie putt.

At the par-3 13th, a sand wedge to four feet and another crisp putt resulted in yet another birdie, at which point Hufstetler and Ehmig were hanging on by a thread, having gone from all square to three down.

Both teams birdied No. 14 and parred 15 and 16, and the match ended 3 and 2.

“The putter’s still good,” Rende said. He credits his recent strong play to his work on the greens, or more specifically, some newfound confidence on the greens.

The victory sends Rende and Craig into Sunday’s semifinals at Council Fire, where the opponents will be Tom Schreiner and Max Markley. That duo pulled off the biggest win among Saturday’s quarterfinal matches, beating Josh Lawson and Jeremy Lawson, 4 and 3.

In Sunday’s other semifinal match, Matt Mathis and Thomas Smith, who beat Ryan Hulton and Ken Lowden, 1-up on Saturday, will play Brian Kopet and Chuck Jabaley, who defeated Todd Moreland and Randy Yoder, 2 and 1.

Mathis and Smith were pushed to the limit in the day’s closest match, during which 15 birdies and an eagle were carded. Smith accounted for six of those birdies, and Mathis four, but it was Mathis’ 15-foot par-putt at No. 15 that kept the former UTC players from going 1-down. And like any good teammate would, Smith returned the favor at No. 16, matching a birdie by Hulton-Lowden.

Smith’s second straight birdie, at the par-4 17th, provided the scant margin of victory.

“We were just trying to hang on,” said Smith, the 2006 Tennessee Amateur champion. “There were a lot of birdies out there today.”

Rende made a few birdies himself—six to be exact. He’s on a roll right now, and Craig says it’s fun to watch.

“He’s just so talented,” Craig said. “He’s like a lot of good young players today. They’re so aggressive, because they have such great short games. They feel like they can get it up and down from anywhere.

“But Derek’s still learning. That’s where I can help him out. I’m 38 years old and I’ve been around. Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping him see something he might not have seen. Giving him another option he might not have thought about. He hasn’t played golf all that long and he’s got a lot to learn, but I think he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”


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