Gilliland wins Metro by 2 over Honeycutt, Williams
Chris Gilliland had a startling sense of déjà vu in the final round of the Men’s Metro Amateur on Sunday.
Gilliland, fresh off his freshman season at Furman, had just seen his tee shot on the 12th hole at Valleybrook plunge into the pond that guards the right side of the fairway. Did Gilliland, who was 4-under par for the tournament and leading by a shot over Patrick Williams at the time, panic? Quite the contrary.
"That was as calm as I’d felt the entire day," Gilliland said.
Why? He’d been there before. In remarkably similar circumstances in the 2002 Metro at Black Creek, Gilliland, then just 17 and entering his senior year of high school, led going into the 11th hole. Gilliland made a double bogey after mis-clubbing and flying the green, then compounded the problem after driving into the left rough at No. 12.
"I should have just tried to wedge something out and played for a par," Gilliland said.
Instead, Gilliland went for the green and plunked his ball into a hazard. Another double-bogey resulted, and his chances of winning the tournament were all but dashed.
Gilliland wasn’t about to let history repeat itself. Sure, he was steamed after that errant tee shot and a poor chip cost him at double-bogey on Valleybrook’s nasty 12th hole, but he quickly brushed it off.
"I just didn’t want to try and get it all back on the next hole," Gilliland said. "I knew that somehow, I was going to birdie one of the next three holes."
And so he did. After falling behind Williams by a stroke, Gilliland caught him again with a birdie at No. 14. It was match play from there.
Ricky Honeycutt, co-leader after the first round and leader after the second, never was a factor after shooting a 5-over-par 40 on the front. "It was just one of those days," said Honeycutt, who bogeyed three of his first four holes. "I had a couple of bad breaks, but I just didn’t play well."
Honeycutt’s gradual descent on the leaderboard left Williams and Gilliland to duel it out.
As it turned out, the outcome was decided fairly early, though it didn’t seem so at the time.
With its back pin placement, the par-3 16th was a tough test on Sunday, as Williams found out. Desperately wanting to put his tee shot on the left side of the green, Williams pushed it a bit and his ball landed right of the pin, leaving him a long and winding road to the hole.
"It was about 35 feet with at least 10 feet of break," Williams said. "I knew I couldn’t hit [his tee shot] that deep on the green. It was a tough putt, and I just didn’t hit it hard enough."
Williams’ first putt darted below the hole and kept rolling, leaving him a 10-footer for par. His par attempt caught the low side of the hole, but spun out.
The bogey dropped Williams a shot behind Gilliland, whose tee shot at 16 left him a slightly more direct path to the hole. He two-putted for par and walked to the 17th tee with a one shot lead.
Gilliland proceeded to draw his tee shot into the left trees, but he had plenty of room to negotiate a pitch into the fairway.
The pressure was on Williams to make something happen on the par-5 hole. With 230 yards to a middle left pin, Williams tried to hit a draw with a 2-iron. Trouble was, the shot didn’t draw and plunked into the pond in front of the green.
"In hindsight, I shouldn’t have tried to draw the ball to the pin," Williams said. "I should have just hit something into the middle of the green and then had a chance with my putter."
Williams took a penalty stroke and played a solid pitch to about five feet and saved par. Gilliland also parred the hole, and maintained that scant one-stroke lead. Honeycutt birdied No. 17 to get back to 1-under and had a chance if Gilliland faltered. He didn’t.
Gilliland powered a 3-wood to the middle of the fairway, and hit a three-quarter 8-iron from 150 yards to about 12 feet sort of the hole. Williams’ approach skipped off the back of the green, forcing him to be too aggressive with his chip, which rolled 10 feet past. Williams missed the putt and fell into a tie with Honeycutt for second, who parred 18. Williams shot a final-round 72 for a total of 212. Honeycutt shot a closing 75.
All Gilliland had to do to make Chattanooga golf history was cozy his first putt in the vicinity of the hole and tap in. When he did so, it made him and father Hunt—who won the Metro in 1972—the first father-son duo to win the tournament.
"Finally, his name is on something I’ve won," said the elder Gilliland, a fine junior amateur who won the Metro when he was just 16.
"I never felt any pressure trying to live up to anything my dad did on the golf course," Chris Gilliland said. "But obviously you want to try. He’d won the city junior and I finished second twice. I had a chance to win the Metro two years ago but couldn’t.
"This feels good to win because my dad did it too, but it also feels good just to win a tournament. I’d won some local junior tournaments, but never a regular tournament. This was a good field, with a lot of college players and some very good players who have been doing this a long time."
Wes Brown also made a bit of history. Winner of the 1948 Tennessee Amateur, Brown shot 76-78—154 and won the senior division of the Metro by a shot over Pier Morgan, and therefore retains the Wesley G Brown traveling trophy for a year. Not many golfers are lucky enough to win a tournament where the trophy is named after them.