Lewis Wins Metro by 1 Over Blakely, Apyan
When he’s playing tournament golf, Taylor Lewis likes to strap on his iPod Nano. The tiny mp3 player allows him to drown out any outside distractions with music.
Usually, Lewis, a senior on Lipscomb University’s golf team, plays with one headphone out so he can still converse with his playing partners. But when Lewis really needs to focus, he pops in that other headphone and lets the music take him to another place.
Such was the case on the 18th hole at Signal Mountain on Sunday, in the final round of the Chattanooga Men’s Metro. As Lewis stared down a 10-foot birdie putt, he wasn’t sure what was at stake; he just knew he had to make the putt. So in went the second headphone. The soundtrack for his final stroke in the Metro was provided by 3 Doors Down.
“The song was ‘Running Out of Days,’ ” Lewis said. “The songs I have on the iPod are mid-paced, so I can use them to either juice me up or calm me down.”
Lewis’ nerves needed soothing on this occasion. With a deep breath he drew back his putter and knocked his ball into the heart of the cup for a birdie three. He still didn’t know how big the putt was until he saw his buddy Bryce Ledford, the defending champion, walking up to shake his hand.
“That’s when I knew I won it,” said Lewis, whose closing 3-under-par 68 left him with a 54-hole total of 206, a scant stroke ahead of Paul Apyan (Southern Miss) and Nick Blakely (Birmingham Southern) and two ahead of Tripp Harris (UTC) and Chris Gilliland (Furman) on a leaderboard that could have been mistaken for a college tournament.
Lewis, the first-round leader after shooting 66, was happy that, on a day when several players had their chances to win, he didn’t back into the championship.
“First of all I’m happy that I made birdie on the last hole to win the tournament,” Lewis said. “That’s how we all dream about winning. I’m also pleased that I came back to win after shooting 66 in the first round. I don’t know how many times I’ve shot low in the first round of a tournament and then been no factor on the last day.”
Late in the final round, it was Harris, the 36-hole leader who just completed his freshman year as No. 4 man at UTC, who seemed in control of the tournament. Tied with Lewis at 7-under-par after the par-3 14th hole, Harris knocked a wedge shot to within a foot at the par-4 15th for a birdie that left him at 8-under.
As quickly as Harris went ahead, though, he surrendered his lead after hitting behind his tee shot at No. 16 and popping up a floater that traveled maybe 50 yards. He hit his second shot and then a provisional ball left and across the cart path to the right of the 11th green. Fortunately for Harris, he found his first ball under some trees and had a shot to the green. But his third shot came up 30 yards short of the green, and his fourth rolled just off onto the fringe. Two putts later, a double-bogey 6 dropped Harris to 6-under.
Shaken, he bogeyed the next two holes and finished with a 73, three strokes behind Lewis.
Unbeknownst to Lewis or Harris, a couple of other collegians were vaulting up the leaderboard on the closing holes. Apyan and Blakely made five birdies apiece on the back nine. Apyan birdied No. 10 and 11 to get to 5-under for the tournament, made another birdie at No. 13, then finished his barrage with consecutive birdies at No. 16 and 17. For a time, Apyan had the lead to himself at 8 under.
Here’s the part where Apyan, like Harris, will kick himself when he replays the tournament in his mind. A solid tee shot left him 124 yards from the hole, but instead of playing to the middle of the green, Apyan aimed at the flag, which was in the right corner of the green, just behind the greenside bunker.
“I should have just aimed for the middle,” Apyan said. “But I didn’t know what was going on behind me. I thought I might need another birdie.”
Apyan hit his approach long and right, a position from which it took him three more shots to get in the hole. And he had to make a tricky two-footer for his double bogey. A par would have given him the championship.
Blakely, too, put on a back-nine charge, making birdies at Nos. 10, 11, 13, 16 and 17. That last birdie moved him to 6-under for the tournament and gave him a chance at a playoff after Lewis bogeyed No. 17.
The bogey left Lewis, Apyan and Blakely all tied at 6-under. Tournament officials informed Lewis’ father, Randy, who had watched his son all day, of the situation. “But I chose not to share it with [Taylor],” the elder Lewis said.
“It’s a good thing,” Taylor Lewis said. “If I’d known, I might have putted that ball off the green.”
Not likely. Not with his secret weapon, the iPod, chilling him out better than a valium.
“I felt good over the putt after I looked it over and saw it was pretty straight,” Lewis said. “I knew when it was about three feet from the hole that it was going in.”
Lewis, who played high school golf at Boyd Buchanan and won regularly on the state and local junior circuit, hadn’t contended too often in his college career. But undaunted, he’s continued to work hard on his game.
“This sort of closes out a chapter in my golf career,” Lewis said. “It’s had been a while since I’ve won. Now I’m starting a new chapter.”
Complete with his own soundtrack.