Kevin Law wins Men's Metro by 1 over Chris Gilliland
As Chris Gilliland watched Kevin Law’s birdie putt drop in the hole at the par-3 17th at Black Creek on Sunday, he thought his chances to win the Chattanooga Metro were over.
"When he made that putt, I thought he had pretty much finished me off," said Gilliland, the 17-year-old Notre Dame High School senior.
Gilliland couldn’t be blamed for thinking the hard-fought final round had been decided. Law’s birdie put him at 11-under par for the tournament; Gilliland stood at 9-under. But there was still the par-5 18th to play, and in a harbinger of things to come as Black Creek becomes a perennial venue for significant tournaments, the final hole provided some excitement.
When Law, for the second day in a row, drove into the left water hazard, Gilliland had a chance. Faced with 250 yards into a breeze for his second shot, the youngster didn’t hesitate.
"I guess I was going to go for it no matter what," he said.
Gilliland lashed a 3-wood to within a few yards of the green, but got a bit unlucky when his pitch shot checked up about 10 feet short of the hole.
Law, meanwhile, faced a long putt for par, which he missed, setting the stage for Gilliland to try and force a tie. With his parents, Council Fire director of golf Hunt Gilliland and wife Jan, looking on, Gilliland studied the putt and put a good stroke on the ball, only to see it tail off to the right just as it approached the hole.
Law, who made bogey, still finished with a 69 and a three-day total of 206. The victory was his first in the Metro.
"I’ve played in the last group in this tournament four times," Law said. "It feels good to finally go ahead and win it. This is Chattanooga’s tournament. To see all the great names [engraved on the trophy] who have won it; that just tells you it’s a special tournament."
Gilliland, who also shot 69, finished at 207. Another two strokes back was Philip Guess, who was tied for the lead late in the round after making birdies at No. 13 and No. 14. A bogey at No. 17 ended his chances.
Andrew Black, who recently completed his career at Tennessee, finished fourth after a 66 left him at 210. Black, who had won the Metro three of the previous five years, predicted on Saturday he’d need a 63 to win after he shot a second-round 75. He would have made it save a triple-bogey at the par-3 7th hole. Black made nine birdies on the day, six coming after the triple.
Gilliland seemed headed for a similarly low number after his first 10 holes, during which he made five birdies—at Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9 and 10, to get to 11 under for the tournament. One stroke might have cost him the championship.
At the par-3 11th, where club selection is always dicey, Gilliland chose a 6-iron because there was a breeze in his face.
"I’d hit 7 iron in the middle of the green the day before," Gilliland said. "But I thought I had to choke down on a 6-iron because of the wind that was up there. I thought I’d hit the ball perfect."
Unfortunately Gilliland’s shot rolled into the back bunker, a position from which saving par is difficult. Gilliland hit a good second shot, but the ball trickled off the green and into the front bunker. He wound up with a double bogey.
On the next hole, the tough par-4 12th, Gilliland drove his ball just into the left rough.
"I probably should have tried to punch it out," he said. "But I thought I could hit it out of there."
Gilliland hit his approach into the hazard in front of the green, and forced to take a drop, made another double-bogey.
Tied with Law after No. 11, Gilliland fell a stroke behind after No. 12, which Law three-putted.
Gilliland brushed off his adversity with a solid birdie at No. 13 that tied Law and Guess at 8-under par. The par-5 14th was next, and Law was about to assume control of the tournament. He reached the green with a 5-iron and two-putted for birdie while Gilliland couldn’t get up and down from just in front of the green.
Law followed that birdie with another at No. 15. When Gilliland answered with a birdie of his own at No. 16, he got back to 9-under and trailed Law by a stroke.
But Law wasn’t finished. He calmly laced a 5-iron to about 18 feet and drained the putt for a birdie that Gilliland thought had doomed him.
As it turned out, Law wasn’t in a mindset to back down at No. 18. There was never a doubt in his mind that he was going to hit his driver off the tee.
"If I had it to do over, I’d hit the driver again," Law said. "I thought I’d have a better chance swinging at a driver than trying to go up there with a 3-wood and trying to guide the ball in the fairway."
Suffice to say Gilliland was stunned when Law’s tee ball went in the water. The youngster made sure his drive found the fairway, and though he was still 250 yards from the hole, Gilliland knew he had to try and reach the green.
There would be no miracle comebacks for Gilliland in his first Metro, but he impressed a lot of people with his game and his courage.
"I learned a lot this week," Gilliland said.
His fellow competitors in the Tennessee Junior Amateur, which will be played this week at Link Hills in Greeneville, had better beware.
As for Law, he’s settled into the role of part-time golfer after playing a steady junior, high school and college schedule for the last nine years. He recently turned 26, which means he’s eligible for mid-amateur events. He’ll take some positive memories into the Tennessee Mid-Amateur, which will be played at Black Creek in October.
"I’ve just seemed to do well here," said Law, whose father Ronnie is a Black Creek member. That duo teamed for the 2001 Tennessee Four-Ball championship.