JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The ending arrived early.
It had been coming for months, ever since Keith Mitchell chose to play in the Southern Amateur and then potentially the U.S. Amateur. He chose amateur golf for a few more weeks instead of turning professional.
It shouldn't have come so suddenly. But it did, a few days earlier than he wanted -- after the stroke-play rounds of the U.S. Amateur.
"I had a lot of fun playing amateur golf with my buddies," said Mitchell, who played at Baylor School and the University of Georgia. "Hopefully I'll get to do the same thing and play for some money."
The first sign of the end came Monday during his opening round of the U.S. Amateur when he shot a 4-over-par 75 on the Highlands Course at Atlanta Athletic Club. It arrived with a thwack on Tuesday, when the ball on his opening tee shot at No. 10 at the Riverside Course hit a limb and disappeared, never to be seen again.
More than 20 people, including the "Mitchell Mafia" who took a selfie with Mitchell in the background before the round, couldn't find the ball. Lost, gone forever.
The double-bogey hurt. He needed to shoot at least 5 under par for the next 17 holes to have a chance at making match play of the national championship.
The leaders in stroke play were Lee McCoy of Clarkesville, Ga., and Taylor Moore of Edmond, Okla., with 8-under-par 135s. Five players tied for third at 138, and six were at 139, including Carson Jacobs of Hendersonville, Tenn.
"It's disappointing when it comes down to two or three swings for a tournament," said Mitchell, who finished at 11-over 154. "You need to be there 100 percent of the time, not 95 percent.
"That's something I need to work on."
Mitchell followed with a three-putt bogey. Then another double-bogey after driving his ball left into a hazard. Another bogey followed after he hit a tee shot left into the woods. Then a tee shot with an iron on his fifth hole bounced into the hazard marking the Chattahoochee River.
Mitchell walked to the ball waving his club through the grass like a wheat sickle. Upon arrival, he took a whack, but the ball went closer to the river. He took an unplayable-lie penalty and finished with another double-bogey.
"I tried to battle my whole way through, but after I hit the hazard on 14, that's when it was game over," Mitchell said. "There's no way you can shoot 12 under for 14 holes on a course like this."
Mitchell's mother, Cynthia, frowned on occasion throughout the round, clapped for nice putts and cheered for the birdies he made on Nos. 2 and 8, long after he sealed the conclusion of his amateur career.
"I've thought about it," she said. "It's about firsts and lasts. His first high school tournament and his last, his first college tournament and the NCAAs, those were the tough ones."
There were tears at those tournaments, but none Tuesday when they hugged as the sun began to think about setting on Bobby Jones' home course.
"This will be his last amateur tournament, and then he'll have his first professional tournament," Cynthia said.
That will likely be a pre-qualifying tournament for Web.com Q-School in September.
"There was nothing better when he was a junior," she said, "than loading those clubs up and leaving for the weekend."
That seems like a long time ago. Just like Keith's whole amateur career will feel in a few years.
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...