published Monday, July 14th, 2014

Qualifying chops: The Honors Course, Cleveland Country Club ready for elite amateur events

Brooks Thomas competes Sunday in the final round of the Chattanooga men’s Metro at Brainerd Golf Course. Thomas is part of a Chattanooga-based contingent of more than 15 golfers competing to play in the U.S. Amateur.
Brooks Thomas competes Sunday in the final round of the Chattanooga men’s Metro at Brainerd Golf Course. Thomas is part of a Chattanooga-based contingent of more than 15 golfers competing to play in the U.S. Amateur.

Two of the most prestigious amateur golf tournaments in the world will be played during the next three weeks and they're both less than two hours of driving time from the Chattanooga courthouse.

The Southern Amateur starts Wednesday at The Honors Course in Ooltewah.

The U.S. Amateur starts Aug., 11 at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.

For golfers who don't have spot to participate in either event quite yet, today is their day to earn their spot to play against elite amateur golfers from across the world.

"Monday reminds me of the U.S. Open qualifying process," The Honors Course head professional Henrik Simonsen said. "There are good amateurs who want to rub elbows with up-and-comers and compete against the best in the world."

It's a big day for amateur golf in the Chattanooga area. Presumably, the late Jack Lupton --founder of The Honors -- would be proud.

The USGA and Tennessee Golf Association are holding a 36-hole qualifying tournament at Cleveland Country Club to determine three golfers worthy of playing in the U.S. Amateur.

The Honors Course and the Southern Golf Association is conducting an 18-hole on-site qualifier to determine who can compete in the tournament that starts Wednesday.

"I think quite a bit of our field will be playing in the Southern Am," said Cleveland general manager Lamar Mills on Sunday. "Most U.S. Am qualifier sites advance two players. We get three who move on.

"That says a lot about the field we have and the field that will be at Southern."

The tournaments today grant entry into the elite.

The U.S. Am is one of the top two events in the world. And a Southern Golf Association release proclaims the Southern Am as the No. 7 amateur event in the world.

So entry is limited.

"They pretty much treat you like kings in USGA tournaments," said UTC sophomore Brooks Thomas who played in the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2012. "It's a big deal to make it to those events.

"I'm like everybody else. Making it to USGA events is the main goal, and winning is a bigger achievement."

Thomas is part of a Chattanooga-based contingent of more than 15 golfers competing to play in the U.S. Amateur which will be played at Atlanta Athletic Club.

"Once you qualify for a USGA event you want to go back," said Jay Potter, who qualified for the 2005 U.S. Public Links and the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur. "It's amazing. I love it. And that's what drives me to keep doing it at 45. You hope to catch lightning in a bottle then kick [tail]."

Potter would have to do so at Cleveland Country Club for 36 holes.

Others, like Chattanooga resident Christ Schmidt, have opted to gain entry into the Southern Amateur. Many area golfers attempted to qualify in an event in Knoxville. Chattanooga's Richard Spangler and Tennessee Wesleyan golfer Keoni Vidrine qualified and will begin competition on Wednesday at The Honors Course.

Schmidt, a dominant player in the Chattanooga amateur ranks, needs to earn his way in today.

He wants to -- desperately.

Schmidt did so in 1986 when the Southern Am made its first appearance in Ooltewah.

"I was 18 or so at the time," said Schmidt, one of 10 Chattanooga players competing today at The Honors. "I passed on the U.S. Amateur because the Southern [Am] and the The Honors are special to me."

After all, he began than 1986 tournament with an eagle on No. 10 by holing-out from the fairway.

"First big tournament of my life," Schmidt said, "and something I'll never forget."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

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 ...

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