Keith Mitchell is a popular man this week at The Honors Course.
He was the Fred Couples of the practice area Tuesday. Everybody who knew him stopped to say hello, congratulate him on getting in the U.S. Amateur on Monday, tell an old story or pick his brain about the course he played growing up as a Chattanooga native.
"I came over to the chipping green because nobody was here," said Mitchell, who played for Baylor School and the University of Georgia. "It's crazy, but good crazy."
Mitchell is one of five participants in the Southern Amateur, which starts today, who holds close ties to the greater Chattanooga area.
Richard Spangler grew up in the area and lives in Hixson. Keoni Vidrine played for Polk County High School and now plays for Tennessee Wesleyan in Athens, where he has been a teammate of Josh Wheeler. And former U.S. Open participant Brett Patterson hails from McMinnville.
Spangler, Vidrine, Patterson and Wheeler all survived qualifying tournaments to secure their spots in the Southern Am.
"We have a lot to represent," Spangler said. "Chattanooga has always been a strong golf community."
About 25 golfers with Chattanooga ties -- either local amateurs or those playing for local colleges and high schools -- attempted to enter through qualifying tournaments. Mitchell had an exemption based on his amateur ranking.
"It's pretty special," said Vidrine, who wore a Walker Valley polo shirt and carried a Mustangs golf bag on Tuesday even though he played for Polk's Wildcats. "I've never been on a stage like this before. It's pretty unique.
"I feel my game can compete with anybody, and this summer my game is at a new level."
Unlike the other four, Wheeler is not a greater Chattanooga area native. But he's been embraced as one after playing for the Bulldogs. He grew up in Maryville but has made a life of his own during college at TWC.
"When you have major amateur events like this, you want a nice representation of the local area to show that we can play," Wheeler said. "I get to sleep in my own bed for this tournament. That makes me a local."
But Mitchell is the local celebrity.
His father was one of the original members of The Honors Course, and Keith grew up enjoying the menu and other incredible amenities as a child. Then he transformed himself into a highly ranked junior golfer who earned a scholarship at Georgia.
"I remember Keith as a kid and saw his transformation from a guy who couldn't break 80 to a stud," Spangler said. "If I play my game that I'm capable of, it wouldn't surprise me to see Keith in one of the final groups for the last two rounds.
"I'd love it if I were paired with him."
It could happen. Spangler has a different approach to the Honors than most of the field -- except for Mitchell. Spangler has played more than 150 rounds out there in his life.
"I shot 69 out there as a 12-year-old -- from the orange tees," he said. "From the tips, my best score is a 70. I want to beat my own accomplishments and own accolades. If I do that, then I'll have a chance in the end."
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 ...