published Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Matthew Mahle wins second Choo-Choo Invitational by one over Blakely

  • photo
    Matthew Mahle reacts after taking a swing while playing in the final round of the Choo Choo Invitational at Council Fire Golf Club on Wednesday.
    Photo by Shawn Paik.
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Matthew Mahle had no need for a rabbit's foot or a four-leaf clover on Wednesday.

He had an aunt and two cousins.

They were on the Council Fire property trying to find Mahle as he stood on the 16th tee, two strokes behind Nick Blakely. They found him on the 17th tee when he trailed Ben Wolcott by two shots.

Mahle's aunt Shelly Perrone, as well as cousins Victor and Emily, golf-shouted on the 18th green when Mahle rolled in an eagle putt to win the second annual Choo-Choo Invitational.

Everybody heard it.

"We went a little faster than the troopers probably would have liked," Perrone said after she and children Victor and Emily made a college visit to the University of Alabama.

They made it in time to watch Mahle, a sophomore at the College of Charleston who grew up in Lexington, win the biggest tournament of his amateur career.

"Right now, this is my favorite course," Mahle said. "After the 16th hole, it wasn't my favorite course because I went down by one."

Mahle shot a 1-under 71 on Wednesday and finished the three-day tournament at 6-under 210. He clipped former Ooltewah resident Blakely by one, and was two shots ahead of Ole Miss sophomore Wolcott and Chattanoogan Taylor Lewis.

"It was up and down all day and nobody wanted to take it," Mahle said. "I was down between one and five stroke until the last hole. With 10 holes to play I thought that if I could get to 7 under that I'd at least be in a playoff."

No playoff was necessary for the amateur division.

But the senior division required a sudden-death playoff that lasted two holes to determine the champion.

Chattanooga's Neil Spitalny beat Chris Hall of Mapleton, Ga., with a birdie on No. 2 after they both shot 3-under 213. They defeated third-place finisher Donny Phillips of Suwanee, Ga., by eight strokes.

"I played very steady and putted better than I had all spring," said Spitalny, a local doctor who performed emergency surgery on Tuesday night. "Golf is 100 percent luck. There's no way I should have won that playoff."

Spitalnty found his ball short-sided behind the first green in the playoff. He splashed out then drilled about a 30-foot putt. Hall just smiled, then two-putted for par after he thought Spitalnty had long odds to make par.

On the second hole, a matter of inches determined the victor. Hall sent his second shot into deep rough about one foot behind the green with the cup nestled in a hill sloping away from him. Only a PGA Tour pro could make the shot for eagle.

He's not the PGA Tour. Two putts, and he made par. Spitalny's birdie beat him.

The young amateurs had a different sort of drama down to the end.

The final grouping of Mahle, Blakely and Wolcott combined to make one eagle, one birdie, two bogeys and two double-bogeys in the last three holes.

Blakely dropped two shots on No. 16, Mahle dropped one and Wolcott made a birdie. Wolcott dropped another on No. 17.

Not all competitors knew the true standings when they stood on the tee of the final hole, the reachable par-5 18th. There were no standard-bearers, and tallies from observers were mixed.

It didn't matter to Mahle.

He striped a drive, smoked a hybrid on to the green, then sank a left-to-right 15-foot putt for an eagle.

"I knew it was going in with 10 feet to go," Mahle said. "It was a really fun week. Making a lot of birdies helps too."

So does an eagle on No. 18.

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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