published Friday, July 13th, 2012

Ben Reeves wins Tennessee Junior Amateur

  • photo
    Ben Reeves smiles after making a lengthy birdie putt at No. 10 Thursday in the final round of the Tennessee Golf Association's Junior golf championship at Black Creek Golf Club.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

Ben Reeves stood over a two-foot putt to win the Tennessee Junior Amateur with enough rain falling that officials could have delayed the tournament.

One thought ran through his brain as he wiped dry the putter and eyed his Titleist ball.

"This is going to be my last putt in a junior tournament — not the next putt," Reeves recalled.

He buried it. His mother smiled under her umbrella and UT-Martin coach Jerry Carpenter gave a little fist-pump to end a rain-soaked championship.

Reeves, who recently graduated from Knoxville's Bearden High School and will play at UT-Martin, shot a 2-over-par 74 at Black Creek Club on Thursday to finish at 7-under 209 for 54 holes. He topped William Blount graduate Peyton Sliger by one stroke.

Stuart Thomas, who owned the lead by one over Reeves with two holes to play, finished with two double bogeys and tied Jack Smith for third at 212. Austin Kramer and Sydney Chung tied for fifth at 213.

Clark Melton, a Walker Valley graduate, led the Chattanooga-area contingent by tying for seventh with Ryan Botts and Mitchell Thomas at 214.

Each of them endured wet and muddy conditions throughout the tournament, including Thursday when more than an inch and a half of rain fell before the round ended.

Part of Tuesday's first round was postponed until Wednesday when a steady rain fell all day, and Thursday's final round endured a lunchtime delay of 45 minutes and another 25-minute delay with only the last two groups on the course.

"We outlasted the course rather than each other," said Reeves, who entered the final round with a two-shot lead.

He laid up on the par-5 18th hole knowing that Thomas shot himself out of the tournament, and that even if Sliger -- playing in the group ahead -- birdied the last, a simple par would send him into a playoff. Sliger, who will play at Lee University in the fall, parred his last hole.

"It's hard to stop and start and play in different sorts of rain," Sliger said. "I handled it well. You have to focus and finish strong."

Reeves began thinking about his final round in the junior ranks before he teed off Thursday and as the day progressed. He scored a double-bogey on the par-5 No. 4 and made the turn tied with Thomas tied for the lead at 7 under. He kept thinking -- actually, reminiscing -- as the round continued.

"It was surreal," said Reeves, who won two AJGA events heading into the state tournament. "I was thinking about tournaments I played in the eighth grade -- one at Bear Trace [Harrison Bay] and how far I've come.

"It was a special day."

It could have been Thomas' special day. He and Reeves were around the green on No. 16 when the second delay started. When they resumed play, Reeves hit from a bunker and then three-putted for a double bogey to give Thomas a one-shot lead.

But Thomas gave the lead back when his tee shot to the tricky par-3 17th sailed long and into a creek behind the green. He said he measured the flag to 174 yards and hit an 8-iron.

"There was a lot going on in my head," Thomas said. "I was two holes away from having this thing in the bag. I guess it was adrenaline."

Thomas stepped to the teeing ground on the par-5 18th knowing he needed a birdie to catch Reeves. He tried to crush a drive but pulled it into a pond, eliminating him from contention.

"It was all or nothing," said Thomas, a rising senior at Farragut High who has committed to play at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Reeves hit the fairway, laid up short of a rushing creek (which is normally dry), hit his approach about 60 feet long of the hole, lagged a putt to within two feet and made the knee-knocker without flinching despite his mind flooding with memories.

"I feel like I got a gem, like I got a steal," Coach Carpenter said. "I think the future is bright for him."

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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