published Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Signal opportunity: College golfers absent

Stephan Jaeger had a schedule conflict this weekend.

Jaeger, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior golfer, could defend his record-setting title at the Signal Mountain Invitational. Or he could help advance his Mocs to the NCAA championship tournament by placing in the top five of their NCAA regional that begins Thursday in Bowling Green, Ky.

It's an easy choice.

"I'm sad that I can't play in Signal this year," said Jaeger, who grew up in Germany and spent his high school days at Baylor School. "But the schedule is what it is. We have to go to regionals and make nationals.

"If we make nationals, we'll all have had as much fun as if we would have played Signal."

UTC players have won the last three Signal Mountain Invitationals. Jaeger won last year with a 17-under-par 196 for 54 holes. He also won in 2010, and J.T. Clendenin won in 2009.

The Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club is celebrating its 90th anniversary this summer with several events, including a party headlined by the cover band Top Tier last Saturday.

"What a fantastic event," said Shane Vandeventer, the club's membership chairman. "This is the 76th Invitational. There is a long list of significant winners."

Jaeger is the only player to win the Invitational with three rounds in less than 200 strokes on the par-71 course. Ira Templeton and Ed Brantly shared the previous record of 201.

"It was a pleasure to watch, and his record is something that will be around for a number of years," said Chris Schmidt, who began the 2011 final round five shots behind Jaeger and played in the Mocs star's group that day. "I remember thinking that if I could birdie the first three holes, I'd see how he handled that.

"But he birdied the first three holes, and he did everything the way you're supposed to do it. It was fun to play with a guy who's now one of the top 60 amateurs in the world."

But Jaeger will not play on the mountain this year. Nor will his UTC teammates.

Lee University and Tennessee Wesleyan golfers also will be otherwise occupied this weekend. They will be playing for the NAIA national championship at Creekside Golf Club in Salem, Ore.

Lee's Hunter Vest won the Brainerd Invitational on May 6 in a playoff that included teammate Caleb Roberson.

"I know our guys hate [missing the SMI], but we're playing in the most important tournament of the year," Flames coach John Maupin said. "I know that Caleb and Hunter would have loved to have gone up there and tried to duplicate their success at Brainerd."

Applications to play this weekend are still available through the Signal Mountain pro shop.

"With the college players not in it, that gives us more of a chance," said 30-year-old Ryan Hulton, who played for Lee in two NAIA nationals and more recently in the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur. "It sounds like it will be a field of juniors and mid-ams."

Said Schmidt: "I want to play with the young kids. I enjoy the competition and their enthusiasm and their level of commitment.

"It'd rather play the best, because that's the only way to know if you're among the best."

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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