published Monday, August 11th, 2014

Keith Mitchell delays pro career for amateur summer

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    Former Baylor School golfer Keith Mitchell will begin play today in the 2014 U.S. Amateur.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Keith Mitchell had a decision — a difficult one.

Some friends and advisors said that the former Baylor School golfer should turn professional and play for pay after his tenure with the University of Georgia ended in May at the NCAA championships.

It would be the best way for him to prepare for Web.com qualifying school.

But his heart heard another story. Finish college and remain an amateur for the summer.

For another few weeks he could play in the majors of amateur golf like the Players Amateur, the Porter Cup, the Western Amateur and the Southern Amateur, at his home course no less.

And the most prestigious American amateur, the U.S. Amateur, would be just down the road at Atlanta Athletic Club.

He has an 8:05 tee time this morning off No. 1 at the Highlands Course in the first of two rounds of stroke play in the U.S. Amateur.

"I chose to go that route because the chance for me to play in the Southern Am at The Honors Course would never happen again in my life," Mitchell said last week while overlooking Lake Lupton at the course where his father, Jerry, is a member and raised Keith.

"I had to finish school, with two classes in June [to earn a business degree] and the summer schedule set up so well for me with the Southern here and the U.S. Am at Atlanta Athletic Club where I've taken lessons for about five years.

"The mini-tours could wait a few weeks."

Mitchell is heading to the U.S. Amateur for a third straight year. He beat 2012 U.S. Amateur champion Steven Fox, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer, in a qualifier that year.

"I joke with him that I should get to play Augusta too because I beat him," said Mitchell, who missed the match-play field of 64 that year at Cherry Hills outside of Denver and last year at the Country Club outside of Boston.

Those experiences should benefit Mitchell this week. He'll play the Highlands course this morning and then the Riverside Course (the easier course) on Tuesday afternoon.

"My first two years, it felt like an accomplishment just to get there, and that was my problem," Mitchell admitted. "I felt like I did everything I needed to do in just getting there.

"But that's just one step."

The next step is advancing to match play. That's where previous results mean nothing and the only scores that matter are those posted by the two golfers facing each other.

It's just like the NCAA basketball tournament -- qualify and dance. Some big names go down early. Sometimes an underdog reaches the finals.

Maybe this year it's a Mitchell.

"My first two years, I was excited just to be there," Mitchell said. "I'm changing that. I know I have more business to take care of.

"In order to win, in order to compete, the accomplishment is playing in the semifinals or the finals."

The decision to delay a professional career has lined up just as Mitchell thought it would. All that's left is the championship won by the likes of Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods.

The logistics worked out to perfection. Mitchell gained traveling experience like tour professionals over the last month, sharpened his game while competing against the most of the best amateurs in the world, and he'll have a comfortable bed.

He's staying with former roommate Mooike Demoss who lives about 15 minutes away from Atlanta Athletic Club.

"It's as close to a home event as you can get without sleeping in your own bed," Mitchell said. "Everything is lined up.

"I've got a good tee time, a good place to stay, I've got my coach [AAC teaching pro Chan Reeves] there and family and friends can come watch me play.

"I just have to go down there and play my best."

The small professional tour events can wait at least another week -- maybe another eight months.

Mitchell's long-term goal is to be a professional golfer and join former UGA teammates Hudson Swafford, Russell Henley and Harris English, with whom he spent two seasons on the Baylor golf team, on the PGA Tour.

"I'm turning pro," Mitchell said. "But if I have a week like my good buddy Steven Fox, I will definitely wait to do so until after the second week in April."

That would be in eight months, after the Masters.

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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