published Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Keith Mitchell medalist in U.S. Am qualifier

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Keith Mitchell had plans to become a professional golfer at the conclusion of the Southern Amateur this week at The Honors Course.

His pro plans are changing just a little bit.

The U.S. Amateur now will be his final event before going pro.

Mitchell, who prepped at Baylor School, was the medalist at a U.S. Am qualifier Monday at Cleveland Country Club with an 8-under-par 134 for 36 holes. The former University of Georgia golfer earned one of three entries awarded for the national championship that starts Aug. 11 at Atlanta Athletic Club.

"One of the main reasons to remain an amateur after the NCAAs was to play in the Southern Am at the Honors, at my home course," Mitchell said. "The Honors is my favorite place on Earth. So why not end my amateur career there?"

The why not is the nation's pinnacle for amateurs.

The other spots were earned in a three-for-two playoff after 136s. UT-Martin sophomore Ben Reeves advanced with a par on the first hole, and incoming teammate Hunter Richardson advanced on the next hole.

Tom Lovelady, a junior for national champion Alabama, concluded the day as the first alternate. Jeremy Sanders of Pepperdine University is the second alternate after a 137.

"Huge props to Tom, because when I saw I was in a playoff with him, I was a little intimidated," Reeves said. "I'd have to check with Coach [Jerry Carpenter], but I don't think UT-Martin has ever had a player in the U.S. Am. And now we've got two in the same year."

Mitchell watched the playoff and received adulation from everybody in attendance. He clearly had the best day of any competitor. His college and amateur resume stacks up with most of the competitors there, many of whom he'll see again at the Honors throughout this week of the Southern Am.

He shot a 1-under 70 in his morning round, and that came after driving back Sunday from The Players Amateur in Hilton Head, S.C. He said his morning round was his practice round because he didn't get one Sunday.

The knowledge gained in the morning helped in the afternoon, when Mitchell shot a single-round best 7-under 64. He started on No. 10 and scored five birdies on that nine, then played the front nine with three birdies and one bogey.

"This course is an old-school test of golf," Mitchell said. "If you can putt, that's when you can play well."

He putted well enough to extend his amateur career. He's elated about it.

After all, skipping a couple weeks of mini-tour events to play in the U.S. Amateur for a third time -- with the opportunity to reach match play for the first time -- is too grand to pass up for a winner's check of just a couple grand.

"I've put too much pressure on myself during stroke at Erin Hills and Cherry Hills and never played well in stroke play," Mitchell said. "Now I've got a lot more experience. If I can focus on playing my best, then I'll do a lot better."

Reeves advanced to join Mitchell with a rather routine par on the first playoff hole. But he'd noticed that Richardson hit his tee shot on the par-5 No. 1 out of bounds and Lovelady hit his left into the woods. Lovelady's chip back into the fairway hit a tree and failed to advance his cause, resulting in bogeys for both players.

Richardson won his spot on the next hole with a perfect drive and high approach from about 125 yards with a pitching wedge that settled about eight feet from the hole.

"I'd never tried for a USGA event," Richardson said. "This is my first."

But not for Mitchell.

"I had to take two summer classes for the whole month of June," Mitchell said. "I wanted to get school out of the way so I could focus on golf."

It's amateur golf for another couple of weeks.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him 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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