M.J. Maguire tees off on the 18th hole during the final round of the Southern Amateur Championship golf tournament Saturday, July 19, 2014, at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. Maguire, from St. Petersburg, Fla., won the tournament.Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
A family cemetery, the size of a putting green, is a few yards away from the final teeing ground at The Honors Course.
It's rather appropriate.
Veteran caddies joke that the cemetery is a reminder that the 18th hole is where good rounds go to die.
Every round from a contender during the final day of the Southern Amateur suffered some sort of catastrophe before teeing off with headstones in the background.
M.J. Maguire survived the swath of double-bogeys, triple-bogeys, quadruple-bogeys and even a quintuple-bogey -- all scores recorded by the six golfers playing in the final two groups Saturday -- to emerge as the champion with a total of 4-under-par 284.
"I put blinders on and didn't think about everything going on around me," said Maguire, who had a double-bogey on the par-3 No. 8. "I knew how tough the course can play. I had to do damage control."
With a 1-under 71 for a round that started in light rain and ended with stiff breezes, Maguire was one of four players to break par on the course designed by Pete Dye, nurtured by superintendent David Stone and set up by the Southern Golf Association.
"This is the hardest golf course I've ever played," said Beau Hossler, who was tied for eighth through 54 holes of the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club as a 17-year-old. "Even the Olympic Club. Absolutely, this is the hardest course."
Hossler, a sophomore at Texas, had a two-shot lead over Trevor Cone to start the final round, and a three-shot lead over Will Starke.
That final group, the top three players through the first three rounds, combined to shoot 21 over par on the last day.
Cone shot 6 over, Starke shot 7 over and Hossler shot 8 over. Yet Cone and Hossler tied for fourth at even 288 and Starke tied for eighth at 290.
"Nobody played well," said Cone, who reached 7 under for the tournament and held a two-shot lead through 11 holes Saturday. "There's not much you can do about it. But that's the game."
Victor Perez of Albuquerque, N.M., and Geoff Drakeford of Australia tied for second at 1 under. They were followed by scores of even par from Cone, Hossler and Scott Vincent of Australia.
"It doesn't take much to rack up a double-bogey around here," Drakeford said. "It plays long to start, and with the rain, there wasn't any run in the fairways, and with the tees we played, it was playing as long as it could.
"It's a tough course."
That sentiment abounded from the field of golfers who comprise to make the Southern Amateur the No. 7 ranked amateur tournament in the world. Robby Shelton, the No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, tied for seventh place.
Golfers could have cursed the setup or cursed the course. But they tipped their cap to the Honors instead of complaining about a teeing ground or pin placement or something quirky, or even the elements.
"The scores show the difficulty of the course and the way guys struggled," Perez said. "You had to do so many things right just to be around par. Every bad shot is worth two shots instead of one. Everybody felt that over the course of the week."
Most rounds were buried long before the players saw the cemetery which bears birth and death dates from the 1800s.
Victims were falling from the start.
Hossler dug his grave for the tournament on the 220-yard par-3 tree-lined third hole. His approach landed right of the green, his chip settled in a grassy bowl within spitting distance of the flag. He tapped the ball -- over the course of several minutes with a hybrid, three times before it reached the green.
Less than 45 minutes into the round, Hossler -- who admitted that nerves factored into his bogey on No. 1 -- went from from up by two to down by five after Cone birdied the first two holes.
He wasn't done making big numbers and turning his scorecard into a middle school geometry project with many more squares than circles.
Hossler scored a 7 on the par-4 ninth hole when his approach hit about 15 feet right of the pin and spun back past the left pin location and into the water. Hossler, the most recognizable name in the field to casual golf fans, shot 46 on the front nine.
He maintained his cool. He didn't throw a club into Lake Lupton like first-round leader Grayson Murray did in the third Friday after he made three straight bogeys, one poor tee shot on No. 17, then walked off the course.
"I don't think I've shot a 46 on nine holes in a years, and I feel like I didn't play all that bad," Hossler said. "I wasn't upset. I was more in disbelief. I can't say I coughed it up or gave it away, because realistically that's not the case."
It was The Honors Course, which Pete Dye said on the 25th anniversary of the course was one of the finest he ever designed.
It buried all contenders -- from Hossler to Hunter Glenn, who shot 35 over on four days -- except Maguire.
"The key for the week was eliminating big numbers," said Maguire who earned an exemption into the PGA Tour's Bay Hill Invitational next spring. "It's crazy that I'll get to tee it up against the best."
Cone reached 8 under by starting Saturday with two birdies. He led by two through 11 holes.
Then the senior at Virginia Tech bogeyed No. 13 after a poor chip shot, bogeyed No. 14 by hitting too much club into the par-3 hole. He double-bogeyed No. 15 when his tee shot didn't cross the lake and double-bogeyed the par-3 16th when his ball landed in the water. He lost six shots in four holes.
"I felt a little pressure when I bogeyed 14," Cone said. "On 15, I think I had a two-shot lead and I wanted fairways and greens."
"On 16, I felt like I had to make a couple birdies coming in," he said.
Splash again. Dye, Stone and the SGA beat him.
Drakeford, playing in front of the final group, stood on the 16th tee with a four-shot lead. He gazed across the lake to a green guarded by water all the way in the front, pot bunkers in the back and bushes with thorns planted in just the right -- or wrong -- places before hitting his tee shot. It was baptized, rinsed in the water and sank to the bottom.
Drakeford's shot from the drop-zone came to rest on the yellow line marking the hazard. While in conversation with an official about whether the ball settled in or out of the hazard -- in the hazard was the decision -- his caddie David Hill rinsed a wedge in the lake, in the hazard. That was a two-stroke penalty and the end of Drakeford's chances to join an elite list of past champions including Bobby Jones.
"David feels sick to his stomach," Drakeford said. "It's my fault for putting it in the water."
The water level of Lake Lupton had to rise Saturday. It rained for about 36 straight hours and golfers dumped balls below the bass on a regular basis.
Maguire lifted the level a little on No. 8. He didn't do it again.
The champion, who stared at 3 under, shot 1 under over his first nine holes and then even on the back with a birdie at waterless No. 10 and a bogey on the tricky par-3 No. 14 by hitting a tee shot long.
Maguire parred the last four holes when his contenders were plunging off the leaderboard.
"I knew that I was making up ground with pars," said Maguire, who earned an exemption into the 2015 Bay Hill Invitation with his Southern Am victory. "I didn't want to give anything away coming down the stretch."
He's the only one who didn't.
Maguire, who was talked into playing this tournament by Chattanooga resident Keith Mitchell, won because he avoided the on-course gravesites designed by Dye.
"I eliminated the big numbers," Maguire said. "I didn't die."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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 ...