published Monday, July 21st, 2014

Southern Amateur champion Maguire thankful for friendship

  • photo
    M.J. Maguire chips the ball onto the green 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.
    enlarge photo

Keith Mitchell devoured some pizza slices at Lupi's in Ooltewah after he finished his final found of the Southern Amateur.

He kept his phone close. It gave live updates. Mitchell almost choked on when he saw M.J. Maguire held the lead with two holes to play.

Mitchell needed to witness the finish.

"I had to get back," said Mitchell, a former Baylor School golfer who tied for 20th in the prestigious amateur event.

After all, Mitchell is the one who talked Maguire into playing this past week at The Honors Course.

Maguire could have played in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship -- won by Byron Meth in a one-hole playoff -- for a chance to play in the Masters.

Instead, he chose to play in the 108th Southern Amatuer. By winning, he's earned an exemption into the PGA Tour's Bay Hill Invitational.

"I'm speechless to the fact that I get to tee it up against the best in the world," said Maguire, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., and plays for the University of North Florida. "I watched every shot from Tiger in 2005, and I've been to the tournament a couple times.

"I've even played the course."

It's Arnold Palmer's course.

"The King is one of my idols," said Maguire sitting in The Honors Course clubhouse. "I'm honored to be able to play in such a great tour event."

He played better than everybody else invited to a great amateur event. The Southern Am is ranked No. 7 in the world. Only the U.S. Amateur and the Western Amateur are rated higher for U.S. competition.

Maguire didn't play the field. He played the course.

"Once you get in trouble, you'd better get out of trouble," he said. "When I was out of position on No. 3, I knew I needed to leave it below the hole."

Maguire maintained that approach through the final round even though competitors were falling off the leaderboard like ducks shot out of the sky.

"The key for the week was eliminating big numbers," said Maguire, who had one double-bogey in 72 holes and that came on the par-3 No. 8 on Saturday. "I made a mental error with the wrong club."

He made the right decision long before the tournament began to listen to Mitchell -- play the Southern Am instead of the Pub-Links.

It worked out to perfection. Maguire spent the week a couple houses down from the Mitchell residence -- filled with his return from college.

"I gotta send a lot of flowers," Maguire said, and adding that they're note quite enough of a thank-you gift. "I felt at home our there wit how helpful and friendly everybody was. And my caddie [Josh Ernest] too."

Mitchell talked Maguire into playing. They'd become friends since competing against each other in the junior ranks about eight years ago.

Mitchell arranged for Ernst -- a friend from his Baylor School days -- to caddie for Maguire.

And they won. It's a team victory.

Maguire gets the accolades, the trophy and the invitation to Bay Hill.

Yet everybody involved gets to celebrate.

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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