published Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Matt Mahle leads Choo-Choo Invitational by one stroke

Matt Mahle signed his scorecard, returned his golf cart and made a few phone calls after finishing his opening round of the Choo-Choo Invitational.

Then he headed to the putting green to practice.

He doesn’t need much practice.

Mahle, a sophomore at the College of Charleston, shot a 7-under-par 65 at Council Fire and leads by one stroke after the first of three days.

“I putted really well and I hit it good, too,” Mahle said. “My good rounds come when I hit greens, and I hit 15 today.”

Mahle used his putter only 27 times for an average of 1.5 putts per hole in his opening round.

That usually doesn’t call for much post-round practice on the putting green, especially when a golfer birdies four of five during one stretch on the back nine.

“I wish I could have gotten a birdie on 18, but I short-sided myself,” Mahle said. “But I still played solid golf on the back nine.”

Mahle, who grew up in Lexington, Ky., and chose to play for the Cougars instead of the Kentucky Wildcats, played one of his better competitive rounds Monday. But it doesn’t compare to a friendly round with teammates that he played at the fabled Ocean Course on Kiawah Island.

“We were messing around one day at the Ocean Course and played from a club length back from the back tee box, which is about 7,850 yards,” Mahle said of the course that was the site of the 2012 PGA Championship and the 1991 Ryder Cup — the “War by the Shore.”

“The wind was blowing and I shot 75.”

There were no “gimme” putts in that round, or on Monday during the second annual Choo-Choo Invitational. Defending champion Ben Wolcott shot 66, and Brandon Rogers was third at 67, two ahead of Davin White and former Chattanoogan Nick Blakely.

Chris Hall, with a 66, leads the senior division by five shots over Tom Provow and Chattanooga’s Neil Spitalny.

An eagle on the par-5 No. 2 set the tone for Mahle. He followed with two straight birdies, putting him at 4 under through four holes. A bogey on the par-5 No.6 tripped him for a minute, but he scored four straight pars and then three birdies to regain a good feeling.

A 65 is a great round for somebody who had played the course just once — Sunday, in a practice round. He’d heard about the tournament from friends in Kentucky who either played in it last year or had played Council Fire at some other time.

“I’d heard the course was awesome, so I wanted to try it out,” Mahle said. “I called [tournament co-director] Chris Schmidt, told him my resume and he said I’m good enough and could play.”

He’s good enough to lead after the first day.

But Wolcott is just one behind — the same position he held after the first round last year. Wolcott started his day with two birdies and finished it with back-to-back birdies. The Ole Miss sophomore shot 2 under in between to total 6 under.

“I felt real comfortable coming into play today, but I felt a little pressure as the defending champion,” he said. “Starting birdie-birdie helped ease my mind. I knew I could do this again.”

Blakely leads the local contingent with his 3-under 69. Taylor Lewis is one back. None of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs broke par, but Kory Webb and Brooks Thomas shot 72, as did Chattanooga Christian senior Lake Johnson.

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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