published Monday, June 2nd, 2014

David Noll Jr. clipped by relative newcomer in North Georgia Invitational

David Noll Jr. lines up a shot in the final round of the North Georgia Invitational on Sunday in Dalton, Ga. Noll placed second in the tournament.
David Noll Jr. lines up a shot in the final round of the North Georgia Invitational on Sunday in Dalton, Ga. Noll placed second in the tournament.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.
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    Justin Johnson won the North Georgia Invitational on Sunday in Dalton.
    Photo by David Uchiyama.
    enlarge photo

DALTON, Ga. — David Noll Jr., has won the North Georgia Invitational eight times in his career. He has more wins at Dalton Golf and Country Club than the number of times Justin Johnson had played the course including the tournament this weekend.

"When you look at the scoreboard, and they put the years that somebody has won," Johnson said, "David has won so many times it's in micro-small print."

Johnson will have the year 2014 under his name on the scoreboard next year.

Johnson, who resides in Canton, Ga., won the NGI by shooting a 5-under 139 over 36 holes concluding Sunday with a 4-under 68 round that included six birdies and two bogeys.

Noll -- the NGI winner in 2002-05, 2007-09 and 2012 -- finished runner-up at 4 under including a 69 in the final round. John Maupin, Tyler Mitchell and Hunter Vest tied for third at 3 under.

"My goal was to get to 5 under to eclipse what John shot yesterday," Noll said. "Ultimately, that did the deal."

In the senior division, Mitch Hufstetler of Chattanooga continued a trend -- winning. Hufstetler, who began competing in the senior division this year -- shot a 2-under 142 to top Neil Spitalny by four shots. Eddie Register won the super-senior division at 1 under.

Hufstetler is 3-for-3 while playing in the senior division. He won the Cleveland Invitational, the Signal Mountain Invitational and now the NGI.

"It's been a great start to the summer," said Hufstetler, who shot a final-round 3-under 69.

"I'm pretty good at putting, but it helps when you're hitting fairways," he said. "Playing from the short tees is pretty good, but I've got a new driver and I'm hitting more fairways than at any time in my life."

Johnson, a network administrator for Quest Global Inc., in Cartersville, has crossed paths with Noll over the years in Georgia State Golf Association events. He called Noll two weeks ago to see if Noll would be interested in playing a practice round together. But Noll was playing in the Lupton Memorial and they couldn't work out a good time for both to play.

That left Johnson with a total of six rounds in his life at Dalton Golf and Country Club -- a practice round and two tournament rounds in 2011 and '13.

Experience on the course didn't factor into the final round. Dalton is Noll's home course. Maupin, the head coach at Lee University has played it dozens of times, so has his former player, Vest. And Mitchell, who also tied for third, plays for Dalton State which uses the course as one of its two homes.

Better play played the biggest factor.

"I hit it good for two days, but I didn't make a lot of putts until today, and I made a couple good birdie putts and some saves," said Johnson, a 32-year-old who did not play college golf. "I was focusing on my swing key and getting my putts rolling."

Johnson, who started the day three strokes off Maupin's lead, tied Maupin at 4 under for the tournament with birdies on three of his first four holes.

When the lead groups made the turn, Maupin led at 5 under followed by Noll at 4 under and Johnson at 3 under.

"I couldn't really think about them a whole lot," Johnson said. "You can't be thinking about what else is going on."

Maupin and Noll were engaged in a duel throughout the afternoon. Vest, playing a few groups in front found a rhythm and reached 5 under with a birdie on No. 13. But one bad swing, off the tee with a hybrid on the 214-yard par-3 16th, ended his chances to win. He made a double-bogey.

"I had it going pretty good," Vest said. "On 16, you can't miss in that bunker. You're better off with a snap-hook."

Johnson bogeyed that hole. But he birdied the two previous holes and put another circle on his card at No. 17. With a par on No. 18 he posted a 5-under 139.

That meant Noll needed to birdie the last to force a playoff. With his third short on the par-4 hole, a chip from behind the green, Noll came within two inches of forcing that playoff.

Instead, he tapped in for second place.

"I am a little surprised I won," Johnson said. "You always think that you have the ability.

"It's easier to imagine than actually do it."

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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