DALTON, Ga. - Donny Phillips made a tough decision when he entered the North Georgia Invitational golf tournament.
He could have defended his title in the championship division of the amateur tournament. But by turning 55 years old in April, Phillips chose to play in the senior division and move up a set of tees on every hole.
"I've played in this probably 25 out of the last 30 years, and this is the first time I've played from those tees," Phillips said. "It's hard to get used to on some holes."
Phillips shot an even-par 72 and leads the senior division by one stroke over John Lambert heading into the final round today at Dalton Golf and Country Club.
"It was a tough decision, but I'm looking forward to playing senior golf this year," Phillips said. "Rather than finishing well down in the flat-belly division, I thought two good days in the senior division would build my confidence. There are good senior players out here.
"So with my plans to play senior golf, it made sense to play in the senior division here."
Lee University coach John Maupin leads the regular division after he shot a 4-under 68 in the morning wave of players. He leads Tre Lamb -- now the quarterbacks coach at Mercer, where his uncle Bobby Lamb is the head coach -- by one stroke. The afternoon wave of players endured a 90-minute weather delay.
Phillips, playing his second stroke-play event in the senior division, made four birdies and four bogeys. He adjusted for the shorter course by selecting shorter clubs off the tee nine times, including every par-3.
"The biggest adjustment is mentally and that it's OK to play from the up tees," said Phillips, who resides in Suwanee. "For 40 years it was about winning or having a strong finish in a tournament. Now it's to win the senior division."
There is an on-course adjustment, too.
"The next thing is being wise off the tee," he said. "It was hard to get used to on some holes."
Lamb, whose father -- Calhoun High School's football coach -- skipped the NGI for a golf outing at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, will make an adjustment as well today. He'll adjust to being in contention to win the championship.
It's been more than a year -- not that he plays golf between August and May -- since he finished runner-up in the Chicken Dinner Tournament at LaFayette Golf Club.
"It's fun," Lamb said. "It makes your heart race. After playing football for so long, it's a good way for me still to compete and play hard -- and not get hurt."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP