WindStone regulars Justin Hickman, Tyson Venable part of AJGA field there

WindStone regulars Justin Hickman, Tyson Venable part of AJGA field there

June 3rd, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Preps

Justin Hickman and Tyson Venable have played WindStone Golf Club at least 100 times between them, and maybe as many as 300, in their young lives.

But they've never played it like this.

They've never played under the pressure of competing in an American Junior Golf Association event. That will change today when the local rising sophomores begin their first round of the Ringgold Telephone Company Junior Classic.

They'll have nerves. Their stomachs may be in knots this morning. They may hit something shorter than driver on the first tee just to get the ball in the fairway on their first shot.

"I want to get the first tee ball in the fairway," said Hickman, who recently won a Georgia state championship playing for Gordon Lee High School. "That's always the hardest shot for me. From there, once you get going, you get rolling."

Hickman and Venable are two of the six Chattanooga-area participants competing in the AJGA junior all-star event. The others are Davis Kirk of Dalton, Evan Spence of Ooltewah, McKenzie Frizzell of Ooltewah and Rheagan Hall of Charleston.

They all have the advantage of having played the course before this week, staying at home and keeping with a routine during the three days of competition. But none of that guarantees a victory.

"I want to have fun, enjoy the experience and play my best, but there are really good players here," said Hall, who played in the Drive, Chip & Putt national championships at Augusta National on the Sunday before the Masters began in April. "I don't think nerves will get to me. If I stay level-headed and play my best, I'll do fine."

There's no way to fathom that Hall could be more nervous this week than she was during the second weekend in April. She had a putt on the 18th green at Augusta National -- the same putt Adam Scott made to force a playoff in 2013 -- to win her division.

Her putt missed its mark. She became mad and upset, and she cried. But her unofficial consolation prize included a 20-minute chat with PGA Tour standout Brandt Snedeker, who experienced a similar oh-so-close experience at Augusta.

"Talking with him was the best part of that experience," Hall said. "It makes me want to go back so much more."

Success for any player in the RTC Junior Classic -- even winning -- cannot get a player to Augusta next April. But success this week could lead to future AJGA tournaments for the locals who are making their AJGA debuts.

"The better I play in this one, the easier it will be to play in other AJGA events," Hickman said. "As for this week, if I could pick anything, I'd want to win. But a good finish wouldn't be bad."

Hickman's personal record at WindStone is a 4-under-par 68. Venable, also a member at WindStone, has a personal best of 66 on the course. But he didn't shoot that while playing the par-12 hole -- also known as WindStone Cross Country Golf.

If the course is absent of other golfers, those two friends will create new golf holes -- for the fun of it -- by crisscrossing fairways and greens and hazards that don't make sense on a scorecard. But hitting from the fairway on No. 1 to the fairway on No. 2 to the fairway on No. 9 to the green on No. 8 is one heck of a hole.

"It's fun when you get to make up holes that are par-12," Hickman said. "That's the only time it's good to make an 11."

Venable, Hickman, Hall and the rest of the field will not be playing that course the next few days. They'll play WindStone as a par-71 course with the tees moved up on No. 4 to make it a par-4 instead of a par-5.

"There's going to be a lot of guys shooting under par and playing really good golf," Venable said. "I'm going to have to keep up with them and play some really good rounds."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.