Wiedmer: Team Simonsen's think tanks have UTC's Oliver Simonsen back on track at State Am

Wiedmer: Team Simonsen's think tanks have UTC's Oliver Simonsen back on track at State Am

August 7th, 2019 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Team Simonsen.

They were all there early Wednesday evening near the close of the second round of the Tennessee State Amateur golf tournament at The Honors Course. All those folks, or at least most of those folks, who care the most for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga rising junior golfer Oliver Simonsen.

Huddled together 20 or so yards from the Honors' ninth green, they dutifully dissected the 73 that Oliver had just shot over the course where his father Henrik is the club pro.

"You don't need a driver there," Henrik told his son concerning a certain hole as Oliver's mom Tamara, his caddie Eric Sellers and UTC assistant coach Ryan Heisey all listened in.

Oliver Simonsen

Oliver Simonsen

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Countered 21-year-old Oliver with the supreme confidence of youth: "That makes it boring. That's no fun."

Returning to Tuesday's opening round, when Oliver shot a 77, which briefly put his chances to make the tourney's cut in jeopardy, Sellers said of the golfer's decision to try a risky shot through a narrow opening after his drive found trouble on No. 15: "He was either going to be a hero or a zero."

Turns out he was less than zero. As Oliver recalled of that eventual double bogey: "There was a gap I thought I could hit it through. It ended up in a hazard."

Added Heisey with a slight grin: "I know your dad would have tried that shot in a tournament."

Said Henrik, breaking into a wide smile a few minutes later: "And I probably would have. That's why I'm a club pro instead of a touring pro."

There are no pros playing at the Honors this week. At least not active ones. Forty-one-year-old Richard Spangler of Signal Mountain used to be a pro, albeit a struggling one. Patting his somewhat soft belly late Wednesday, he said of his return to the amateur ranks a few years ago, "As you can tell, I like to eat. I needed to get a real job to buy food."

Despite an injured left shoulder, Spangler navigated the Honors' demanding layout with his classic MacGregor clubs well enough to shoot a 73 on Tuesday. But the shoulder gave out on Wednesday, especially down the stretch after a brief rain delay, and he wound up missing the cut.

"I was struggling all day," said Spangler, who won the Metro last month. "Couldn't hit a fairway. Finally hit one on the last hole (starting on No. 10, he finished on No. 9) and made par. But there weren't near enough of those."

Due to MacGregor's decision to get out of the elite golf business in 2009, there aren't near enough sets of irons still around to rival Spangler's.

Said the former Middle Tennessee State golfer of his increasingly rare clubs — to return to the 1975 Masters, the last four players on the course, guys named Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Tom Weiskopf, all played MacGregor — "I had three sets made when I knew they were going out of business. I'm down to my final one."

When someone asked Spangler earlier in the week what he'll do when that one wears out, he reportedly replied, "I guess I'll quit."

First-round leader Nolan Ray, Milton's Tanner Owens and Dalton State NAIA All-American Ben Rebne of Ringgold all showed no signs of quitting their quest to win the 104th State Am. Ray fired a 69 to go with his first-round 68 to take a one-stroke lead over Owens' 138 total and a three-stroke advantage on Rebne's 140 heading into today's third round of the four-round event.

Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Local names who survived the cut included Lookout Mountain's Winston Brown at 147, Chattanooga's Lake Johnson at 148, Signal Mountain's Michael Feher at 149 and a pair of 15-year-olds who were born on the same day (Jan. 14, 2004) in Ooltewah's Sheldon McKnight and Nashville's Bo Maradik, who both stand at 151. Cleveland's Parker Gray is also at 151.

Whether Oliver Simonsen can improve enough to make a serious run at the State Am on what is ostensibly his home course — "I've probably played it a thousand times," he said — remains to be seen.

"This is a whole different course during a tournament," Oliver said. "I've never played a tournament here before."

Asked how much more difficult it plays at tourney time, he said, "I think there's a four- or five-stroke difference."

Oliver, who used to play 54 holes a day at the Honors when he was younger, believes he needs to fire at least one 65 over the final two rounds to have a chance.

His father believes Team Simonsen needs to get together more often to map out the next day's strategy.

"There should be a think tank after every round," Henrik said.

And what of the fact that good ol' Dad would probably have taken the same costly gamble that earned Oliver a double-bogey at the 15th on Tuesday?

"Don't do as I do," Henrik said with a wry smile. "Do as I say do."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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