2015 champion Taylor Lewis of Chattanooga
(Photo courtesy of Chris Schmidt, Tournament Director)
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The 2015 Chattanooga Choo Choo Invitational went to a hometown favorite on Wednesday afternoon at Council Fire Golf Club.
Surviving a day-three charge from University of Kentucky sophomore Tyler McDaniel was 30-year-old Chattanooga native Taylor Lewis, who fired three consecutive rounds in the 60s to capture a two-stroke win at his home course.
Lewis, who played collegiately for Lipscomb University in Nashville, had either a share of the lead or the outright lead at the end of each round. After a 67 on Monday, Lewis held on to first place alongside University of Tennessee junior Jack Smith and University of Tennessee-Martin sophomore Hunter Richardson.
On Tuesday, Lewis went bogey-free to post 66 and enter the final round with a slim one-stroke advantage. Wednesday brought closure to his eventual win, as Lewis was steady all day with six birdies and two bogeys to card 68 and a two-shot victory.
"It feels fantastic. Not only was it in my hometown, but all my friends and family were here to watch it and keep up with it," Lewis said.
Having been a member at Council Fire for the last two years, Lewis felt comfortable at the 1992 Bob Cupp design.
"It fits my game but the best thing about it is Gary Weller, our course superintendent, who always has the course in tremendous shape," Lewis said.
The 6,999-yard, par-72 course features a 74.4 rating and 140 slope, and Lewis considers it to be the best course in the Chattanooga metropolitan area. He and the runner-up McDaniel were the only players to fire consecutive rounds in the 60s each day.
Lewis withstood a charge from McDaniel, whose final-round 66 pushed him into the second-place slot alone. He got things rolling with an eagle at the par-4 8th hole, followed by a two-under 34 on the back side. Lewis needed a 34 of his own on the way in to avoid a playoff.
Tying for third place were the aforementioned Smith, who was one of three first-round leaders, as well as Wes Gosselin and Michael Nagy. Gosselin, a redshirt junior at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, posted 68 on Wednesday while Nagy, a senior with Smith at Tennessee, shot 64, including five back-nine birdies to jump into the top-five.
For Lewis, who has been running the family business for the last six years, the win stands out as one of the bigger accomplishments of his golf career.
"I've won a few college events and a bunch of city events, but this was an invitational," he said. "Everyone here was either exempt or had to qualify, and everyone is in college. So being able to come here and compete with those guys and take home the trophy, it easily marks one of the bigger marks in my amateur career."
Defending champion Matthew Mahle, a junior at the College of Charleston, rebounded nicely from an opening-round 82 by shooting 74 and 70 to close out the event, tying for 45th place.