Peyton Sliger wins Tennessee State Amateur
2015 TN State Amateur winner Peyton Sliger (TGA photo)
2015 TN State Amateur winner Peyton Sliger (TGA photo)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was both a blessing and a hindrance for Peyton Sliger to shoot a tournament-record 8-under-par 62 in the second round of the Tennessee Amateur at historic Holston Hills on Wednesday. That great round vaulted him into the 36-hole lead, but it also placed more pressure squarely on his shoulders.

After going that deep, could Sliger, a senior who plays for Lee University, back it up for two more rounds and win?

As it turned out, he could. Shaking off a bogey-bogey start, Sliger regrouped after falling two strokes behind Chattanooga junior Wes Gosselin and won the tournament with a three-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.

That closing birdie allowed Gosselin to shoot his third 69 of the tournament and left him at 11 under par, one shot ahead of Gosselin, three ahead of Austin Kramer of Knoxville and four clear of Tim Jackson, the defending champion who finished solo fourth.

The victory was historic—this was the 100thplaying of the tournament that began in 1913. The importance of winning a trophy with the names of Cary Middlecoff, Lew Oehmig and Jackson engraved on it was not lost on Sliger.

“I always dreamed about winning this tournament,” Sliger said. “I’m honored to have my name on that trophy with all those great players’ names on it. Everybody in Tennessee golf knows who they are. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Sliger didn’t feel so amazing after he stepped off the green at the par- 4 second hole on Friday, having made his second consecutive bogey. Combined with a birdie by Gosselin, those two dropped shots cost Sliger his lead; at 8-under par, he was a stroke behind Gosselin and appeared to be sinking out of sight.

Ironically, that sluggish start was just what Sliger needed.

“I think it helped me,” he said. “I’d never been in this position before, and I had some nerves starting out the round. After I bogeyed the second hole, it calmed me down. I suddenly realized, ‘I’m losing now. I need to kick it back into high gear.’ ”

Even Gosselin expected that to happen.

“Peyton struggled the first two holes,” Gosselin said, “but I knew on No. 3 tee he was going to come back. There was never a doubt in my mind.”

Gosselin didn’t make it easy on Sliger. His birdie at the par-3 fourth hole vaulted him to 11-under par and gave him a two-shot lead. But Sliger bounced back quickly with a birdie at the par-5 fifth hole, and he matched Gosselin par for par until the par-4 10th. That’s where the tournament turned back in Sliger’s favor.

Both Sliger and Gosselin missed the green and were faced with similar third shots.

“It was a little awkward,” Gosselin said. “We were on the down slope in front of the green, and you needed to hit the shot with some spin, a little bit of loft. Peyton hit his shot absolutely perfectly. I unfortunately didn’t.”

Sliger’s chip hit the green and rolled into the hole for a birdie 3, and when Gosselin missed his par putt, they were tied at 10-under par.

Gosselin made another bogey at No. 12 to fall a shot behind Sliger, and when Sliger made a birdie at the par-4 15th, he seemed to have given himself some breathing room for the stretch run. But Sliger missed the green at the 494-yard par-4 17thand couldn’t convert his five-foot par putt, dropping his lead to a precarious one shot heading into the reachable par-5 18th.

Gosselin pounded a drive down the middle of the fairway and reached the green with a utility club, leaving him a downhill 25-footer for eagle. Sliger well behind Gosselin off the tee, laid up to within 63 yards, a position from which he felt confident after a summer’s worth of work on his wedge game.

Sliger pulled a lob wedge and hit a shot that carried 70 yards, safely past the hole, and spun back to within three feet. That forced Gosselin’s hand.

“I had a tough putt for eagle,” Gosselin said. “It was down hill and breaking a lot. With Peyton in there three feet for birdie, I knew I needed to give it a run.”

That’s exactly what Gosselin did. His ball wound up five feet past the hole, but he drained the comeback birdie putt, and for a second, he was tied for the lead. But Sliger, who’s also been working hard on his putting, stepped up and drained his putt for the win, giving the young man named for Peyton Manning an accomplishment even the great quarterback could admire.

“There aren’t many more people you’d rather be named for than him,” Sliger said. “He’s a great ambassador, not just for the game of football, but life in general. He’s an example of how to handle yourself. I’ll never accomplish anywhere near what he’s done, but winning this tournament, seeing my name on that trophy with all those great players who have won it before, that’s a cool feeling.”

Story by Chris Dortch

ABOUT THE Tennessee State Amateur

Applications are open to amateurs who possess an active USGA/GHIN Handicap Index of 8.0 or less from a TGA member club or course. An 18-hole stroke play qualifier is required for those who do not meet the exemption criteria. Format consists of 72 holes of stroke play with a cut to the low 60 and ties after the second round.

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