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Notebook: Behind Tennessee Golf success; Q&A with MJ
(TGA/Twitter photo)
(TGA/Twitter photo)

Tim Jackson is the meter stick by which many Tennessee golfers measure their success. Steve Golliher knows that first-hand.

After the first round of the Tennessee Senior Amateur last month, Golliher, the eventual champion, waxed poetic about his peer. From his vantage point, Jackson is one of the best players in the world in his generation, and he just happens to call Tennessee home.

“Day in and day out, Tim Jackson is the best senior amateur in the world. You can go get anybody you want and I’ll take him,” said Golliher, who beat Jackson by four shots that week at the senior amateur. Jackson came out to congratulate him.

Indeed, Jackson won the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1994 and 2001, was the low amateur at three U.S. Senior Opens, is a nine-time Tennessee Player of the Year and a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. There were some of those details that Ryan Terry, who finished five shots ahead of Jackson to win the Tennessee Mid-Amateur on Oct. 6, hadn’t heard. Terry drew a final-round pairing with Jackson and got a history lesson – from the man himself.

“I knew a lot about Tim, but he even had some stories for me today I didn’t know about – playing with Gary Player in the Masters, winning some U.S. Mid-Amateurs,” Terry said. “Any time you can play with a guy like that and perform, it’s a definite confidence booster.”

The reality is that Tennessee golfers have found success at every level – see PGA Tour players Brandt Snedeker and Scott Stallings, 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert and up-and-coming junior talent Ashley Gilliam and Rachel Heck. Tennessee won the final USGA State Team Championship a year ago. TGA executive director Chad Anderson explains all of that with a history lesson, and it’s one that other state associations should study.

The beauty of golf in Tennessee is that the state golf association is just as interested in Jackson as in the players who are coming up behind him – generations behind him. A state association is often the place where beginning players go to learn about the game and dabble in competition. Longtime director Dick Horton, who retired Oct. 1, had the foresight 30 years ago to spearhead the combining of all the arms of in-state golf so that there was a joint effort to grow the game. It was revolutionary considering that many state associations were fighting with the state PGA section over who was providing – and collecting fees for – a player’s handicap.

“(Horton) went in with the mindset of we’re going to get both of these groups on the same page so we’re working together instead of against each other,” Anderson said. “…We’re one of very few states that have both sides, or all three sides, operating under the same roof.”

The junior golf part of that is key.

Tennessee’s junior golf tour is called the Sneds Tour – after Snedeker – and includes roughly 1,600 kids playing 140 events across the state throughout the summer. Stallings sponsors a kids-play-free program at select courses in the Knoxville area. That program has prompted a notable spike in junior golf participation in the area.

“You have some really strong females coming out from the junior program right now,” Anderson said. “You don’t always get that group of young women who are that strong.”

Last month, the clinching putt in the Junior Ryder Cup – played all the way in Paris – came from a Tennessee native. Rachel Heck, 16, had spent the week before playing in the LPGA Tour’s Evian Championship, where she was the only amateur to make the cut.

“I’ve benefited so much from that, ever since I was 5 or 6 years old they had tournaments for us, just six holes at a par 3,” Heck said of Tennessee’s junior program. “It just gave me the experience and exposure to tournament golf and we got to meet a lot of people.”

While Tennessee players travel the world representing their state, Tennessee Golf employees keep a close eye from home. The association excels at getting the word out about its tournaments and champions.

In 2016, the TGA had 385,0000 Twitter impressions for the year. Now that there is a full-time communications professional in place, impressions have grown to over a million.

“The juniors eat it up, the women like it, the seniors enjoy it too,” Anderson said.

And the world continues to hear the story of Tennessee Golf.

• • •

FRIENDLY RIVALRY: The story of the week in state golf association news, however, came out of Minnesota, where an entertaining (yet friendly) rivalry has taken shape between Trent Peterson and Justin Burleson, who both play out of Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley, Minn. The two have gone back and forth in the club championship over the years.

On Oct. 4, Peterson defeated Burleson in the final round of the Minnesota Mid-Am to successfully defend his title. The two had pulled away from the rest of the field to set up a final-round duel.

And there’s more history than that.

Peterson beat Burleson in the final match of the 2017 MGA Mid-Players’ Championship, but Burleson won in the semifinal round of the MGA Players’ Championship a few weeks later.

Burleson clipped Peterson in the final match of the Mid-Players’ Championship in June, and also defeated Peterson by one stroke at the Minnesota Public Golf Association Mid-Public Links Championship days later.

“It seems to be back-and-forth every time we play,” Peterson told the Minnesota Golf Association.

Information from the Minnesota Golf Association used in this report

• • •

QUOTABLE:

“[Hideki Matsuyama] is one of a few Japanese players playing internationally, so all of us amateurs are looking at him and dreaming and training hard so that we can be just like Hideki in the future.”

-Asia-Pacific Amateur champion Takumi Kanaya on patterning himself after fellow Japanese player Matsuyama, who won this event in 2010 and 2011 before going on to become a five-time PGA Tour winner

• • •

TWEET OF THE WEEK

The USGA delivered some good news to juniors this week when it announced it would expand the U.S. Junior field by 108 players beginning in 2020. Keep in mind the winner now receives an exemption into the U.S. Open. Collegians like Cole Hammer, now a freshman at the University of Texas, know what that can mean to junior golfers.

• • •

Q&A WITH… Mary Jane Hiestand, a Naples, Fla., resident who was runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. That championship should have been played in her Naples home, but was moved to Champions Golf Club in Houston after Hurricane Irma hit Florida earlier in the season. Earlier this summer, Quail Creek Country Club – the original 2017 Women’s Mid-Am venue – hosted the Florida Women’s Open and Senior Open, and Hiestand won the senior title.

Hiestand, 59, is playing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur at Orchid Island Golf & Country Club this week. She opened stroke-play qualifying with rounds of 76-75.

You had two birdies in your final five holes today to pretty safely make it to match play. Tell me about those.

To me, that hole just doesn’t set up well for me. I made this great birdie, and I’m like, ‘OK, cool, now you got it back to even. You hit one in the water on No. 5, whatever.” I almost made par. On No. 8, I’m standing up there and I’m like, this is perfect, I’m just going to make par. And it literally rockets about the height of a stop sign right there, and it’s left of the water somehow and it scoots around, almost goes in the hole. Got it on the back fringe and Jeff goes, ‘Why don’t you just make this after that beautiful shot?’ So I did.

There is water on 17 out of 18 holes at Orchid Island. How is the course playing?

Yes, something like that. Apparently there’s drop areas on nine or 10 holes. It’s tough because of the wind, and then you get those spurts of showers. It’s funny.

Being from Naples, do you feel like a local-ish player this week?

I’m close enough. I was over here about a month ago but the golf course was much drier so it’s playing a lot longer than it was. But you know, you just have to hit quality shots. It’s match play now, it’s fun now. All the stress is over!

Your run to the championship match at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur was magical. Does that boost your confidence or make you look at match play differently now? Do you feel like you figured something out that week?

No, I think I just putted really well that week, and that’s my game. These greens are like Houston, they’re huge. I’m going to two-putt from 60 feet and some people aren’t. You’re going to maybe miss some shots but hit a lot of greens. I don’t know how many I hit today, but I hit like 15 yesterday and still shot 76, so that’s not that good but it’s, you know. My favorite club is my putter.

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