Tye Waller (R) with senior champ Marcus Beck (L) (The Brunswick News photo)
By Buddy Hughes of The Brunswick News
BRUNSWICK, GA (July 9, 2018) - It looked like the biggest question Saturday at Brunswick Country Club wasn’t going to be who would win the 68th annual Golden Isles Invitational, but would the rain hold out. Dark clouds and distant rolls of thunder surrounded the course as Tye Waller cruised on the back nine with a three-shot cushion.
A double bogey on the 17th hole slimmed Waller’s advantage and gave Mark David Johnson a chance to potentially force a playoff on the final hole or possibly win the tournament outright. Johnson’s long birdie putt would just slide past the hole on No. 18 as Waller made par to win the Invitational by one shot.
Waller, a rising senior on the University of Georgia golf team, entered the final round trailing second round leader Eli Scott by three strokes. By the time the final group of Waller, Scott, Johnson and Josh Williams made the turn, Waller was at 10 under — two clear of Scott and Johnson.
“I was just trying to go make birdies,” Waller said. “I hit it the best I’ve hit it in a while. I didn’t putt that well, but that’s golf. You hit it good one day and putt bad, and the next day you hit it bad and putt good.”
Waller’s good play continued on the back nine. The entire group birdied the 12th hole with Waller expanding his lead to three shots over Johnson with a birdie on the 14th to get to 12 under.
Williams would birdie the 15th to get to 9 under, but gave it right back with a bogey on 16. Waller’s lead seemed insurmountable until he ran into trouble on the par-3 17th. His tee shot landed left of the green, but he flew his second shot over the green.
Waller’s eventual journey around the 17th green would eventually end in a double bogey and a suddenly much tighter leaderboard.
“I was nervous,” Waller said after the mistake on 17. “I calmed myself pretty good and hit a good tee shot on 18. I have no idea (what happened on 17). It just came out dead, and then it plugged in the lip on my third shot.”
All four members of the final group missed the green at No. 17, but a close chip and a solid par putt allowed Johnson to card a par and put pressure on Waller, who was facing his first real adversity of the round.
Waller’s tee shot on the 18th landed in the rough, but he was able to land his approach on the green within striking distance of a birdie. Johnson’s approach also landed on the green but was well short of the hole. His long birdie putt to potentially force a playoff almost found the bottom of the cup, but he had to settle for par. Waller would two-putt for a par and the win.
“I gave it a good run,” said Johnson on his birdie putt on the 18th. “It was 40 feet away, and I was one shot down and knew I had to get it to the hole. It just skirted by the edge.”
Waller finished the tournament with a 10-under 206 after carding a final round 69. Johnson, a former Glynn Academy standout and an NAIA all-American this season for College of Coastal Georgia, was tied for second at 207 with Brett Barron, who was playing in the next to the last group. Both carded rounds of 69 on Saturday.
“I played pretty good today,” Johnson said. “I would have liked to have made more putts, but I just couldn’t get it done I guess.”
Williams finished in fourth with a final round 72 to close out the tournament at 7 under. Scott was 10 shots higher in the final round from his second round performance with a 76 to finish at 6 under.
For Waller, the win is the cherry on top of a long recovery process. He missed this past season at Georgia after suffering torn cartilage in his chest.
“I came back June 1, so I’ve been playing about a month,” said Waller, who redshirted last year while recovering from the injury. “Let’s hope (the good performance) stays.”
This year’s Invitational was Marcus Beck’s first time competing in the senior division. It payed off as Beck carded a 70 in the final round to win the division by five shots over last year’s champion Toshi Hirata.
“It always feels good to win,” Beck said. “I’ve always played in the younger group, but at 60 (years old) and change, I figured I might as well get it while I can.”
Beck described his game over the tournament as steady and it shows up in his scores. He carded a 70, 69 and 70 to finish at 209 for the tournament. The Tallahassee, Fla., resident said it was his “13th or 14th” time at the Invitational and said the tournament’s atmosphere keeps bringing him back.
“It’s just a good tournament,” Beck said. “The people are nice, the course is good, a lot of good players. It’s just a good venue, good people, good tournament and good competition.”
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ABOUT THE Golden Isles Invitational
The Golden Isles Invitational dates back to
1949. That year, 'Dynamite' Goodloe claimed
the inaugural championship - marking the
beginning of a long-standing tradition at
Brunswick Country Club. Through the years,
this event has gained notoriety and popularity
and continues to attract players of all ages
and ability levels.
The Golden Isles Invitational is traditionally
played over the July 4th holiday week and
many players and their families travel to
Brunswick and St. Simons to enjoy the golf,
the beach and the celebration of our nation's
independence. Invitations are mailed out the first
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