E.A. Sports Today

Lots going on at 80th County Championship

Cole can seal top honors as event returns to The Hill, Wigington can set wins record, top 16 will be set; pairings included

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Matt Rogers remembers the feeling he had when playing the Calhoun County Championship at Anniston Municipal Golf Course and he hopes the other 79 players playing this weekend get a taste of it, too.

It’s all about tradition and nostalgia when the County Championship returns to where it all began this weekend for its milestone 80th playing. Rogers has been working all season to bring back that loving feeling to the detriment of his own game, which now has him precariously on the bubble for one of the prizes the tournament brings.

The tournament had been played at The Hill every year since its inception until moving to 18-hole Cane Creek Golf Course in 2005.

“There’s tradition there; we were like let’s try it again and see what it’s like up there,” Rogers said. “That’s what I want everybody to experience. It used to be there wasn’t a tournament every three days. This was like The Masters to me when I was a kid. I want everybody to experience the feeling I had when I played in it for the last 30 years. I think they’re going to embrace it; I really do.”

There’s going to be a lot happening. In addition to crowning the county’s champion golfer of the year, the tournament will determine the Calhoun County Golf Tour Player of the Year and the 16 qualifiers for the County Match Play Championship.

Defending champion Ty Cole goes into what likely is his final Calhoun County tournament appearance of an incredible summer with an 87.5-point lead over Gary Wigington in the Player of the Year race. As long as Wigington doesn’t win the tournament, Cole can finish as low as fourth and still take the season’s big reward.

Last year Cole and Wigington went into the County Championship tied for the points lead.

Cole has won the last three Calhoun County Tour events – Cane Creek, Silver Lakes and Pine Hill — and his last six individual tournaments starts statewide (with three two-man wins in between). If he wins this week, he’ll become the first player to win four County Tour points events in a row and four in a season.

“I’m going down there to try to win (but) all I’m thinking about now is school stuff,” said Cole, a history teacher and volleyball coach at Asbury High School. “I took the entire week off after Pine Hill, didn’t hit a ball, didn’t even look at my golf clubs. I’ll show up Saturday and hope I still got it. I’ll go there and try to shoot the two best rounds I can for two days. If it’s good enough, it is.”

He won’t have as much experience on the course as most of the other players in the field. The only time he’s played his own ball here was two rounds in last year’s King of the Hill (he finished second) and he played 32 holes with Wigington in this year’s rain-shortened County Four-Ball.

If Wigington wins, it will be his record seventh County crown (breaking a tie with Chris Banister and Eric Hamilton) and if Cole doesn’t finish second he would steal Player of the Year honors out from under the current points leader. Wigington won the County the last time it was played at The Hill – 2004.

“It’s do or die for this year,” Wigington said. “I’ve been practicing a lot and feel like I am ready, but it is very difficult to win any tournament because of all the great competition. I am going to lay it all out there and just see what happens.

“I am going to have to play very aggressive. The course is in great shape and will yield some very good scores this weekend.”

The Player of the Year also gets the No. 1 seed in the County Match Play, but with Cole’s teaching and coaching commitments and the Match Play’s schedule-when-you-can design it’s “highly unlikely” he’ll play. His spot, regardless of seed, would be vacated, and if he is the No. 1 it would give the 16 seed a walkover into the second round.

“I would love to play the Match Play,” Cole said. “If I lived down there, school or no school, I would play in the Match Play if I was the 16th seed. When you get this late into the golf season, I’m almost to the point where I’m burned out because I played so many tournaments.

“Doing the whole tournament circuit and now school’s back on … there’s just no time. I don’t have the time to practice. I don’t want to go down there and not play good, and if my head’s not in it and at least hit a few balls and keep sharp, to me, whether you’re (seeded) 1 or 16, you’re diluting the field of guys who are going to keep practicing.”

He has talked with Sunny King partner Wigington about playing in the Buddy Moore Classic in two weeks, but said “if I’m not completely burned out” that decision probably won’t be made until the Monday of the event – after he plays in the FootJoy Four-Ball at Burningtree CC next week.

There may be more drama at the bottom of the standings than the top. Fewer than 120 points separate the 13 players between 9 and 21 in the standings and four of those players – Lance Evans (No. 9), Scott Martin (10), Caleb Bowen (14) and Clay Calkins (T-16) – are not in the field this week for various reasons. Chad Calvert also isn’t playing, opting for the Etowah Open at Briarmeade, but at No. 6 he’s virtually assured a match-play spot.

Rogers goes into the weekend holding the 15th points position, but he’s only 17.5 points above the cut line.

“I want to get in the top 16 but I didn’t realize I was that low,” Rogers said. “I’m going to try my hardest to make it, I’m not going to give up on that, but I’m just trying not to focus on it. I think it’s going to help me that it’s in a place I know.”

Thompson is tied for the final qualifying spot, but only eight points separate him from his two closest pursuers and one of those – Brennan Clay – hasn’t finished worse than T-6 in any of his three Tour starts.

“I’m going into this just like any other tournament and that’s try to win,” Thompson said. “If I get caught up watching what numbers are posted I’ll probably press too hard. I need as few distractions as possible. You can’t be upset if you play good and get outplayed. Ask Phil Mickelson.”

80th Calhoun County Championship
at Anniston Municipal GC
Saturday’s pairings

8 a.m. Shotgun
1A – Lynn Oswalt, David Wray, Jerre Dingler, Ted Heim
1B – T.J. McGatha, David Martin, Rick Dickson, John McKenzie
2 – Roger Fair, Bill Teneck, Rob Davie, Jake Goggans
3 – Bob Eaton, David Gattis, Drue Snow, Mark Durden
4 – Chip Howell, David Sanders, Kenny Wright, Billy Thompson
5 – Al Muskewitz, Kelly Rogers, Eric Howell, Gage Miller
6 – George Salmon, Jason Johnson, Landon Straub, Jonathan Pate
7 – Jeff Borrelli, Keaton Borrelli, David Coffey, Tim Steward
8 – Nick Pollard, Josh Poole, Dennis Austin, Dustin Veihe
9 – Mickey Travis, Dustin Travis, Layton Bussey, Paul Wade

1 p.m. Shotgun
1A – Jimbo Phillips, Chance Harris, Andrew Miller
1B – Ty Cole, Kevin Daugherty, Gary Wigington, Randy Reaves
2 – Cal Lambert, Craig Gardner, Robin Wood, Jeff Barnwell
3 – Adrian Geeting, Benji Turley, Austin Minter
4 – Dan Griffin, Nate Griffin, Scott Eaton, John Tucker
5 – Lewis Lecroy, Cypress Hathorn, Gary Wilborn, Janson Wilborn
6 – Jeremy McGatha, Matt Rogers, Andrew Brooks, Brennan Clay
7 – Ott Chandler, Dalton Chandler, Caleb McKinney, Tanner Wells
8 – Don Hill, Al Johnson, Allen Mangham, Bruce Collins
9 – Brad Hardin, Zach Mangum, Cain Hollingsworth, Chase Hollingsworth

Multiple winners
6 – Chris Banister (1955, 1961, 1969-71, 1973)
6 – Eric Hamilton (1981-84, 1994, 1996)
6 – Gary Wigington (1999, 2004, 2010-12, 2014)
4 – Milton Wigley (1949, 1965-67)
3 – Wilfred Galbraith (1939-41)
3 – Oscar Bagley (1943-45)
3 – Jack Vardaman (1958-60)
3 – Billy Shelton (1954, 1956-57)
3 – Ray Burgess (1962-64)
3 – Scott Eaton (1993, 1995, 1997)
3 – Chip Howell (1979, 1985, 1998)
3 – Gary Wilborn (1990-91, 2003)
3 – Ott Chandler (2000, 2005-06)
2 – Marvin Hester (1951, 1953)
2 – Everett King (1986-87)
2 – Scott Townsend (1988-89)
2 – Jeremy McGatha (2002, 2007)
2 – Ty Cole (2013, 2015)

On the cover: Ty Cole (L), Dalton Chandler (C) and Gary Wigington are the top three players in the Calhoun County Tour standings going into the Calhoun County Championship.

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