E.A. Sports Today

Chasing success

Thomas’ comeback moves forward with first individual stroke play tournament since his accident; Wigington leads after 67

“I need to play golf again like you’re trying to win. I feel like my golf game is in me, but I’ve got to believe it’s in me and do it.” – Chase Thomas

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

SILVER LAKES – The golf game, Chase Thomas is convinced, is getting back to the way it was. Now, it’s a matter of regaining the confidence to hit the shots it takes to win.

Thomas returned to the golf course Saturday for his first individual stroke play tournament since an on-course accident in Anniston left him fighting for his life. In many ways it was the first true test of his recovery.

He teed it up in the RTJ Silver Lakes Championship and got results about like he expected. The 92 he carded was well behind the 5-under-par 67 posted by first-round leader Gary Wigington, but it is only two shots off the lead in his flight.

But the bottom line is he was back playing the game he loves, fully aware if not for some fast acting friends, a strong constitution and a lot of support and prayers things could be very, very different.

“It was good to be back out here competing, but it’s frustrating,” he said. “But I guess that’s what it’s about – it’s going to be frustrating for a long while. And you need to be patient; I’ve got to figure something out for where I’m going to put my damned left hand on that putter.

“But it’s good to be out here competing. There was a chance I wasn’t even going to be in this tournament at all, to be here. My attitude is I could be in a hospital bed or not playing at all.”

Six weeks ago Thomas was literally in a fight for his life. The 44-year-old nurse practitioner was struck in the head by club thrown by one of his playing partners and at least twice over the next harrowing hours he didn’t know if he’d make it or not.

The people who know the story and have witnessed his will to overcome adversity have marveled at Thomas’ tenacity to get back in this game of life.

He played in a scramble at Shoal Creek one month to the day of the accident and several casual rounds at the club, but Saturday, on one of the most challenging courses on the Robert Trent Jones Trail, was the first tournament in which he was responsible for every shot in the round. He returned to a full work schedule at his Pediatrics Plus practice this week.

The only lingering affect of the injury is difficulty grasping with his left hand, which makes performing some simple tasks frustrating. It’s hell on his putting.

He played a conservative, defensive round over the 6,185-yard layout Saturday, hitting a lot of 3-woods off the tee and laying up on the par-5s that he would normally attack, and it put pressure on other parts of his game. He promised to be more aggressive Sunday. He played the par-3s in 7-over-par and one of those included a four-putt. He had 35 putts in the round.

A 5-handicap pre-accident, Thomas has had rounds in the 70s since his return, but those have come in the familiar surroundings of Anniston Country Club. He wants to get back to the level where he can have those kinds of rounds regardless where he plays.

“The injury has got me playing defensive,” he said. “It’s not the greens at Silver Lakes, that’s not the issue. It’s the get-up-and-down-from-anywhere I used to kind of have. I’ve got to somehow say in my head I’m going to try for birdies again and not just get somewhere around the green.

“I need to play golf again like you’re trying to win. That’s the injury. I don’t hurt, nothing hurts, nothing’s going to hurt, it’s just the whole mental thing of getting out here and hitting the ball. I feel like my golf game is in me, but I’ve got to believe it’s in me and do it.”

He’s certainly not slowing down. He is committed to playing in the Sunny King Charity Classic in a couple weeks and the rest of the Calhoun County Golf Tour schedule at Pine Hill, an event he typically doesn’t play, and the County Championship at Anniston Municipal, a course he’s never played.

“I’m done using (the accident) as an excuse, it’s a cop out,” Thomas said. “We’ve all got injuries out here. We’ve all got bad shoulders, wrists, the older we get, knees, but there’s no reason to use this as an excuse any more. Now it’s just doing it.”

Wigington surged into the lead with eagles after the second weather delay of the round on both of the Backbreaker par-5s down the stretch. He eagled No. 7 with a 5-iron from 220 yards to 15 feet and closed it off with an eagle at No. 9 with a 7-iron from 190 to five feet. He played the par-5s that fit his game in 5-under.

He leads Randy Lipscomb and Ty Cole by two shots; both players birdied their final holes to get to 3-under. Chandler Wilborn and Daniel Black are another shot back.

Lipscomb got to 4-under through 13 holes with three straight birdies right before the first weather delay hit. He cooled down during the break and when play resumed he finished par, bogey, bogey, par, birdie.

Wilborn had one of the wildest rides of the day. He had six birdies, an eagle, two double bogeys and two bogeys. He was 4-under through 10 holes, fell back to 1-under, got it back to 3-under before the weather stopped play, then double bogeyed his first hole when play resumed.

First-round scores
Championship A Flight

Gary Wigington 35-32—67
Randy Lipscomb 35-34—69
Ty Cole 34-35—69
Chandler Wilborn 33-37—70
Daniel Black 37-33—70
Jeremy McGatha 36-35—71
Gage Smith 37-34—71
Jake Goggans 34-38—72
Alex Harper 37-36—73
Scott Martin 37-36—73
Harrison Hughston 38-35—73

Championship B Flight
Luke Armstrong 38-36—74
Keaton Stanfield 39-35—74
Chris Cox 35-40—75
Dane Moore 38-37—75
Chase Hollingsworth 36-40—76
Matt Miller 39-37—76
Chad Calvert 40-36—76
Jay Austin 39-38—77
Brennan Clay 40-38—78
Andrew Brooks 38-40—78
Dillon Davis 38-40—78
Doug East 39-39—78
David Beard 37-41—78
Jordan Carter 35-43—78
Cole Contris 39-39—78
Mike Hughston 37-41—78
Jordan Evans 39-50—89

First Flight
Tanner Wells 38-41—79
Graham Morrow 40-39—79
Randy Reaves 40-39—79
Link Casey 41-38—79
Jake Nichols 37-42—79
Shane Chappell 38-42—80
Kaine Gibson 39-41—80
Lee Waldron 40-40—80
Bill Gilchrist 40-41—81
Jeff Noah 38-43—81
David Sanders 43-39—82
Clayton Chandler 42-40—82
Austin Minter 39-44—83
Matt Rogers 40-43—83
Daily Thomas 44-39—83
Chad Reavis 43-40—83
Tyler Dopson 44-39—83
John Turnipseed 40-43—83

Second Flight
Matt Burns 43-41—84
Billy Thompson 39-45—84
Josh Hicks 42-42—84
Derek Sewell 43-42—85
Scott Hyten 46-39—85
Jason Simmons 43-42—85
J.T. Wright 43-43—86
Kenny Wright 42-44—86
Blake Erwin 43-43—86
Jarrod Smith 43-43—86
Jared Driggers 43-43—86
Casey Harmon 44-44—88
Tim Steward 43-46—89
Jerry Kemp 45-44—89
Marty Branson 46-43—89

Third Flight
Craig Graves 43-47—90
Rick Marini 46-45—91
Andrew Gunnels 45-46—91
Matt Greer 46-45—91
Chase Thomas 49-43—92
Kyle Rosenbauer 47-45—92
Chad Maples 48-47—95
Kenny Fulmer 48-47—95
Ross Summerford 49-48—97
Todd Gober 44-53—97
Kelly Rogers 51-53—104
Steve Williams 57-48—105
Ryan Summerford 57-48—105
Keith Hutcheson 62-58—118

Sunday tee times
7 a.m. — Steve Williams, Ryan Summerford, Keith Hutcheson
7:11 — Kelly Rogers, Ross Summerford, Todd Gober
7:22 — Chad Maples, Kyle Rosenbauer, Kenny Fulmer, Chase Thomas
7:33 — Matt Greer, Rick Marini, Andrew Gunnels, Craig Graves
7:49 — Tim Steward, Marty Branson, Jerry Kemp
8:00 — Casey Harmon, Blake Erwin, Jarrod Smith, Kenny Wright
8:11 — Jared Driggers, Jason Simmons, JT Wright, Derek Sewell
8:22 — Josh Hicks, Billy Thompson, Scott Hyten, Matt Burns
8:38 — Matt Rogers, Austin Minter, John Turnipseed
8:49 — Daily Thomas, Tyler Dopson, Chad Reavis
9:00 — David Sanders, Bill Gilchrist, Jeff Noah, Clayton Chandler
9:11 — Shane Chappell, Kaine Gibson, Lee Waldron, Tanner Wells
9:22 — Graham Morrow, Randy Reaves, Link Casey, Jake Nichols
9:38 — Brennan Clay, Andrew Brooks, Jordan Evans
9:49 — Jordan Carter, David Beard, Mike Hughston
10:00 — Doug East, Cole Contris, Dillon Davis
10:11 — Jay Austin, Chase Hollingsworth, Chad Calvert, Matt Miller
10:22 — Chris Cox, Dane Moore, Luke Armstrong, Keaton Stanfield
10:38 — Alex Harper, Harrison Hughston, Scott Martin
10:49 — Jake Goggans, Jeremy McGatha, Gage Smith, Chandler Wilborn
11:00 — Daniel Black, Randy Lipscomb, Ty Cole, Gary Wigington

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