E.A. Sports Today

Down means up

McGatha, Daugherty post only scores under par in round made tougher by playing the ball down, lead Gadsden City Championship by 2

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

GADSDEN – Jeremy McGatha’s approach to the Gadsden City Championship totally changed in the 150 yards from the Twin Bridges parking lot to the tournament check-in desk.

Usually, players come into the Calhoun County Golf Tour events – most any event, really – expecting to get a little help getting it around: Rolling the ball the fairway anywhere from a scorecard to a club length, fluffing the lie around the green; ball-in-hand type things designed to improve both the tournament experience and the scores of recreational players.

They were pretty much expecting the same thing Saturday, especially this early in the season, but there would be so such help this time. The players were told by general manager and pro Chet Hallman when they checked in they were playing it down this week, which meant hands off.

It was going to make the round a little more difficult and a little longer, but those who could adjust the best to playing the purest form of the game likely would have the best chance at being successful. But, honestly, when’s the last time most of them played a round that way.

McGatha was a little concerned, of course, but he made the proper adjustments and at the end of the day held a share of the first-round lead. The 10-time County Tour winner and former Anniston Country Club pro Kevin Daugherty were the only players to shoot par or better on the breezy day.

Their 1-under-par 71s lead three players by two going into Championship Sunday.

“When we got here this morning and he told us we were playing it down everywhere, that was, phew, it was definitely difficult,” McGatha said. “Mentally, (the approach) was totally different.

“We’re thinking we’re going to roll the ball, it’s April, still dormant. I love the course, the course is great, the greens are great, but it’s still winter and squirrely. Ol’ Chet threw us a curveball right there. When we got here he said ‘it’s down and dirty, boys,’ and I went OK, wow.”

Probably the last time he played the ball down all the way was in the USGA Four-Ball qualifier with Brennan Clay at Willow Point last fall; the governing body doesn’t mess around when it comes to the rules.

How he tried get through it Saturday was make as solid contact off the tight lies as possible and hit every green to take pressure off a short game that now, at 45, he admits isn’t as sharp as it once was. And when he did miss a green, he got creative.

“Playing it down and not getting to get your fingers on it, it’s tough,” he said. “I used the Texas wedge a lot. It worked out.”

McGatha’s round featured four birdies and three bogeys. He had it dialed in over the first seven holes, hitting every green in regulation and getting it to 2-under. Then he started missing greens before getting back on track late in the round. He got up and down on the first three greens he missed and four of the seven total to keep the round from getting away.

“If you would’ve told me before we teed off I was going to break par, I would have probably said no chance, especially after Chet told us we were playing it down,” McGatha said. “But I did. I got up and down from some spots using the putter off the green that, well, I better hit it better tomorrow if I’m going to have any chance.”

They won’t be changing the rules Sunday, but it will get easier for some. The players flights will move up to the white tees, while the championship flight will remain on the blues they played today.

“You know my old saying, ‘Play or Don’t,” McGatha said. “Whatever tees we play and however we’re playing it, I’m going to do my best.”

Daugherty just played steady golf. His improved driving set him up with wedges from the middle of the fairway most of the day, but he struggled with his distance control off the tight lies and made only two birdies. One of them came on 18 to tie him for the lead. He hit 11 fairways and 13 greens.

“I’m driving the ball a lot better now than I have over the last few years,” he said. “This winter I’ve been able to practice and work on it some, so that helps a lot. I’ve made a few changes.”

There’s an ulterior motive to all that practice. He wants to play more of the tournament golf this year. Since he’s gotten his amateur status back he hasn’t played in many significant events, but this year he’s already signed up to play in the State Senior at Gadsden Country Club and the U.S. Senior Open qualifier in Montgomery.

“I really wanted here and next week (at Cider Ridge) to get some rounds under my belt and play more tournaments,” he said. “I’ve gotten very few tournament rounds over the last 10 years and I want to play some this year.”

Playing it down here will certainly get him ready to play there.

NOTES: Playing it down, the stroke average for the 36 players who made it into the championship flight was 80.7 … Daily Thomas scored the only eagle of the round, dropping a 3 on the par-5 15th … Chad Calvert had the most birdies in the round (six) … The three players tied for second are Gray Randall, Corey Ray and Dennis Mason. Ray birdied three of the four par-5s and was the only player to birdie both of the back-to-back par-5s on the front.

Gadsden City Championship
First-round scores

Jeremy McGatha 343771
Kevin Daugherty353671
Mason Dennis393473
Corey Ray353873
Gary Randall373673
Chad Calvert353974
Gage Ledbetter383674
Chase Hollingsworth393675
Jody Wooten373976
Scott Smith354176
Gary Wigington354176
Chad Hare413677
Jonathan Swader423577
Dane Moore383977
Chandler Richards413677
Patrick Cooper374077
Bumper Jones374077
Layton Bussey374077
Norman Clifton413778
Michael Lovoy403878
Matt Rogers374178
Clay Calkins403878
Ty Cole413879
Zach Mangum413879
Randy Lipscomb423880
Casey Harmon443680
Eli Edge404080
Andrew Brooks404181
Lamar Carter423981
Graham Morrow433881
Daily Thomas433982
Nathan Williams374582
Clayton Chandler394382
Timmy Woodard404282
Jeremy Burns443882
Hunter Carr404282
Alex Beason434083
Brian Williams454085
Mason Aulsbrook434386
Drey Reeves424486
Jimmy Bogle464086
Ethan Davis424587
C.J. Taylor503888
Greg Hare424688
Cain Hollingsworth444488
Blake Grisham454388
Jason Payne434689
Zack Pruitt444791
Jeremy Hallmark444791
Trey Stone435295
Tyrel Tucker455196
Houston Black465096
Josh Eldridge475198
Andy Lang504898
David Carroll534699
Shannon Israel5054104
Chase Thomas4856104
Adam Benefiel5952111
Gary Hopper363975
Greg Shultz364076
Ron McClellan383876
David Sanders403979
Mark Spurlock364379
Ted Heim384482
Larry Gilchrist404484
Buster Winningham434386
Derek Jenkins434588

Sunday pairings

8 a.m.: Larry Gilchrist, Buster Winningham, Derek Jenkins
8:10: David Sanders, Mark Spurlock, Ted Heim
8:20: Garay Hopper, Ron McClellan, Greg Shultz
8:30: Shannon Israel, Chase Thomas, Adam Benefiel
8:40: Andy Lang, Josh Eldridge, David Carroll
8:50: Tyrel Tucker, Houston Black, Jason Payne
9:00: Zack Pruitt, Jeremy Hallmark, Trey Stone
9:10: Greg Hare, Cain Hollingsworth, C.J. Taylor
9:20: Jimmy Bogle, Ethan Davis, Blake Grisham
9:30: Alex Beason, Brian Williams, Mason Aulsbrook, Drey Reeves
9:40: Clayton Chandler, Jeremy Burns, Hunter Carr
9:50: Timmy Woodard, Nathan Williams, Daily Thomas
10:00: Andrew Brooks, Lamar Carter, Graham Morrow
10:10: Randy Lipscomb, Casey Harmon, Eli Edge
10:20: Clay Calkins, Ty Cole, Zach Mangum
10:30: Matt Rogers, Michael Lovoy, Norman Clifton
10:40: Dane Moore, Chandler Richards, Jonathan Swader
10:50: Layton Bussey, Patrick Cooper, Chada Hare, Bumper Jones
11:00: Scott Smith, Jody Wooten, Gary Wigington
11:10: Mason Dennis, Gage Ledbetter, Chad Calvert, Chase Hollingsworth
11:20: Kevin Daugherty, Jeremy McGatha, Gary Randall, Corey Ray

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