E.A. Sports Today

Brennan breaks through

Clay wins Gadsden Invitational on second hole of sudden death playoff for his ‘favorite’ victory of all time

Brennan Clay gives a fist pump after sinking a birdie putt on 18 that gave him a chance to win the Gadsden Invitational in a playoff.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

GADSDEN — As much as Brennan Clay loves playing Gadsden Country Club and is at ease every time he plays there, there’s this little piece missing in his life that he hasn’t won there before.

He’s been in contention a bunch of times — like being in the final group four of the last five years — but someone or something always seemed to get in the way of him winning.

It almost happened again Sunday, but he finally broke through.

Clay made a 12-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat Ty Cole for the Gadsden Invitational title.

“This is my favorite place on the (Calhoun County) Tour,” he said. “It’s like I think told you a couple years ago when Tiger (Woods) walks on Augusta or St. Andrews or Firestone, he has a calmness about him. When I walk on this place I am as calm as I am anywhere.

“That’s my favorite win I’ve ever had in my life, point blank. Of the two or three I’ve won, this is my favorite win, period. And I needed a W bad.”

Clay and Cole both finished an eventful final round at 6-under-par 207, one shot better than former Samford golf coach Woodie Eubanks and second-round leader Paul Bruce, both of whom contributed in their own way to the drama at the end of regulation.

Clay broke through a lot of barriers with his win. In addition to finally solving Gadsden CC, he also ended a string of second-place finishes in each of the last three Calhoun County Golf Tour events. He also checked off a win at one of the courses he worked while in the PGA program before getting his amateur status back.

And he needed the 300 Tour points to stay in the hunt for CCGT Player of the Year. Adjusted for their best four finishes going into the Calhoun County Championship in two weeks, Clay and Gary Wigington are tied for the series lead with 1,025 points. Both are counting one win, two seconds and a third going into the year-end points tournament.

Cole isn’t expected to play at The Hill and should top out at 1,212.25 points, meaning whichever of the two leaders finishes higher than 14th at the County – absent a Jeremy McGatha, Kevin Daugherty or Dane Moore win – will be POY and top seed in the County Match Play Championship.

“Both wins I was defending this year, I lost by one in both of them and that kind of sucked,” Clay said. “But I was just being patient. I’ve been playing good, been finishing good, been hitting the ball good, putting good, eventually something’s gonna happen.” 

Clay overcame a rough start, bounced back from a disastrous double-bogey on 16 and made clutch putts three times on 18 to win for the fourth time on the County Tour.

He started the day tied with Cole for second, one shot behind Bruce, but was four shots off the lead after three holes. Luckily he matched Cole’s birdie on 4 or he would’ve fallen farther behind. By the turn he was tied for the lead.

“I’ve figured out now holes 1 through 7 are so important to a good round out here and Friday I went through them beautifully,” Clay said. “The last two days I didn’t, but thankfully I’ve had a history from 8 on I’ve been pretty decent.”

He played the final 11-hole stretch in 2-under Sunday. He played it in 3-under Friday and 4-under on Saturday.

When he made birdie on 14 he was two shots clear of the field and looked on the way to winning in regulation. But then he found the water with his second shot on 16 and made double bogey to bring everybody back into it.

“On 17, when I was on 18 tee box by myself – I stood away from people on purpose – I was like here you go again, the place you love you’re going to lose it,” he said. “I had to tell myself to shut up.” 

Meanwhile, playing in the group ahead of the leaders, Eubanks was steadily making a run. He grabbed a share of the lead on 12 and took it outright with a birdie on 17. He stood on the 18th tee with a one-shot lead and watched as Cole made birdie on 17 to pull into a tie.

Eubanks was in the middle of the fairway on 18, but was too amped on his approach and hit an 8-iron that settled just outside the back fringe. His chip took the slope, but broke away from the hole and his 10-footer coming back for par broke off at the hole.

“I knew exactly where I was,” he said. “I had 175 and I was uphill like 182. That’s usually a 7-iron for me, but I was pretty hyped and I knew where that pin was if I could just hit it left of that pin it would catch that slope, so I hit 8-iron and I flushed it. 

“You play in these things to be in that situation, and sometimes you come out on top and sometimes you don’t.”

Eubanks’ bogey opened the door for all kinds of drama from the group behind him on the finishing hole.

Bruce fell way off the pace early in the round and fought back into it on the back nine. He made a long birdie putt to tie Eubanks and Clay at 5-under and set up the potential for a four-way playoff if Cole messed up the last.

Clay then knocked out Eubanks and Bruce when he birdied from 15 feet and set up a win in regulation if Cole didn’t convert. Cole’s approach landed short and rolled into Gadsden’s version of the Valley of Sin below the green. His chip stopped short of the hole, but he made his putt to force the playoff with Clay.

It was the 13th playoff in the history of the CCGT, and first since Clay beat Graveman on the third extra hole of last year’s Anniston City Championship at Cane Creek.

“I’m glad I saw Paul’s putt,” Clay said. “He hit that pretty hard and it banged in. Even as hard as he hit it, that thing broke three or four feet. I’m like, God, there ain’t no way to make this; I’ve got to throw this out there five or six feet and not run it by in case Ty makes bogey. When I hit it, I said it looks really good if it keeps pace and it went dead in the heart. That’s not a putt I want to putt again, I know that.”

Cole had the advantage on the first playoff hole when Clay pulled his tee shot into the driving range and then missed the green to the right with his second shot. Clay pitched up from halfway down the slope and then made a clutch eight-footer to extend the match after Cole had already cleaned up his two-putt par.

Both players hit the green with their approaches on the second playoff hole. Cole had a 30-footer that looked like it might curl in, but stopped inches from the hole. Clay was 12 feet under the hole and after waving to his wife and kids on the veranda while Cole was studying his putt knocked home the winner.

“He made two great putts to get in the playoff and to win,” Cole said. “What do you do? He made putts coming down the stretch and I didn’t.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever made that length of putt that were that important at the moment,” Clay said. “The only ones I can think of is on 18 at Cane Creek to make (Justin) Graveman make birdie to win and made that one from off the green on 2 in the playoff.”

Early on, it looked like Cole might run away with the tournament and give the club its first member-winner of the Invitational since 2002. Over the first four holes, the four-time champion went from one shot back to four shots ahead with three birdies. 

His lead stayed at four through 5, then back-to-back bogeys and a birdie by Clay on 6 brought it back to one going to 8. They shared the lead through the turn before a three-putt Cole bogey on 10 gave Clay the lead for the first time.

“When you start three-putting, you don’t expect to beat nobody,” Cole said. “When you give shots away, you don’t expect to win.”

Tournament leader Woodie Eubanks looks over to the 17th green from the 18th tee in time to watch Ty Cole make a birdie to tie for the lead.

Gadsden Invitational

Championship Flight A
Brennan Clay687069207
Ty Cole657369207
Paul Bruce696871208
Woodie Eubanks707068208
Dane Moore677471212
Dylan Evans717173215
Gary Wigington726975216
Kevin Daugherty687574217
Dawson Garrett697475218
Corey Ray727077219
Championship Flight B
Jeremy McGatha747268214
Chris Leonhardt767370219
Chandler Richards777171219
Landon Straub737473220
Justin Graveman777373223
Mason Dennis707482226
Harrison Martin777376226
Morgan Cunningham727680228
Mark McCaig777378228
Tommy Simmons767480230
Championship Flight C
Tanner Wells777771225
Layton Bussey767576227
Sam Bone737878229
Anthony Mancini777876231
Chad Maples747781232
Josh Ashley778273232
David Kyatt718187239
Chris Messer778085242
Drew Anderton778186244
Braden Lovely778782246
Dre Davenport748589248
Players Division
Flight 1R1R2Tot
Keith Crumpton6869137
Seth Dodd6970139
Jake Goggans6970139
Daily Thomas7275147
Jody Wooten7177148
Randy Lipscomb7476150
Ryan Limbaugh7279151
Flight 2
Nathan Nailer7575150
Matt Rogers7876154
Bradley Landin7779156
Bradley Elliott7879157
Luke Armstrong7978157
Andrew Ford7882160
Hank Bangs7982161
Wayne Copeland8181162
Ethan Davis7588163
Vance Lewis8183164
Flight 3
Joe Hedgepath8378161
Austin Elliott8281163
Jonathan Bowman8678164
Matt Greer8283165
Bumper Jones8679165
Ryan Moore8386169
Mark Gaines8886174
Scott Sanders8789176
Flight 4
Grant Gilmer9176167
Mike Morgan9385178
Blake Erwin9288180
Skylar Deerman9988187
Andy Lang93104197
Guy Edwards10395198
Trent Ingram102104206
Keith Hutcheson100121221
Senior Flight AR1R2Tot
Matt Bennett7074144
Mark Dillard7374147
Danny Dunlap7474148
Frank Shikle7377150
Don Sutton7774151
Mark Cantrell 7775152
Steve Roach7783160
Senior Flight B
Mike Douglas7981160
Mike Lett7985164
David Bowman8086166
Bob Russell8187168
David Lipscomb8596181

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