This was no time to be heroic.
Michael Bradshaw was en route to one of the day’s best rounds on Tuesday as the Blount County Men’s Amateur Golf Tournament got underway at Lambert Acres Golf Course. All that stood between Bradshaw, last year’s runner up, and an opening round, 2-under 70 was a short chip to the green and a couple of putts.
That and a great big tree.
“I wanted to hit it over that tree so bad,” Bradshaw said.
Discretion won out, with the University of Tennessee graduate placing his second shot on the green in a position to allow him to two-putt for par on his final hole. That’s how you win the Blount County amateur, five-time champion Ron Waters said. Only veteran Scott Hutchison, with a low score of 69, would come home with a better round in the championship flight on Tuesday.
Bradshaw, Waters said, played it just right, Waters said.
“The key thing is to not get your expectations too high,” he said.
It was a crowded leaderboard that left behind Lambert Acres on Tuesday. Former William Blount High School football coach Scott Meadows is just back of Hutchison and Bradshaw with an opening day 72, with Brad McConnell, 73, Doug Latham and Josh Wheeler, both with 74s, and Tony Wallace, 75, forming a tightly-bunch pack at the top. Two others, Waters and Gary Wear, remained close enough after a day to make a run with matching 76s.
Each could emerge champion on Friday, partly because the Blount County tournament, with its unique four-course format, is like few others. That can be both good and bad.
The good is the familiarity of Pine Lakes, Green Meadow Country Club and Royal Oaks for most golfers in the tournament. Most have played one or all of the four courses many times. Three of the courses are open to the public.
“Everyone, at some point, gets their home course,” Hutchison said. “That’s what I like about it.”
Bradshaw, basically, doesn’t have that luxury. A transplant from Indiana four years ago, he has only a couple years experience with the Blount County tournament. Kevin Morgan bested him by five strokes a year ago, a finish Bradshaw badly wants to change. A former collegiate golfer, he has more than enough skill. His edge, though, may come more from not knowing the courses as well as some of his competitors. It forces him not to get ahead of himself.
“I just try to play one shot at a time and play my game,” he said.
Bradshaw, 24, said he began taking that approach after once caddying for U.S. Open qualifier Eric Atchley. The pros know when to hit all out and go for it and when to lay up and play the percentages.
“I saw how they approached things and I’ve taken that approach a lot more,” Bradshaw said.
That came in handy Tuesday when his tee shot on his last hole found its way behind a stand of trees back of the green. There was also a 6-foot shrub to be negotiated.
“I was lucky I wasn’t in the hay grass,” Bradshaw said.
There was the spectacular shot, an impossible lob over or around the tree, which would put him in position for a closing birdie. It would be a great way to finish a strong first day. It could also produce an eight on the hole so fast it would make his head spin.
After looking the shot over several times, Bradshaw chose to chip left of the tree to the back of the green. Two putts later, he was in the clubhouse.
“I was thinking, ‘Just get it on the green and can two-putt for par,” he said. “I couldn’t have played it any better.”
Like Bradshaw, Hutchison is seeking his first county amateur crown. No one was hotter Tuesday. Coming off a recent win in the Green Meadow Country Club Invitational, Hutchison said he wasn’t trying to do anything special Tuesday. As Waters alluded to, he was simply trying to stay in it on Day 1.
“I drove the ball well until my final hole, and I made par there,” Hutchison said. “It’s an old cliché: ‘You can’t win it on the first day, but you can sure shoot yourself in the foot and shoot yourself out of it.’”
Waters didn’t shoot himself out of the tournament on Tuesday, but, having last won the tournament in 2003, he wasn’t happy with his play. Groundskeeper J.D. Murr had the greens in great shape, he said. On a steamy hot day in the 90s, the course was fast but very playable.
“I drove the ball very poorly and didn’t putt it very well, either,” Waters said. “I never got a feel for the greens. They were excellent, but my stroke wasn’t.”
Moving to Day 2 seven shots back of Hutchison’s lead, Waters remains well in contention. It’s going to take some doing to close the gap, though.
“If I don’t drive the ball any better than I did (Tuesday), I won’t have a chance,” Waters said. “I’ve just got to play better.”