Brandt shot a 5-under-par 67 to jump the overnight co-leaders and take command of the KIA-Fort McClellan Credit Union Pro-Invitational at Cane Creek Golf Course.
His two-day total of 6-under 138 is two shots better than first-round co-leaders Kyle Sapp and Zach Portemont and former Anniston resident Nick Rousey. Sapp and Portemont both shot 1-under 71s, while Rousey posted a 68.
The amateur division got underway Saturday and Marcus Harrell matched Brandt’s 67 to grab the lead in it. He leads by one over Ott Chandler and two over Clay Calkins and Jaylon Ellison.
Brandt was cruising to a seemingly routine finish when a prolonged search for playing partner Nate Rau’s elusive drive and some emergency excavation to extract said ball from a burrowing animal hole slowed the proceedings.
“Eighteen was pretty crazy,” Brandt said. “For his ball to fall in a hole like that — it was the size of two golf balls. It took a while, but the rule was he could dig it out and identify it … I don’t know what would have happened if it had been on the big tour. It would have been good TV.”
Rau blistered a driver off the tee that everyone agreed landed in the feathery left-side rough. The players and about a dozen spectators combed the area in the allotted search time and were just about to give up the ghost when Sapp suggested the only place Rau’s Titleist could be was in one of the holes.
Sure enough, upon deep inspection, the ball was in there, about 12 inches below the surface. Rau used the flashlight app on his cell phone to help identify his ball.
“It was the only hole it went into all day,” Rau said. “I walked by that hole probably two or three times and said there was no chance, I’m not even going to look. Kyle was like check it one more time. I saw a ball down there.”
Finding it solved only part of the problem. He still had to extricate it in order to continue playing without penalty. A shovel was retrieved from the nearby cart barn and the Cumming, Ga., pro — with the gallery gathered around him — commenced to dig for that piece of white surlyn gold. Rau wound up making par on the hole and finished with a 73 that left him six shots off the lead.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group played up the fairway to keep the game moving. Once Rau joined them, Brandt made par, while Sapp and Portemont both birdied.
“We looked for his ball for a little while, but by the time they started digging it up it had already been 20 minutes probably,” Brandt said. “I wanted to get back on the course instead of sitting there forever, so the rest of the guys tried to go ahead and hurry up while he was getting whatever he had to get taken care of.
“It’s not that big of a deal. It takes a lot to bother me. It would take somebody to make me mad for me to get bothered.”
Rau said he hadn’t experienced such a bizarre situation since he knocked a shot off a tree branch into the hole for a birdie some 10 years ago at a junior tournament in Rome, Ga.
By the time their group got to 18, Brandt was holding a three-shot lead with a gettable par-5 in front of him. He surged into the lead with birdies on four of his first six holes (1, 2, 4 and 6) — giving him six in a nine-hole stretch going back to Friday — while Sapp bogeyed his first two holes from the middle of the fairway and Portemont was making pars.
Brandt bogeyed 11 from 115 yards out, but extended his lead with an eagle on the par-5 14th — where he made 7 the day before – hitting a cut hybrid from 215 yards to six feet.
Portemont parred each of his first 13 holes, then broke through with consecutive birdies to close on Brandt, but suffered a three-putt double bogey on 16 to fall back.
“It was pretty frustrating all day,” he said. “I didn’t really make anything. I had some good opportunities on the back nine and couldn’t hole anything. Finishing with a birdie on 18 after a bad mistake on 16 was pretty good.”
Sapp righted his ship after his slow start. He didn’t make another bogey after 2.
“At least I managed to turn it around,” he said. “In the past that’s something I’ve struggled with. If I have a rough start like that I have a hard time keeping my head in it, but I just kept kicking myself and saying there’s a lot of golf left.”
Rousey had a chance to be even closer to the lead, but he bogeyed 16 and 17.
“I didn’t really climb back into it; I only made up a shot on the lead, it wasn’t like I was out of it,” he said. “I’m just glad I played well because Jimmy played well. If I didn’t then I’d have been in a world of hurt.”
On the amateur side, Harrell had six birdies and one bogey. He followed the bogey at No. 12 with three consecutive birdies and played his last six holes in 4-under.
Chandler called his 68 one of his best ball-striking rounds “in a long time;” it featured five birdies. Calkins hit only nine greens in regulation, but had just 25 putts and made five birdies. Ellison is looking for his third straight win on the Calhoun County Golf Tour.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.