The 17th hole at Anniston Country Club on Sunday proved to be the pivotal hole of the 2012 championship.
All three contenders made par on the hole where birdie is most desirable. Randy Reaves and Gary Wigington maintained their share of the lead with theirs and won their fifth title together on the next hole.
The runner-up teams of Brennan Clay-Daniel Glidewell and Marcus Harrell-Cory Etter would like to have a mulligan for the whole thing.
It was tight coming down the stretch. Harrell and Etter were tied for the lead with Reaves-Wigington at 37-under-par. Clay and Glidewell were one shot back playing in the final group with the eventual champions.
Harrell and Etter played the 17th first. With the adrenaline of contention and the crush of the gallery building around them, both smoked tee shots into the hazard that cuts the par-5 in half. Since both were out of mulligans they had to live with the result.
Laying about 12 inches apart in the hazard, both tried to play out. Etter advanced his ball 10 yards. Harrell had to hit from between two rocks and wound up hurting his wrist, an injury that affected him the rest of the summer.
They made par to remain tied for the lead, but on 18 both hit soft approach shots from 100 yards and lost by a stroke when Wigington made a 20-foot birdie putt at the last.
“We have talked about 17 probably since we walked off 18th green last year,” Etter said. “We were playing great — we were 10 under through 15 — and knew in our minds we had to make birdie. If I had to do it over again I would have hit 4-wood and hit it hard. Marcus wanted to hit hybrid off the tee, but after I hit driver in the ditch I told him, ‘I think you can hit driver and get us close.’”
Clay and Glidewell were in the best position to take advantage, riding a big wave of momentum after Clay’s 20-foot birdie putt on 16. They both hit big drives, but made a strategy gaffe at the green.
Glidewell was on in 2 after booming his drive over the creek, but was some 40 feet away for eagle. Clay was over the green in 2 and cozied a chip from above the hole to about three feet for what appeared to be an easy birdie.
Instead of going on and tapping in his short putt for birdie, giving Glidewell an unpressured run at a go-ahead eagle, Clay waved up his partner, who only got his eagle attempt halfway to the hole.
Clay then missed his birdie attempt and the team had to settle for par. They lost by two.
“When you’re in the position we were in, we were thinking we’ve got birdie in the bag. We were right where we needed to be,” Clay said. “It was probably the only hole in the tournament we didn’t stand beside each other and talk. I guess we were both caught up in what was going on around us. If we had taken a second ...
“That was a big learning moment for us. We were with Randy and Twig, two guys who are big in my (golf) life, who’ve won this, what, five times. I guarantee if the roles were switched, whoever had that three-footer would’ve putted first and made it. I think it was a little bit of inexperience, little bit of getting caught up in the moment. It was bad judgement on teamwork there and strategy.”
Reaves and Wigington didn’t have it easy on the hole, either. Reaves used his sandy from the greenside bunker, but his toss took a big hop and ran past the hole. That played a role in their opponents’ decisions.
“We were so mixed up in watching them destroy the hole and then make par … we were just mesmerized,” Glidewell said. “This year, those last three holes, I’m going to make sure that me and Brennan stay side by side at all times, because we get mixed up talking to people and other people talking to us that we kind of lose track. We’ve lost that tournament twice on 17 because we’ve made par and easily could’ve made 4 if not 3.”
Although the tournament eventually turned out in his team’s favor, Reaves said he felt their pain.
“I felt so bad for Brennan last year because he played so well,” he said. “They deserved to win as much as Gary and I deserved to win. They both played really well. (Clay) was out here (at Silver Lakes) hitting range balls and I’d stop the car and talk to him and told him how good he played. He deserved to win. I assure you he will learn from it.”
Provided, of course, they get a second chance.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.