May 21, 2012

Wire-to-wire, Noll cruises to victory

Obviously, Dalton’s David Noll Jr. knew he had a seven-stroke lead entering the final round of the Georgia Mid-Amateur Champion-ship.

Other than that, he avoided the temptation to track numbers on the course Sunday — and when it was all over, he was happy to be able to count to two.

Noll’s par 72 in the final round at Berkeley Hills Country Club in Duluth was good enough for a two-stroke victory over Cartersville’s Chase Jones in the 54-hole Georgia State Golf Association event he previously won in 2007.

Noll, who had rounds of 66 and 67 on Friday and Saturday, finished at 11-under 205, while Jones finished at 207 in the 31st annual championship. Two-time past champion Jeff Knox of Augusta — the 2008 and 2009 winner — finished third, six strokes back of Noll. Jones and Knox were tied for second after the second round, seven shots behind Noll.

“Chase and I have played lots of golf together,” said Noll, who made 17 birdies in the tournament, but just two in the final round. “I knew either he or Jeff Knox or both of them would make a run today. (Jones) absolutely kept me on my toes all day. He was not going away, nor should he have. It was a fun day and a fun match because it was always in question. At any time, I could have messed up on any given hole and he would have been even closer.”

Noll actually bogeyed the final two holes Sunday, but a decision he made before the round even started might have made the biggest difference. He was determined to not worry about his competition and to simply play good, consistent golf — although he did make a conscious effort to be conservative on Berkeley Hills’ speedy greens — rather than fret about keeping up the pace of birdies he’d set the first two days.

“I was definitely nervous out there when I first got started, simply because I had the lead, and it’s easy to start doing the math in your head if someone makes a birdie or something,” Noll said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to do that today.”

Noll made par on his first 10 holes Sunday before he birdied No. 11, but Jones gained ground with birdies on Nos. 3, 8 and 9 to trail by four at the turn. Jones added another birdie on No. 12, and both players birdied the 552-yard 15th before Jones added another at 16 to get within three shots.

After Noll bogeyed 17 — his first bogey of the day and only his fifth of the tournament — Jones found himself trailing by two shots going into the final hole. His tee shot on 18 went left of the fairway, though, and he settled for bogey. So did Noll, but it didn’t matter thanks to the cushion he had to start the day.

Noll’s 2011 Georgia Amateur Championship award is displayed at Dalton Golf and Country Club, and he said the same will soon be true of the 2012 Georgia Mid-Am trophy. It’s a fitting home for the hardware, considering that’s where he put in the preparation that made his victories possible.

He said he was helped this weekend by recent lessons with Russ Allstun, the club’s head pro, and Lowell Fritz, its director of golf and a member of the 2013 class of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.

“Russ Allstun helped me earlier this week and last week with my golf swing. He had me hitting it as good as I could hit it,” Noll said. “And then Lowell Fritz worked with me on my putting Wednesday. I played great golf all week, but I absolutely won this tournament putting. I hit it fantastic, but in my opinion I outputted everyone this week.”

Noll’s second Georgia Mid-Am title gave him a total of seven career victories in GSGA individual tournaments — he also won the Georgia Amateur Championship in 2003 in addition to last year’s victory, and he took the Atlanta Amateur Match Play Championship in 2005, 2008 and 2009. That goes with the pair of titles he won in 2007 and 2009 while competing for Dalton Golf and Country Club.

He has won the past five GSGA Men’s Player of the Year awards.

“I’m the luckiest guy around,” Noll said. “I work hard, but I just feel fortunate that any and all of this stuff has happened.”

Acworth’s Tevis Upton shot a 65 for Sunday’s low round, which vaulted him into a tie for fourth place with Tucker’s Zane Goldthorp (213). The 2004 Mid-Amateur champion, Savannah’s Doug Hanzel was sixth at 216, while Berkeley Hills member Mike Cromer of Peachtree Corners tied for seventh at 217, along with Bob Royak of Alpharetta, 2000 champion Greg Kennedy of Duluth and Chris Waters of Athens.

Rocky Face’s Matt Oxford shot an 81 in the final round and finished tied for 59th in the 139-player field with a 232.

Berkeley Hills played to 6,694 yards.

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