Thunderstorms and weather delays have become a regular occurrence at the Golden Isles Invitational.
Experienced players know it comes with the territory when playing the prestigious amateur tournament.
Rain and lightning led to a delay just after 11 a.m. on Day 2 of the Golden Isles Invitational, but Coastal Georgia golfer Eli Scott was able to overcome adversity to take a one-stroke lead into the final 18 holes today.
Scott had a freshman year to remember his first season as a Mariner. He finished with a 71.21 stroke average over 11 events, including a win at the NAIA’s Battle at the Primm in Las Vegas in addition to six other top 10 finishes.
After the season, Scott was named an NAIA All-American before winning the Yamaha Atlanta Open in Kennesaw a month ago. In his first tournament since that win, Scott’s on pace to keep his hot streak going in the 69th annual Golden Isles Invitational.
“Definitely my ball striking is the best it’s ever been,” Scott said. “[Thursday] was one of the best too. The putts I needed to make fell in, and I just gave myself good looks.”
Scott’s a stroke up on Josh Williams, who tied another Coastal Georgia golfer, Chip Thompson, for the day’s low round of 66, and two strokes ahead of last year’s champion Tye Waller, who is looking to become the first back-to-back winner since 11-time champion Bill Ploeger won two straight in 1998-99.
When inclement weather forced players off the course, Scott was in the midst of playing No. 14, but it would be another two-and-a-half-hours before golfers were cleared to resume play.
For veterans of the Golden Isles Invitational, a delay at some point over the three-day tournament was expected.
“It always happens,” said five-time winner Steve Melnyk. “We were lucky, we went out early...
“Going out early is always better than going out late.”
Melnyk has lost track of how many times he’s played in the tournament, but he won the invitational three times from 1965-69 before capturing back-to-back championships in the senior division in 2014-15. At 3-under, he’ll enter the final round four strokes back of the senior leader Dan McManus.
For McManus, this is the fourth time he’s played in the invitational. He credited a “really good group of guys,” for making the tournament worth the trip from Newnan.
Despite weather interrupting McManus’ round, he was able to shoot a 69 to go into Day 3 at 7-under by working around a bogey on 17 to close out the round with an eagle, two birdies, and three even pars over the final seven holes.
His key to waiting out the storm was to simply enjoy the moment.
“Just don’t stress out, don’t think about what’s next, just enjoy lunch,” McManus said. “When I get out there, I’ll start over.”
Similarly, Chris Phillips, who rebounded from an opening round 92 to shoot a 77 on Day 2, spent the delay bonding with the other competitors at the Brunswick County Club.
“I had just hit my tee shot on No. 11 when they blew the horn,” Phillips said. “We just kind of sat around, hung out in the locker room, dried clubs off, and just told funny stories. That’s how we killed time.”
It took golfers a few holes back on the course to lock back into sync on the course following the delay, but the struggle was even more pronounced for Scott after receiving some bad news during the intermission.
“Actually, during the rain delay, I found out that my dog had died back at home,” Scott said. “It was hard for me to kind of stay focused. I had two birdies and two bogeys when I went back out after the rain delay.
“My head was kind of everywhere, but I was kind of able to scramble it out and come in even.”
Scott bounced back from bogeys on 15 and 16 to sink his tournament-high 16th birdie of the invitational on 18 to close the round with a hold on the lead.
It won’t be easy for the rising sophomore to win his second straight tournament with Williams, Waller in pursuit. In fact, Scott faced a similar scenario last year when he also held the lead over both players going into the final round.
Scott wound up shooting a 76 on Day 3 to finish fifth with 54-hole score of 210, while Williams came in fourth at 209, and Waller pulled out the victory with a 69 on the final day to finish at 206 for the tournament.
“I know the two guys, Tye and Josh, they’re going to give me a run for my money,” Scott said.