Dru Love’s final round in the 2011 Golden Isles Invitational had become stuff of legend.
Love, a regular at the Brunswick Country Club’s annual amateur tournament, charged up the leaderboard on the final day five years ago with a third-round 62. He didn’t know it when he walked off the 18th green that day, but he’d scored well enough to jump into the championship flight and — thanks to leaders’ bogeys coming in — win the 2011 title.
“The first one was out of nowhere,” Love said. “I wasn’t expected to win. I got done and had no clue.”
It’s hard to follow Love’s group at the Golden Isles Invitational without a patron recollecting on that magnificent come-from-behind performance to win the hometown tournament. And it won’t go away anytime soon.
Love added to that mystique Saturday with another final-round comeback, charging from three shots down — not even in the final group — to win by five strokes. Love, who entered the day at 8 under, coasted his way to 15 under to defeat Kevin Benstead by five strokes.
“My dad told me before I played that it’s always better to play in the second-to-last group instead of the last group. I just went out with the mindset of trying to have some fun,” Love said. “This one was a little bit different (than the first Golden Isles Invitational win).”
At 8 under, Love was placed in the second-to-last foursome with Jeff Knox, Josh Williams and Chad Branton instead of the final group with leader Benstead, Peter Persons, Scott Ferrell and Jason Webster.
It turned out to be a blessing. The last time Love rode in a cart for a tournament with Williams, his playing partner, he won the Georgia state amateur at Seaside course last year. The omen stayed true Saturday as the pair rode together on the way to Love’s second Golden Isles Invitational trophy.
With the win, Love joined William “Dynamite Goodloe,” Hobart Manly, Frank Stevenson, Steve Melnyk, Bill Ploeger, Mike Cook, Mark Drury and Wally Adams as the tournament’s multiple-time champions.
“I got to play with Josh, one of my best friends. That guy has supported me throughout all my golf, and that helped me out a ton,” Love said. “To get out there with Josh, ride in a cart with him, that was fun. There’s something about me riding in a cart with him that’s good luck.”
Love might’ve been playing from behind to start the round, but it didn’t take long for him to assume control of the leaderboard. He dropped a seven-foot eagle putt on No. 3, a shot Love called “the turning point of the tournament,” and he followed it up with another birdie on the 4th. When he hit the pin with his approach shot on No. 5, Love knew he was fully dialed in — and having fun doing it.
Still, Benstead and Webster stayed competitive as the groups made the turn on the final day. But Love eliminated the drama before players got into the second half of the back nine.
He birdied the 13th, had an up-and-down birdie on No. 14, and Love was well on his way to a convincing Golden Isles crown.
“I didn’t putt good at all the first two days. I figured if I just went out, had some fun and freed it up, it’d be good,” Love said. “Once I made birdie on 13, it was kinda over. I guess it got closer in the end, but I won by five. I kinda knew at that point that it was in the bag.”
One group ahead of Love, there was more championship drama unfolding. In the senior division, senior club champion Chuck Bass — the leader through the first two days — played alongside J Lavender in a neck-and-neck battle for the senior title. Lavender eagled the 12th to force his way into a tie at the top.
The pair matched each other shot for shot until the 17th when Bass birdied to take a one-stroke advantage. He didn’t make it easy on himself on 18, but in his first year in the senior classification, Bass continued his successful tournament play at the Brunswick Country Club the past month with a tournament-best 4 under.
“I two-putted from about 40 feet on 18 to win it. It was a great match,” Bass said. “It was an honor. The course was in great shape. The staff did a great job.”
With the championship division put away, Love still managed to provide some of his own theatrics on the 18th green. Virtually his entire immediate family, including fellow Invitational champion Davis Love III, stood by in the gallery on the 18th to watch Love close out his championship. He provided a final dose of fun on the final hole, draining a swooping birdie putt to get back to 15 under after a bogey on the 17th.
Benstead came in with a final-round 73 to finish at 10 under to take second. Persons and Webster rounded out the top three, tying at 9 under. Former Coastal Georgia golfer Dillon Board worked his way up to fifth place with a 3 under in the last round.
As the tournament wrapped up, Love received his second Invitational trophy. Other players congratulated him on the victory, joked about the 62 in 2011 and joked that he needed to fill his trophy up with some kind of celebratory liquid.
Love insisted he would. He just wanted to make sure the celebration was with his family.
“When I won the state-am last summer, I had a ton of people out watching me too. So, to be able to perform in front of your friends and family, and make them proud, that’s what’s most important about this,” Love said. “We’re going to have some fun.”