Hogan Ingram was a relatively unknown entity prior to last year’s Chattanooga Choo Choo Invitational, but he was perfectly fine with that anonymity.
As a rising senior at Rome High School, Ingram birdied the final hole to win the prestigious tournament against a talented field of collegiate golfers. The win served as a springboard for him to gain momentum that has elevated his status as he enters his freshman year at Georgia Southern.
Ingram won’t be able to fly beneath the radar as he seeks to defend his title in the 54-hole event that runs Monday through Wednesday at Council Fire Golf Club.
Tournament director Chris Schmidt along with the efforts of more than 140 volunteers has helped build the Choo Choo into one of the top amateur events in the country. This year’s roster of participants is evidence of the continued growth of the tournament now in its tenth year.
“No doubt this is the best field we’ve had, and many of the players are rated highly in the world rankings,” Schmidt said. “It would be difficult to pick five favorites from the field. I think there’s at least 30 players who could win.”
There are 55 colleges represented among the 100 participants representing 21 different states. The tournament has also garnered an international flair by inviting players from England, South Africa, India, Dubai and Canada.
South African Ruan Pretorius was recently named the winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award, recognizing him as the top golfer in NAIA while playing at Point University. Pretorius will continue his career at Mississippi State.
The layout at Council Fire will be a hearty test thanks to the meticulous preparation of long-time course superintendent Gary Weller, particularly with the addition of numerous native areas of thick Scottish fescue that will penalize errant shots.
“We expect three days of conditions where Council Fire will play like a major event,” Schmidt said. “This is Gary’s golf course and he and his staff have created a great challenge for our participants.”
Ingram, who was named after golf legend Ben Hogan, is primed for a repeat of last year’s success.
“I’ve gained 25 pounds since last year which has allowed me to gain more length,” Ingram said. “That has made it easier for me to score. Plus, my putting has improved.”
Ingram’s success at the Choo Choo prompted some inquiries from several college golf powerhouses to gauge his interest in flipping his commitment from Georgia Southern. But the unassuming Ingram couldn’t be swayed.
“I never wavered on my decision to go to Georgia Southern,” Ingram said. “Chris (Schmidt) told me there were bigger schools interested in me after I won. But the way I looked at it was if they didn’t want me before, then it was too late.”
Arriving at the Choo Choo as reigning champion has not altered Ingram’s outlook or preparation
“I don’t feel any additional pressure,” Ingram said. “My goal is always to win. If not, then why be there? I gained a lot of confidence that’s led to more success. It’s been life-changing since I won here.”
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Contact Paul Payne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Paul_A_Payne