As he walked off the final hole at Council Fire Golf Club Wednesday afternoon, unaware that he had an insurmountable lead to win the Chattanooga Choo Choo Invitational, Tyler Johnson was suddenly caught off guard by an impromptu recognition of his victory.
Tournament director Chris Schmidt asked a member of his staff to blast a loud rendition of “Rocky Top” from nearby speakers, a salute to Johnson’s participation on Tennessee’s golf team. While the final group waited in the fairway to make their approach shots, Johnson seemed perplexed by the playing of the Volunteer fight song.
Johnson compiled a three-day total of 206 to finish at 10-under, winning by two strokes over Clay Amlung and Luke Wells. He is the second Tennessee golfer to win the event, joining 2018 champion Brayden Garrison who was one of Johnson’s roommates at UT.
“I was confused when I walked off 18 and heard “Rocky Top” playing,” Johnson said. “I had no clue where anybody stood on the scoreboard, and I was just focused on playing disciplined golf. I wasn’t aware that I had won at that moment.”
Johnson played an efficient round with five birdies and and only missed a short putt on 10 for his lone bogey. The fifth year senior started his day two shots off the lead, and came out of gates quickly with two birdies in the first three holes. He then methodically navigated throughout the afternoon to record a 4-under 68, which was the low round on the day.
“This is a huge boost to my confidence to win,” Johnson said. “I’ve been changing a lot of things trying to improve, and to be able to put together three solid rounds on a difficult golf course makes all the work I’ve put in worthwhile.”
The Knoxville native gained a share of the lead after four holes, and remained within one shot of the leaders until taking sole possession of the top spot with a birdie on 14.
But Johnson found himself in trouble on 17 clinging to a one-shot lead over playing partner Amlung and Ryan Marter, who was in the group behind him. Johnson pulled his tee shot left into the wispy native grass, and was blocked by trees from attacking the flag. Opting to go under the tree canopy from 150 yards out, Johnson’s shot clipped a branch before settling 20 yards short of the green. He deftly pitched the ball to three feet and saved par.
Meanwhile, Amlung lipped out his short par putt and Marter triple-bogeyed 16 to give Johnson a two-shot lead approaching the final hole.
“I was just trying to hit the front of the green when it hit a limb. That ball could’ve gone anywhere including out of bounds. But I caught a break and was able to hit a great pitch shot to make par,” Johnson said.
Johnson then blasted “my best drive of the week juiced with adrenaline” on 18, leaving himself 94 yards to the pin. He had a testy par putt to seal the victory and bring on Schmidt’s celebratory tunes.
Amlung, the first-round leader who plays collegiately at Cincinnati, made a furious charge with an eagle from the fairway on 10, then birdied three of the next four holes to move to 10-under. But the bogey on 17 and another at 15 left him in a tie for second with Rutgers’ Wells.
Hunter Logan, who competes for Mississippi State made a late charge to move into a four-way tie for the lead as the final group finished hole 12. Consecutive birdies on 14 and 15 moved him to 9-under, but he double-bogeyed the next two holes to fall out of contention.
Murfreesboro’s Spencer Provow was also among the early leaders but only managed a pair of birdies against four bogeys to close with a score of 7-under good for fourth place.
Blain Turner, Samuel Jean and Marter tied for fifth with a final tally of 6-under.
This was the tenth year for the Choo Choo and Schmidt was beaming with pride over the the outcome.
“By far, this was our best tournament ever. Not even close,” Schmidt said. “The quality of players gave us the deepest field we’ve had. This really gives a great foundation to build on for next year.”
Chattanooga Choo Choo Invitational
Played at Council Fire Golf Club
Tyler Johnson -10 (66-72-68)
Clay Amlung -9 (64-73-71)
Luke Wells -9 (71-66-71)
Spencer Provow -7 (65-71-73)
Blain Turner -6 (69-70-71)
Samuel Jean -6 (70-68-72)
Ryan Marter -6 (69-67-74)
Hunter Logan -5 (72-69-70)
Reece Nilsen -4 (71-68-73)
Eric Wowor -3 (69-71-73)
Ford Goldasich -2 (69-75-70)
Hayden Hunneke -2 (70-73-71)
William Wann -2 (72-71-71)
Ethan Hagood -2 (67-74-73)
Braedon Wear -2 (71-70-73)
Reid Bedell -1 (71-71-73)
Andrew Farraye -1 (66-75-74)
Ross Funderburke -1 (69-72-74)