Justin Connelly never had played the West Lake Country Club prior to his practice round this week before the start of the Georgia Amateur Championship. You never would be able to tell. That’s because he has been able to use the experience gained from the many rounds he played as a member of the golf team at Mercer.
Connelly, who has completed his career with the Bears, grew up on the Bermuda greens at Eagle’s Landing Country Club at his home course in McDonough and at The Brickyard at Riverside, where he played most of the time at Mercer.
“It’s all on the greens,” Connelly said. “The grain can mess with some people’s heads. But the course I play at home and at Mercer the last four years had that kind of grain, sot that was a big advantage.”
Connelly fired a 7-under-par 64 on Saturday and takes a one-shot lead into the final round of the Georgia Amateur. Connelly is at 11-under 202, one stroke better than Connor Coffee of Peachtree City and Kennesaw State. Coffee shot a 65 on Saturday.
Jared O’Kelley of Canton, who just completed his career at Cincinnati, and Nathan Mallonee of Lexington, who just finished his career at Georgia State, are tied for third at 7 under. Jacob Bayer, who will join the Georgia Southern team in the fall, and Steven Fisk, who will be a junior with the Eagles, are tied for fifth at 6 under.
The difference for Connelly on Saturday was his effectiveness on the greens. Other than one three-putt on the 17th green, he was locked in.
“It really was the putter,” said Connelly, who had 11 putts through the first 12 holes.
A stretch of four straight birdies, from No. 11 to No. 14, gave him a big boost of momentum.
“I’ve been striking my irons real well and the putter got hot (Saturday),” he said. “That was the difference that allowed me to take a 71 or 70 to a 64.”
Connelly has completed his eligibility at Mercer but will play next season at Georgia College while he pursues a graduate degree. His brother, Nathan, is on the tennis team there.
It has been like old home week for Connelly, who got some support from his former high school teammates at Union Grove. Kyle Spinks, who is on baseball scholarship at Georgia Southern, has been his caddie. On Saturday, they got a surprise visit from Jonathan Slade, who was the quarterback of their high school team and now plays at LaGrange.