Justin Connelly won the Georgia Amateur Championship, and he did it in record style.
The recent Mercer graduate broke Russell Henley’s scoring record with a final-round 65 on Sunday that gave him a 17-under-par 267. That’s one shot better than Henley’s total when he won his second Georgia Amateur in 2009 at the Country Club of Columbus.
“My caddie kept saying, ‘Get to 18, get to 18,’ and we were trying to get to 18 under,” Connelly said. “If I get to 18 and lose, I’ll give him the biggest hug and say, ‘Congratulations.’ We didn’t get to 18, but we got far enough to get it done.”
Connelly backed up his third-round 64 and needed almost every bit of Sunday’s 65 for the title. That’s because Connor Coffee, sophomore at Kennesaw State, refused to go away. The left-hander shot a 66 to finish second at 15-under 269.
The tournament evolved into a two-man race early in the day. Georgia State graduate Nathan Mallonee shot a 68 and finished third at 10 under, but the only two participants in the chase for the title were Connelly and Coffee.
“I couldn’t let down at all,” Connelly said. “I knew what kind of player Connor is, and it showed (Sunday). I tried to play the golf course (Sunday) and not myself beat myself. I wasn’t really playing him, but it’s hard when he’s making birdie every other hole.”
Connelly had a three-shot lead at the turn, but Coffee birdied the first three holes on the back nine to apply the pressure. Still, Connelly birdied two of those same three holes and maintained a two-shot advantage.
“It was a great tournament, and it’s the best score I’ve ever had in four days,” Coffee said. “(Connelly) was playing amazing and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. … I was trying not to let him go, but he played great.”
Coffee still had a chance at the end. Trailing by two shots going to the par-5 18th, he had a chip-in attempt from the front of the green that looked like it might go in.
“That would have made that five-footer I had for birdie feel like it was 30 feet,” Connelly said.
With the pressure off, Connelly dropped the birdie putt and put Henley’s record in his back pocket. What began the week as a dream had become a reality. The win provides Connelly a 10-year exemption into the Georgia Amateur for as long as he’s an amateur. It also gave him an exemption into the Georgia Open — and an opportunity to skip Monday’s qualifier for that event and sleep a little late.
“I never thought my name would be on the same trophy as Bobby Jones,” Connelly said. “To have this opportunity and have this happen, it’s by far the biggest tournament of my life.”
Georgia Southern junior Steven Fisk shot 68 on Sunday to finish at 9 under and place fourth. Fisk birdied the first three holes, but his challenge fizzled when a few putts rolled past the hole without dropping in.
“I knew the leaders were going to shoot under par,” Fisk said. “I got off to a dream start and just fell off a bit.”