Ryan Blackburn and Bill Jones have had a busy few weeks.
The Mercer students ended their collegiate careers two weeks ago with a pair of top-five finishes at the A-Sun tournament, and Sunday they outdistanced a tough field in the Peach Blossom tournament at Idle Hour Club.
Blackburn and Jones struggled at times but were able to shoot a final-round 69 to finish at 12 under, which gave them a five-stroke win over the teams of Doug Stiles and Kyle Stiles and Rob Butler and Chris Dietzel.
Both golfers credited being tournament tested as the key to their victory.
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“I know there were some very good golfers in this tournament,” Blackburn said. “I think the difference was that we have played in so many tournaments over the last few months that we were ready to play when it got tough. We have played 27 tough competitive rounds in the last few months, and I doubt that anyone else gets to do that. I think that was a huge advantage for us.”
For a while, it looked as if Jones and Blackburn would breeze. They started off with a birdie on the first hole, while the closest team to them, Stiles and Stiles, suffered a double-bogey on the par-3 second. That opened up a five-shot lead, but after bogeys on Nos. 6 and 8, Jones and Blackburn saw their lead had been cut to two by the team of Phil Hardin and Hal Johnson, who were playing three groups ahead of the leaders.
“I thought we might be in trouble at that point,” Jones said. “We were struggling and then we heard that someone ahead of us was playing well. We just had to grind through and try to make something good happen, and hopefully it would be good enough.”
Jones and Blackburn righted themselves with par saves on Nos. 9 and 12 and then birdied No. 13. It was not until they stepped up to No 18 that they realized that their lead had grown back to five shots.
“I felt like someone was probably in at 10 under and we needed to be safe playing No. 18, Blackburn said. “When I heard we had a five-shot lead, we knew we could finally relax.”
Kyle Stiles was disappointed that he and his father could not make at run at the winning team.
“We had our chances,” Kyle Stiles said, “but we never got to the point where we put any pressure on them. I think we had a great opportunity at No. 10, but I missed a 4-footer for birdie and ran it past and then missed the par putt. That was pretty much it for us. It’s a great honor to tie for second in a tournament of this caliber.”
The team of Butler and Dietzel shot the best round of the day, carding a 65 to tie for second.
Ray Cutright, the director of golf operations at Idle Hour, thought the weekend was a huge success.
“I thought we had an extremely strong field,” Cutright said. “The gold course played really hard all three days, and I was actually surprised that someone shot 12 under. The best team definitely won (Sunday). I don’t really think they know how deep this tournament really was. It’s a credit to the both of them that they were able to win.”