Channeling Bobby Jones, Georgia amateurs shine at the Dogwood
The 2021 Dogwood Invitational included a pair of thunderstorms the last two days that caused long weather delays at Druid Hills Golf Club.
But the prestigious tournament, which is known to produce low scores from those contending for the big winner’s trophy, saw a golfer transferring to Georgia Tech and a current University of Georgia player start and finish this edition of the event with rounds that legendary amateur Bobby Jones, who has ties to this storied private course in suburban Atlanta, would have enjoyed witnessing with his own eyes.
Rob Steelman grabbed the early lead in the invitational Wednesday when he posted a 10-under-par 62 in the first round. Steelman, who will join the Yellow Jackets this fall to finish out his collegiate career in Atlanta, wound up finishing tied for 26th at 7-under after limping home Saturday afternoon with a final-round 77 that included three double-bogeys.
Meantime, it was Nick Cassidy, who plays for the rival Bulldogs, blistering the hilly track Saturday afternoon as he also fired a 62 that featured a 28 on the back nine at Druid Hills which was his opening nine in the final round as players went off on both sides with a split-tee start.
“I got off to a really good start, got into a zone early,” said Cassidy who lives in nearby Johns Creek. “I’ve always loved this golf course, and this week I’ve been so close to cracking it open and it just finally popped on that back nine.”
Cassidy began the closing 18 at 6-under for the tournament and made a huge climb up the leaderboard Saturday with his red-hot play to claim a tie for second at 16-under 272.
There was only one score better than these 10-under marks posted by Steelman and Cassidy over the four days of play in the tournament.
That was the 11-under 61 score shot by Connor Howe, another Georgia Tech player, in the second round Thursday. He would end up finishing tied for 11th at 13-under while making himself part of the strong presence by players who are members of in-state college teams or have ties to the Peach State who had strong showings this week at Druid Hills.
In addition to those already mentioned, several others who played in Saturday’s final round after getting under the cutline which fell at 4-under had ties to the Peach State.
Starting from the top of the leaderboard, falling in behind Cassidy was Australian Josh Edgar who plays at Georgia State in Atlanta. He was contending for the win going into the third round when he faded slightly with a 74 before coming back with a closing 68 to tie for eighth at 14-under.
Also, JM Butler, who was paired with Cassidy for the final round, was among those who tied for 13th at 12-under. Butler also plays for Georgia Tech as does Christo Lamprecht who finished solo 17th at 11-under.
Behind him was a soon-to-be Georgia freshman, Maxwell Ford from Peachtree Corners, Ga., who finished tied for 23th at 8-under. Ford was tied with another current Georgia Tech player, Bartley Forrester, who also posted an 8-under final tally.
The final Georgia Tech player who played the last round was Luka Karaulic who tied for 35th at 4-under.
Also worth nothing is Georgia Southwestern’s Saksit Jairak who finished tied for 31st at 5-under. Georgia Southwestern is a NCAA Division II school located in Americus that competes in the Georgia-based Peach Belt Conference.
He tied with Tommy Morrison from Dallas, Texas, one of two junior players making the cut. The other was Maxwell Ford from Peachtree Corners, Ga., who signed with the Georgia Bulldogs and will join the team in Athens in the fall. Ford tied for 11th earlier this year at the Jones Cup Invitational held at Ocean Forest on Sea Island (Ga.).
Clemson’s Carter Pendley from Dalton, Ga., also was in that group tied at 5-under.
“It’s good to see local boys showing what Georgia golf is all about,” Cassidy said of all the state players doing well against a deep field that included a large contingent of international players that add depth to the field.
It really only makes sense that the Dogwood leaderboard would have a Georgia flare to it with the host course situated in a historic area northeast of downtown Atlanta, the state’s capital city. Georgia and Georgia Tech, the two Power-5 programs in the state, have strong traditions which include producing some of the top stars in today’s professional ranks and being home to talented players across all levels.
Of course, Jones, the greatest amateur of all-time, is synonymous with the Masters tournament in Augusta, has ties to Druid Hills, too. He won the club championship there at age 13 in 1915, just three years after the club was established.
Jones is not among the list of Dogwood champions, but it has some serious names on it for sure. No one has won more Dogwood first-place trophies than Gene Dahlbender Jr., a seven-time champion. He attended three colleges including Georgia and won all sorts of amateur tourneys including the Southeastern Amateur twice and the Sunnehanna Amateur twice.
Another big-name in Dogwood history is Tommy Barnes, a five-time winner. He captained the Georgia Tech golf team back in the 1930s, played in the U.S. Am a whopping 16 times, won several prestigious amateur events such as the Southern Am and Southeastern Am and once broke Bobby Jones’ scoring record at East Lake by a stroke with a 62.
Other significant names in Dogwood lore are past winners Danny Yates Sr., a Georgia Tech great, Frank Stevenson Jr., a former UGA captain, and Vinny Giles, a U.S. Amateur winner, three-time Walker Cup player and former captain who also played at Georgia.
Cassidy had a round Saturday that those great amateur champions would have taken at almost any time, too, in their competitive days.
A sophomore this past year at Georgia, Cassidy made five straight birdies to start his round, made par on the par-4 15th and then reeled off three more birdies to close his first nine holes in only 28 strokes or 8-under par.
“I was in a zone I had never probably been in before,” he said of that first nine.
Cassidy had shot a 30 on nine holes several times prior, but never had posted something in the 20s until Saturday. He had shot a 62 in 18 holes two previous times as well.
He was happy to add Druid Hills as the third place he’s carded that number.
“This is my fourth time playing the event, so I know the golf course really well,” Cassidy said. “The greens are just like the greens I putt on at home and are just like our practice facilities at UGA.
“It’s always been kind of a home game for me. It’s only a 30-minute drive from home, and I get to sleep in own bed. I’ve always loved the hospitality here. They do a good job with the tournament, and the members are so nice.”
Cassidy shot 71 in the first round, 67 in round two and even-par 72 in the third round. Over the first 54 holes, he made four bogeys and nothing higher.
Starting his final round on No. 10, he hit a good drive and a pitching wedge from 143 yards and made a 12-foot putt for a birdie 3. He also made a 3 on the par-4 11th when he hit an 8-iron into the wind to 20 feet and dropped his putt.
At the 12th, which was playing 289 yards, Cassidy placed a drive and hit a 56-degree wedge from about 100 yards to 12 feet and drained the putt for his third straight 3 and birdie.
The par-3 13th was playing 180 yards and he chose a 7-iron which he hit to 18 feet and made birdie again. On 14, he had to scramble after a wayward drive, but managed to sink a long putt for a 4 and a fifth consecutive birdie.
After missing a 30-footer for birdie at the par-4 15th, he closed the nine with birdies on the par-4 16th, par-3 17th and par-5 18th, knocking in a 25-foot putt on 17 and then tapping in a birdie putt on 17 after a 5-iron shot rode a ridge toward the hole and lipped out for what would have been an eagle 2 had it dropped into the cup.
Cassidy had birdie chances on the first and second holes after he made the turn, then made another par on the third hole and had a short par putt on the par-4 fourth when the horn sounded to halt play for a thunderstorm a second straight day. Cassidy was concerned the round might not finish but was assured by a tournament official upon returning to the clubhouse the inclement weather was expected to pass through the area rather quickly.
This stoppage lasted almost an hour and a half with play resuming at 6:15 p.m. Cassidy would finish strong once back out, rolling in a lengthy par putt on the fifth hole after missing his first green of the round and then making two more birdies over his final four holes to reach 10-under and 16-under for the tournament.
After signing his scorecard and taking a quick look at the leaderboard on a television monitor near the scoring table, Cassidy chatted with his father and finalized dinner plans with the family which would involve dinner at the grandparents who hadn’t seem him play golf in more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cassidy hung around to watch the final two groups finish as he was three strokes behind eventual winner Louis Dobbelaar who had two holes left to play when he finished an interview with a reporter while sitting on the porch outside the clubhouse grille.
Cassidy stood on the walkway on the hill above the 18th green, seeing Dobbelaar make bogey after an errant tee shot caused him to take an unplayable lie.
He would end up tying Canadian mid-amateur Garrett Rank for the runner-up spot.
Rank needed to stay for the awards presentation to accept the low mid-am trophy while Cassidy was free to go. He would be mailed another runner-up trophy in due time.
Cassidy was good with that. It had been another long day at the golf course, but at least it was close to home.
His next stop was grandma’s house for dinner. It seemed she had time to fix one of his all-time favorites, just the way he likes it. So, it’s what he requested after the round.
“I have some homemade chicken coming my way when I get home,” he said.
It was time once again to Let the Big Dawg Eat.
He had already feasted for birdies on the well-kept bent grass greens at the Dogwood.