ALPHARETTA, Ga. — For 17 years, the Golf Club of Georgia has provided a competitive calm before the storm for the reigning premier amateur champions before they’re thrust into the emotional mayhem of the Masters Tournament.
On a perfect spring Wednesday with temperatures climbing well above par, British Amateur champion Garrick Porteous rallied from an early two-hole deficit to beat U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick 3 and 2. It marked the first time in the history of the event that two Englishman played each other, but the sixth time the match included no Americans.
Porteous’ win over his 2013 Walker Cup teammate gave the British Amateur champions a 9-8 lead in the series that dates back to 1998 when former Georgia Tech star Matt Kuchar beat England’s Craig Watson in the inaugural cup.
The club in Atlanta’s posh suburbs has had no trouble getting every U.S. and British amateur champion since its inception to make the stopover to the Lakeside and Creekside courses. Sergio Garcia won it in 1999. Ryan Moore in 2005. Matteo Manassero in 2010. Peter Uihlein in 2011.
Heck, Colt Knost even showed up to beat Drew Weaver in 2008 despite having already turned professional and thus forfeiting his spot in the Masters field. Knost still hasn’t qualified to play at Augusta, but at least he has a Georgia Cup trophy and the memory of his helicopter ride to the airport so he could make is flight to California to play a Nationwide Tour pro-am that week.
“All the names you see who have played in this event are impressive,” Porteous said.
Both Porteous and Fitzpatrick will have been staying as the club’s guests for at least five days before heading to Augusta on Friday to start preparing in earnest for the Masters. They’ve both already made reconnaissance missions to Augusta National to know what to expect.
“The course is set up pretty similar to next week with the speed of the greens,” Porteous said of the Lakeside course. “Everyone here is great and they look after you fantastically. It’s a great week and to have a little bit of competitive golf against Matt is a bonus as well.”
“It is good fun,” Fitzpatrick said of the low-key nature of the event. “It’s sort of on the way. The fairways aren’t the same grasses as Augusta … but the greens are great. They’re fast and slopey. You couldn’t get more similar to Augusta, really. It’s ideal prep.”
As enjoyable as the Georgia Cup has been during its 17-year run, it’s perhaps time to add a little more juice to the event. Despite ideal weather Wednesday, fewer than 50 fans walked the fairways to watch two potential future stars play a head-to-head match. In 2007, an estimated 1,200 fans flocked the course to see Englishman Richie Ramsay defeat Frenchman Julien Guerrier.
With the implementation of the Latin America Amateur Championship in 2015, the club might consider inviting that winner along with the Asia-Pacific Amateur winner to turn it into a truly global event that represents the amateur champions of five continents.
But for now they’re content with their boutique affair when anyone can walk side-by-side and even chat with the players and caddies as they play.
Fitzpatrick didn’t even get offended when he was introduced on the first tee as Matt Fitzgerald. He birdied the first hole and won the third with a par to jump to a 2-up lead.
But the 6-foot-1 Porteous consistently outdrove the 5-8, 135-pound Fitzpatrick by 20 to 40 yards and rattled off three consecutive birdies in winning four consecutive holes to flip the match. Fitzpatrick never caught back up, falling four down with four holes to play before hitting his highlight shot of the day. From 116 yards with a 64-degree wedge, his approach spun from 11 feet past the pin and it rolled back into the cup for eagle.
“Lot of birdies thrown out there and his eagle 2 at 15, so it was pretty good,” Porteous said.
Porteous is enjoying the final fruits of his amateur status. After a few seasons playing for Tennessee, he will turn professional immediately following the Masters and fly to Malaysia for his first professional start the next week. He’s taken advantage of his Masters eligibility by playing a few rounds already at Augusta National in February. In fact, he can claim a unique milestone as being the first player in history to play the 17th hole without the Eisenhower Tree the first day the club reopened after the ice storm.
“And I made birdie as well,” he said.
So barring an epic performance at Augusta, the Georgia Cup will serve as his last amateur triumph.
Fitzpatrick, who only spent a few months at Northwestern before withdrawing from school, will play the Masters and the Heritage to assess how his game stacks up with the game’s elite. He will use his exemptions into both the U.S. and British Opens before deciding whether or not to turn pro or play the amateurs another season.
For now he’s in no hurry.
“A couple of days off and it’s up the road to Augusta,” he said. “So it’s exciting.”