GRANITEVILLE — North Augusta’s Jeff Pope didn’t have it in Sunday’s final round of the Orville White Cup golf tournament. He still won, though, thanks to his blistering opening round.
Pope closed with 6-over-par 77 at rainy Midland Valley Country Club to win by three shots over Jay Blackburn, who had 73-73. Pope led Blackburn and two others by a seven shots after his first-round 66.
“It was good enough; a win is a win,” Pope said. “It (the 77) doesn’t take anything away from the win. In the long run, I shot the best score
(1-over 143) and that was goal. I’m glad I had a big enough lead.”
Pope, who won for the fourth time in six starts this season and clinched player of the year honors with two events to go, was baffled by why he didn’t feel comfortable with his swing. He battled it from the start (bogeys on the first two holes) all the way to the end (three consecutive bogeys to close his round).
Part of it, he admitted, was the big lead he carried into the final round.
“I wasn’t playing aggressive and that’s normally my game,” said Pope, whose worst round this season had been 76, in the first round of the season-opener. “I was trying to play safe all day. Mentally, I was struggling all day.”
It didn’t help that there was a 90-minute delay because of rain. At the time, Pope was on the second hole and was thinking about shutting it down.
“It was so bad I thought they were going to call it,” Pope said. “I thought it was over.”
Still, the victory continued an unprecedented hot streak in Regions history. Starting with his victory in this event last year, the 46-year-old Pope has won six of his eight starts and finished second in the other two.
Pope has earned 400 Regions points this year (a win is worth 75 points) and has a 243-point lead over Chase Epting. Since there are only two tournaments left, no one can catch Pope, who still plans to defend his title at Jones Creek in two weeks.
It is the first time Pope has been player of the year. Now, he’s setting his sights on Blackburn’s record for career Regions wins, which is 12. Pope is now tied for second place with nine.
“I texted him after the final round of the city amateur (which Pope won two weeks ago),” Blackburn said. “I said, ‘did you win? You’re getting a little too close. I’m playing at Midland Valley and Jones Creek.”
In his senior debut, Augusta’s Tripp Kuhlke closed with 4-under-par 68 (with birdies on his final two holes) to win by three shots over first-round leader Jeff Roberts (71-72), of Aiken.
Kuhlke opened with 72 and finished at 4-under 140, but the seniors played a 6,200-yard, par-72 course while it was 6,850 yards for the regular division with a par of 71.
Kuhlke joins an elite group of players to win the same tournament in the regular division – and as a senior.
He had won the Orville White Cup in 1983, 1985 and 2010.
“The first time I won it I was in college; it never crossed my mind that I would play in it as a senior,” said Kuhlke.