It looked like Aiken’s Chase Epting was going to win his first Regions Bank Amateur Series title with ease on Sunday at Jones Creek Golf Club.
He did win, but only after nearly blowing a five-shot lead with two holes to play.
The 22-year-old Epting survived a triple bogey on the 17th hole and held on to beat 46-year-old Jeff Pope by a shot in the Gordon Chevrolet Jones Creek Classic.
“I made it interesting on 17,” Epting said.
Epting closed with 2-over-par 74 to finish at 3-under 141, thanks to his opening 67.
Pope, who trailed Epting by five shots at the start of the day and was seeking his 10th career Regions victory, closed with 70 for 142.
Epting had birdied No. 15 to go five shots up on Pope, which is how the playing partners stood on the 17th tee.
That’s when Epting’s round started to unravel.
His 3-iron tee shot found the right fairway bunker. He then hit his second shot left, into the woods. He got to the green in four shots, then three-putted from 5 feet for the triple bogey.
Pope, meanwhile, made a 10-footer for birdie on No. 17 for a four-shot swing, leaving him one shot behind Epting going to No. 18.
“I had actually forgotten about Jeff; I didn’t realize how many birdies he had on the back nine,” said Epting, who thought he led Pope by “one or two shots” going to No. 18.
Both parred the par-4 final hole, Pope two-putting from 30 feet and Epting two-putting from 12 feet.
“It’s exciting to win,” said Epting, who plans to turn pro in mid-September. “Jeff is a great player. He can go low any day of the week. I knew I had to do something today. I kept it pretty steady there until the 17th hole.”
“It’s not easy (to close),” said Pope, who had a seven-shot lead after 18 holes of the Orville White Cup two weeks ago but said afterward that the burden of the big lead was the reason he only won by three shots.
“Chase faltered and I had a good hole (on No. 17), but he was able to pull it together on that last hole for a win,” Pope said. “I’m happy for him. He played well except for that one hole.”
Epting said it “means a lot” to beat Pope, whose finish Sunday completed the greatest year by a player in the 24-year history of the Regions’ regular division.
Pope, of North Augusta, is not playing in the season-ending Ping Gordon Lakes Regions Invitational this weekend, so he finished the season with four wins and three second-place finishes in his seven starts.
Pope, who locked up player of the year honors two weeks ago at the Orville White Cup, picked up 50 points for his runner-up finish at Jones Creek, giving him 450 Regions points for the season.
The record had been 415, set by Mitch Marchman in 2000.
That year, Marchman, of Waynesboro, Ga., won four times and had second, third and fifth-place finishes in seven starts.
“I didn’t know it was the greatest season in history; that’s cool,” Pope said. “I know it was my greatest year.”
In the senior division, Augusta’s Tripp Kuhle remained unbeaten among the 50-over set, closing with 71 for a wire-to-wire six-shot victory over Evans’ Phil Nunnery.
The 52-year-old Kuhlke, who opened with 72, birdied his final two holes Sunday to finish at 143 for his second senior victory in as many starts. Nunnery, 50, shot 74-75–149 in his third senior start since turning 50 in April.
Glen Hurt (74-76) and Frank Perry (76-74) tied for third place and earned 30 Regions points each.
That gives Hurt – who has 277 points to Perry’s 226 – a 51-point lead over the second-place Perry in the senior player of the year race with one tournament to play.