Pope prevails at Persimmon Hill

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Pope  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Pope

SALUDA, S.C. — Jeff Pope walked off the 17th green at the Persimmon Hill Golf Club on Sunday with his head down.

The Regions Bank Amateur Series’ top player feared the mistake he’d just made was going to cost him the North Augusta Exchange Club/Persimmon Hill Classic.

Pope had just four-putted the par-4 hole from 30 feet, missing a 1-foot tap-in that he never even lined up.

“It was one of those bad mistakes that I think everybody who has played has made, and it was just a really bad time to do it,” Pope said.

On the way to the 18th tee, he told his wife, Ginger, “God, I just blew it. ”

The double bogey on the 17th hole dropped Pope back into a tie with playing partner and fellow North Augustan Steve Foss, a former club pro who was making his return to the Regions Cup Amateur Series after a 20-year absence.

“My wife, the trooper that she is, said ‘all you’ve got to do is birdie the next hole,’ ” Pope said.

That’s what he did, rolling in an 8-footer while Foss, who had root problems off the tee on the par-5, made par after finding the greenside bunker on his third shot.

Pope shot his second consecutive 1-over-par 73 while Foss had 74 to finish one back.

It was Pope’s second victory in three starts this season and his 11th career title. He won his first Regions tournament in this event 11 years ago.

Pope, who has won six of his past nine starts, will wait to make a run at his 12th win, which would tie Jay Blackburn’s all-time record.

Pope has commitments on the weekends of the next two tournaments (this weekend at Goshen and the Perry Watson Memorial July 13-14). He’ll return for the Augusta City Amateur July 19-21, where he is the defending champion.

His absence will give some one else a chance to win the regular division. It could be the 45-year-old Foss, who showed little rust, except on the greens, in his return.

Foss and Pope, who started the day tied for the lead, battled all day. Pope eagled the first hole, but Foss took a two-shot lead at the turn after Pope made double bogey on No. 9 and Foss made birdie.

By No. 17, Pope was back up by two shots, then gave it back with his four-putt that left them tied going to No. 18.

“Neither one of us wanted to win,” Foss said.

“We tried to give it to each other a few times,” said Pope, who was relieved that at least he won it with a birdie.

Foss, the former head pro at Midland Valley Country Club, didn’t play golf for eight years after he got out of the business. He started playing golf again in September and regained his amateur status in December.

This was his first event back as an amateur.

While Pope thought he might have lost the tournament late in the round, senior division winner Tommy Carpenter struggled early in his round. After a birdie on the first hole, he went bogey, bogey, double bogey, putting him 3-over after four holes.

“I at least had enough experience after four holes that I knew I was coming over it and doing a little pull hook,” said Carpenter, a former pro. “I knew it was in the transition. About the fifth hole, I started starting slowing it, feeling like I was pausing in the backswing and it worked.”

Starting on No. 5, Carpenter played the rest of his round in 1-over to finish with 76. He opened with 69 and completed two trips over Persimmon Hill in 1-over 145.

The 54-year-old Carpenter became the first player to win both the regular division and the senior division in this tournament, which debuted in 1988.

“We’ve got a first,” said Carpenter, who won his regular division title in 2004.


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