Late charge lifts amateur Wagoner to GPGA Berkeley Hills title

DULUTH -- Gus Wagoner had plenty of chances to fold under the pressure during the final round of The Championship at Berkeley Hills Georgia PGA event.

But even with Country Club of the South professional Shawn Koch chasing him down and even passing him, plus having to wait out a pair of brief lightning delays, the 21-year-old amateur found another gear.

Wagoner played the final four holes at 3-under par, including an eagle 3 at the par-5 15th that gave him the lead for good, en route to a final round of 4-under 68 to finish the tournament at 8-under and post a three-shot win over Koch and Tommy Weinhart on Tuesday at Berkeley Hills Country Club.

It was the first time in the four-year history of the event that an amateur won the event.

And Wagoner, who graduated form nearby Northview High School and has played three seasons at Armstrong Atlantic State University before he transfers to Georgia State in the fall, showed plenty of poise despite his youth and delays of 15 and 34 minutes.

It was after Koch had chipped in for eagle on the par-5 13th hole to take a one-shot lead at 6-under following the first delay, followed by the second delay, when that poise was tested.

"I knew (Koch) was up by one," Wagoner said. "I played (the two holes between the two delays) at 1-over, and didn't hit very good shots. So, I just went back out there and knew what I had to do, and just went after it."

That aggressiveness paid off when play resumed the second time as Wagoner hit his second shot from 246 yards out on the 15th fairway to within five feet, and then sank the eagle putt to vault back into the lead at 7-under.

He then followed up with birdies at the par-4 16th and 17th to move to 9-under, but unlike Wagoner coming into the delays, Koch was not aware of the youngster's run.

"I saw the leaderboard, and believe it or not, I thought I had a one-shot lead," said Koch, who shot 3-under 69 for the day to finish the tournament at 5-under. "It wasn't updated. That would've helped. ... I haven't felt that type of pressure in a while. So, I'm looking forward to getting back there and making a better swing."

As Wagoner made his charge, Koch, who had made plenty of good swings on the day, had a bad one off the tee at 18 that ended up out of bounds.

After hitting out of the woods, Koch recovered by sticking his approach within six inches to tap in for bogey 5.

But that gave Wagoner enough of a cushion to rebound from his own errant tee shot into the woods on 18 and save bogey to close out the win.

"I ran into a little trouble on 18, but I saw the scoreboard and I knew I had four shots to go with," Wagoner said. "I was feeling good and just wanted to crank the driver out there and got out in front of it a little bit.

"After hitting those two good shots for eagle (on 15) and birdieing 16 and 17, I kind of knew it was imminent. So, I just ended up having some fun on 18, though it ended up not being that fun."

Rounding out the top five after Wagoner, Koch and Weinhart were another amateur, and Berkeley Hills representative, Damon Stephenson and Tommy Brannen of Augusta Country Club at 4-under.

A group of five golfers finished one shot further back at 3-under, led by Duluth native and current Orchard Golf Club pro James Mason.