A strong champion has emerged every time the Georgia Amateur has been played at Ansley Golf Club-Settindown Creek. This year should be no exception.
The previous winners at Settindown have been Harris English in 2007 and Lee Knox in 2012. English, who had just turned 18, went on to be an All-America at Georgia and a winner on the PGA Tour. For Knox, it was his second Georgia Amateur title.
The state’s most-prized amateur title — one first won by 14-year-old Bobby Jones in 1916 — will be played this week in Roswell. Brett Barron of Johns Creek, who cut his teeth at the Atlanta Athletic Club and now plays at Georgia Southern, won last year and is looking forward to the opportunity to defend his title.
“I’ve thought about it,” Barron said. “I know the course very well. I’ve played there a lot with my friends. I just want to give myself a shot going into Sunday. I’m excited to get a chance to play out there.”
The field includes two-time Georgia Amateur champion David Noll Jr. of Dalton, 2016 champion Colin Bowles, 2004 champion David Denham and 1999 champion Rick Cloninger, a former Dacula resident who has returned to Georgia after spending the last decade-plus in South Carolina.
Several Gwinnett golfers qualified for the championship.
Peachtree Ridge grad Austin Mancilla, a junior on the golf team at Georgia College, is playing well at the right time. He tied for first in the qualifier at Bartram Trail outside Augusta. Mancilla finished fourth in the Peach Belt Conference Championship, the fourth top-10 finish of his season.
Davis Smith of Duluth ran away with the qualifier at Woodmont Golf Club. He shot a 9-under 63, four shots ahead of the field. Smith has a good track record; he qualified for the Jones Cup Junior Invitational and reached the Final Eight of the Atlanta Match Play Championship.
Other Gwinnett in the field are Davis Cook, T.J. Elgin and Mason Dean from Duluth, Liam Shinn of Norcross, Brock Healy and Eric Quinn of Peachtree Corners, Jackson Buchanan, Hunter Fry and Alex Markham of Dacula, Evan Thomas of Grayson and Edward Hollis and Isaac Samples of Loganville.
The championship has become a good place for establish their credentials. Justin Connelly (2016), Dru Love (2015), Robert Mize (2014) and Jimmy Beck (2013) made the win the hallmark of their amateur careers. Love, Mize and Beck are currently pursuing careers in professional golf.
Among the top young players to watch are: Andy Mao, a four-time state high school champion who will play at Georgia Tech this fall; Alex Ross, who shot a 57 at the Dogwood Invitational last month; and Preston Topper, who was in contention at the Georgia Am last summer and will play at Georgia this fall.
Noll, who won in 2003 and 2011, is the rare exception of a mid-amateur player being able to beat the younger, college-aged crowd. But this could be the year that an older player has a chance, since Settindown requires a higher level of maturity and patience. That might allow an opening for veterans like Bob Royak or Jack Hall, a couple of competitive seniors. Royak was the overall GSGA’s Player of the Year in 2018 and Hall was in contention at the Georgia Amateur in 2018 until the final few holes.
“We think it’s a true test of golf,” said Phil Taylor, the Ansley Golf Club’s director of golf.