Columbus native, Brookstone graduate, and current Georgia Tech golfer James Clark had the lead in the clubhouse after Day 3 of the Southeastern Amateur Golf Tournament at the Country Club of Columbus heading into Saturday’s final round.
However, a 1-over-par round of 71 on the final day allowed Alabama Crimson Tide golfer Jonathan Hardee to overtake Clark and claim the victory with an 18-under 262 total, four shots clear of Clark.
Clark’s 266 was good for second and was a stark improvement over his 17th-place showing in 2016. Columbus High’s Ben Carr shot 71 in the final round for a 278 total in a tie for 12th. Columbus grad and current Mercer golfer Stanton Schorr posted a 72 and 285 total to tie for 34th.
“I think I see myself on kind of a steady progression curve,” Clark said. “It takes time to get better. I’m coming off one of my best college years, and knew I could make a good tournament out of it.
“It’s special to play well at home, too. It’s also good to be in the mix instead of last year when I didn’t really have a shot.”
Playing in front of his hometown crowd at a hometown course with which he is very familiar was a double-edged sword for Clark. While he knew the nuances of the course better than those from outside Columbus, the pressure was that much more to win in front of friends and family.
“It’s really special to be at home and play on my home course,” Clark said. “I grew up walking from my house to the gate at Hole 7 to go practice. It’s crazy to see how time goes on, hitting shots when I was a kid and now totally differently. It’s really cool. It’s an advantage. I know what kind of shots to take longer than normal and shorter than normal.
“(Today,) I got a little tight. I was putting a little too much pressure on myself to get the win at home with the hometown crowd watching. It’s part of learning how to win. It’s all about confidence when you’re in those positions and learning how to do it.”
Clark’s 71 Saturday was in stark contrast to the two rounds of 63 he shot Wednesday and Friday, the lowest rounds shot by any golfer in the tournament in any round.
“The course was pretty similar,” he said of the conditions Saturday as opposed to earlier in the week. “I was expecting the greens to be a little bit faster; on the front 9, I was leaving a few putts short. I guess right now I’d want the win, but I’m more happy about shooting a 63, something I’ve never done before, and generally just playing well.”
The tournament sets up Clark well for what will be a busy summer prior to his return to The Flats for his senior season with the Yellow Jackets. He is playing in the Dogwood Tournament in Atlanta on June 26; a U.S. Amateur qualifier in South Carolina and the Southern Amateur Golf Tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., in July; and hopefully the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur tournaments in August, leading into his final year at Georgia Tech.
“It’ll be good to play into the year, so I’ll go right into my senior year, keep rolling, and get ready for some team golf,” he said.