University of Tennessee at Martin rising junior Ben Reeves and incoming freshman Hunter Richardson will make their USGA debuts at the U.S. Amateur Open thanks to dominant performances at the single-day, 36-hole qualifier at the Cleveland (Tenn.) Country Club on Monday.
Reeves and Richardson emerged as two of the three automatic U.S. Amateur Open entrants from the Cleveland Country Club event which featured international players, several current golfers from the Southeastern Conference and other big-name players from across the Southeast. Both Skyhawks had to battle through playoff holes to clinch a spot in the U.S. Amateur, which will take place on Aug. 11-17 at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga.
“This is very special to have two players from UT Martin in the U.S. Amateur field next month,” Skyhawk head coach Jerry Carpenter said. “Both of these players will represent themselves and UT Martin with class.”
After former University of Georgia golfer Keith Mitchell claimed first place honors with a score of 134 (-8), Reeves, Richardson and current University of Alabama golfer Tom Lovelady settled into a three-way tie for second with scores of 136 (-6).
Reeves, who birdied the 36th hole to earn a spot in the playoff, sank a par putt on the first playoff hole to advance to the U.S. Amateur Open.
“I was a little nervous but I had a lot of adrenaline going,” Reeves said. “The first playoff hole ended with the most nerve-racking but happiest pars of my life. I owe it all to my parents and my faith. I can’t wait to see where this leads me and how I stack up against the best players in the country, playing the sport I love on that stage.”
Both Richardson and Lovelady both bogeyed the first playoff hole to force another playoff opportunity. Richardson tapped in a birdie putt on the par-3 hole to join his future teammate Reeves in the elite U.S. Amateur Open field.
“My immediate reaction was really just shock,” Richardson said. “I never had doubts that I couldn’t qualify but I knew that I’d have to play really well. Not many people get to experience something like this and I am so excited to be able to play in the U.S. Amateur Open and on that amazing golf course.”
The chance to play in one of the most prestigious amateur events adds to a remarkable two-year run for Reeves. One year after capturing the first-ever Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year accolade in UT Martin history, the Knoxville native earned All-OVC honors in 2014, becoming just the fifth golfer in program history to be named an all-conference performer.
“Ben just keeps on playing outstanding golf and is a true professional,” Carpenter said. “He is an outstanding leader on and off our campus.”
The impressive finish in Cleveland capped off an eventful summer for Richardson. Just days before the Cleveland qualifier, the Clarksville native finished in a tie for second place at the Tennessee Junior Amateur championships, held at Sevierville Golf Club’s River Course. He shot even-par in the three day tournament, just two shots off the lead.
“Hunter is a very special young man that has an excellent golf game,” Carpenter said. “His iron play and short game is second to none. He will be a very good player and I feel lucky to have him as a Skyhawk.”
The first, second, third and quarterfinal rounds of match play at the U.S. Amateur Open will be televised on the Golf Channel on Aug. 13-15. The semifinal and championship matches will be shown live on NBC on Aug. 16-17.