In the first year that TP Country Club has hosted the Emerald Coast Golf Tour, three amateurs were competing among the professionals.
Jake Tucker, Sylas Elliott and Matt Phillips are all listed with an “A” next to their names to indicate their status, but their scores still count nonetheless and are displayed up on the same board as all the other professionals competing.
Elliott, currently a junior at Cullman High, plays on the golf course at TP Country Club every day but said being the only prep golfer amongst the pros added pressure to the tournament.
“It’s a little nerve-racking, especially on the first tee, but you just have to get over the fact that you’re the youngest one there and just play,” he said. “You can’t just keep thinking you’re the youngest and everyone’s going to beat you because that’s not true.”
Tucker, a Bearcat golfer who currently golfs for Troy University, said he entered this tournament with the same mindset as he does for all his other competitions.
“I came to try to give it a run and win it,” he said. “I try to go into every tournament thinking I can win, just trying to play my best.”
Phillips works at TP Country Club as a cart attendant. Patrick Drake, the director of golf, said Phillips has been trying to improve his golf game, so this has been a great experience for him.
Tour director Geno Celano said having these younger people participate gives them a good opportunity to improve their golf games.
“When you play with these professionals, you can learn and compete with them and see how they do it,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll help their game.”
Tucker calls TP Country Club his home course as well, and he said the main thing that changed for this tournament was the atmosphere the professionals brought.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I enjoyed watching them and seeing where I needed to be.”
Of the three amateurs competing, Tucker has the lowest score, matching par of 72. Elliott’s day one score was a 76, and Phillips had an 88.
One thing Elliott particularly enjoyed about being around the professionals was their positive attitudes during the round.
“They don’t talk down to themselves,” he said. “It’s easy to do that, especially after having a couple of bad balls in a row, but hearing them talk like that helps you push forward to make better shots.”
All three golfers were grouped with professionals, but Elliott said golf wasn’t the main topic.
“We just had a normal conversation,” he said. “We didn’t talk about golf that much, but when we did, I just listen to them and hear what they have to say.”
Drake is also enjoying having the professionals walking around the golf course. He said it’s akin to seeing celebrities.
“It means a lot to have the course filled with great players,” he said. “I know some of these guys. You’ll see them on TV sometime soon.”
Elliott agreed and said the level of heightened competition helps his game.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I love being out here, especially with people that play better than me. It just pushes you to play better. It’s fun to hear what they’re saying and learn what they’re thinking.”
Elliott and Karla Pitts, his mother, expressed gratitude for Drake for setting up this opportunity.
“Patrick made this possible, which is awesome for them,” she said.
% Laura Owens can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at email@example.com.