GREENSBORO, Ga. — It was relaxing and fun right up until the moment it wasn’t.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge — an annual golf tournament held at the Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation in rural Georgia — was supposed to be a calm, lakeside outing, a chance for coaches and former players from the ACC and SEC to get together on a sunny afternoon, have a few laughs, spend some time in a quiet setting away from football and unwind after spring practice and the NFL Draft.
It was all those things until the final hour. That was when the competitive juices kicked in and what started out as a hit-and-giggle scramble for some general scholarship money became a legitimate grind-it-out golf tournament.
The mood changed on the 15th tee, a par-3 where Chick-fil-a set up a hacky-sack contest to kill time during a backup. That was when South Carolina team captain Steve Spurrier — whose partner Sterling Sharpe had just hit his tee shot into Lake Oconee — turned to the group behind them and said, “Who’s leading?”
At the time the leaders were Paul Johnson and Jon Barry of Georgia Tech, who were tied at 9-under with Miami’s Gino Torretta and Al Golden. Upon hearing the scores, Spurrier fumbled with his visor and grumbled something that sounded like “Let’s go Sterling” as he stomped off the tee.
The Ol’ Ball Coach then proceeded to make three 15-foot putts in a row to get his team to 10-under. “We played the last three holes four-under (par),” Spurrier said after holing the final putt for a birdie on 18. “Now we just gotta wait and see what happens I guess. We might have a playoff.”
And they would have if Torretta hadn’t hit a deft chip to three feet on the final hole, setting up Golden — who used a chest-anchored long putter that the USGA hopes to ban in a few years — for the final putt to win by a shot.
“That’s it then,” Spurrier said after Golden rolled the 3-footer in to get Miami to 11-under. “We came close.”
The ending was not without controversy, though. Team Miami hit a drive into a plugged lie in the dry area of a water hazard on the 17th. After Golden played the ball, Torretta placed his ball in the hazard in a clean lie. That prompted Paul Johnson, who was playing alongside them, to say, “That is bulls***. You can’t go from a plugged lie to a clean lie.”
Since the official Rules of Golf don’t even recognize a scramble as a legitimate form of competition and no local rule existed to cover the situation, local pros deemed that Torretta was within his rights to play the unplugged ball. The resulting par proved to be the difference.
Johnson was not pleased, and if the whole thing hadn’t been so typical it would have been hilarious.
“This is a great event for a great sponsor and it’s supposed to be a time to relax and get away,” Nick Saban said after finishing his round with former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. “I love playing golf. It’s one of my favorite activities outdoors and it was great to spend time with Mark and some of the coaches that I don’t get to see very often.”
Most of the participants felt the same way. Gus Malzahn and Bo Jackson had a rollicking good time playing with Dan Mullen and Fred McCrary — Jackson and McCrary needled each other nonstop the entire round — and Hugh Freeze had a blast with Sean Tuohy, whose wife Leigh Anne of “The Blindside” fame, followed them every step.
But they still wanted to win. “I don’t how relaxing this thing is when it gets near the end,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinny said after he and his partner Steve Fuller finished 9-under and in third place. “It can get pretty competitive.”
Indeed it can. Some things can’t be turned on and off, no matter how comfortable the setting.
1. Miami (Al Golden, Gino Torretta) -11 $125,000
2. South Carolina (Steve Spurrier, Sterling Sharpe) -10 $65,000
T3. Georgia Tech (Paul Johnson, Jon Barry) -9 $50,000
T3. Clemson (Dabo Swinney, Steve Fuller) -9 $50,000
5. Virginia Tech (Frank Beamer, Dell Curry) -8 $35,000
6. Alabama (Nick Saban, Mark Ingram) -7 $25,000
7. Wake Forest (Jim Grobe, Riley Skinner) -6 $25,000
T8. Auburn (Guss Malzahn, Bo Jackson) -5 $21,667
T8. Miss. State (Dan Mullen, Fred McCrary) -5 $21,667
T8. Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze, Sean Tuohy) -5 $21,667
11. Ohio State (Urban Meyer, Jeff Logan) -4 $20,000
12. North Carolina (Larry Fedora, Roy Williams) -2 $15,000
13. NC State (Dave Doeren, Tom Gugliotta) -1 $15,000
14. Syracuse (Scott Shafer, Jim Boeheim) +2 $10,000