Kelly Classic: Strong Finish Earns Adams Sunbelt Win
He has been a golf professional, then one of the state's top amateurs, and now he's a professional golfer.
For Mitch Adams, the one-stroke victory in the Sunbelt Senior Tour Kelly's Classic held at Little River Golf Club & Resort last week was simply confirmation that he is making strides in his efforts to regain playing privileges on the PGA Champions Tour.
It was also a $5,000 payday, of course, but the paycheck was not the most important thing in Adams' mind.
"For the first time in three years, I have no status on the Champions Tour," Adams, a former head professional at Gates Four Golf and Country Club in Fayetteville, said. "I hurt my back early last year and was never comfortable trying to play."
There were no pain and no discomfort during the Sunbelt event for the Martinsville, Va., native who now resides in Cary, though.
"I'm feeling great, I'm in the best physical shape I've ever been in, and I'm playing the best golf I've ever played," he said. "My mindset is to get as good as I can heading into this fall and be ready for the Tour Qualifying School. That's where my focus is."
Adams definitely had his focus in the right place during Kelly's Classic on the demanding Dan Maples-designed Little River layout. He opened with a 1-over-par 73 that placed him far back in the field and six strokes behind Jack Ferenz of Vero Beach, Fla., who opened with a sizzling 67.
Adams found the magic in the second round, firing a 6-under-par 66 that still left him two shots behind Ferenz (70) heading into the final round. The two, playing in the final threesome, battled to the final hole, where Ferenz' approach from the middle of the fairway found a bunker on the right side of the green and he missed a 10-foot putt to make bogey and shoot 72.
Adams posted 208 for the 54 holes, while Ferenz was at 209, earning $3,500. John Ross of Bramwell, W.Va., and Rom Eubank of Canton, Ga., tied for third with 211 and earned $2,100 each.
Bob Flanagan of Lawrenceville, Ga., shot 212 to win the Super Seniors Division and $2,000. Sid Corliss of Cumming, Ga., was second with 220.
Adams' final-round 69 wasn't spectacular, just steady.
"I got off to a good start and was even with Jack at the turn," he said. "I only made three birdies all day (Nos. 3, 7 and 15), but I didn't have a bogey. It was an easy round because I was never in trouble."
The closest he came to trouble was on the final hole when he faded his tee shot into heavy rough on the right side.
"The lie wasn't great there," Adams said, "but I was able to get it on the green. My adrenaline was really pumping on the 18th tee and I wanted to hit it anywhere except left, because left on that hole is death. So I just got out in front of it a little and pushed it.
"This is really a good golf course. I hadn't played it in several years, but I was really impressed."
The win was Adams' first on the Sunbelt Tour this season, but marked the third straight year he has won on the circuit, which gives golfers age 47 and up a training ground for the Champions Tour.
Adams is just hopeful that his game remains sharp until he can get through the Q-school again.
"The only way I can get into a Champions Tour event now is to pre-qualify on the Monday before," he said. "I've made it into one and I've been fourth twice when there were three spots available."
Adams, who gave up his professional status in 1988, won the Carolinas Mid Amateur title and teamed with Chuck Tickle to win the Carolinas Four-Ball twice before turning pro again in 2004.
"I started playing really good golf and was having a lot of success as an amateur," he said. "My wife was very supportive and I just felt it was something I wanted to do."
He found success early, winning 15 mini-tour events before going to the Champions Q-school in 2006 and earning his card. He won more than $230,000 in 2007, when he used a final-round 63 to tie for third behind D.A. Weibring in the 3M Championship for his best finish.
Adams, who had qualified for that event with a 65 on Tuesday, birdied the first four holes on Sunday and shot 30 on the front nine. He finished with a birdie on the final hole where he air-mailed a 5-wood some 260 yards, bouncing it off the grandstands and back onto the green.
"That tournament got me going," he said. "I feel I would have been in good shape if not for the problems with my back. But I'm ready again now. I've got no excuses."
The tournament at Little River was preceded by a pro-am, where the team of professional Andy Dakers, Susan Wrazen, Bonnie Parker and J.D. Chriscoe won with a two-best-ball score of 125.
Professional Taylor Griffin won $500 for a hole-in-one on the 180-yard par-3 16th hole on Thursday.
Joe Kelly of Pinehurst sponsored the event for the seventh consecutive year. The first six events were held at Whispering Woods Golf Club in Whispering Pines.
"We do it for the benefit of the Boys & Girls Club in Southern Pines and The First Tee of the Sandhills," Kelly said. "The Boys & Girls Club is a charity right here with more than 140 kids involved where 80 percent of the families involved earn less than $20,000 a year."
Some members of the Tour, including player Javier Sanchez and Tour Director Don Barnes and wife Yvonne, paid a visit to the Sandhills Children's Center.
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