Robert Johnson Wins 2002 South Carolina State Championship by One Stroke Over Michael Hitt

6 October 2002 - Spartanburg, SC - When the 2002 South Carolina season began, Robert Johnson was sitting on top of the standings after posting the first victory on the South Carolina program and within the first weekend received two World Match Play spots. His play took a nosedive into the midseason as health problems limited his play. He would take the upwards journey back by winning the 2002 Seniors National Championship, then the 2002 North Carolina Match Play title, and finally completed the long road to recovery by winning the 2002 South Carolina State Championship in a miraculous come-from-behind output.

Johnson came from nine strokes down as afternoon play was underway and ran a huge hurdle by firing rounds of 25, 24, and 21 for an impressive afternoon score of 70 and came from 16th place at the halfway point of the six-round event to edge Michael Hitt by one stroke. For the second straight year, Hitt entered the afternoon with the lead but could not hang on for his first ever state championship and has finished second for the third time (including North Carolina) in the last six years.

The day got started with local product Tony Jackson cruising to a one-stroke lead over Peter Neumann by firing a 23. Neumann, who has state titles in Virginia and North Carolina, was trying to become the first player to win state championship on three different tours. Hitt fired a 25 to share third place honors with Ray Guthrie. When the second round was completed, Jackson continued to lead the way as he was in at 48, with Hitt one back at 49, and Allen Wall moving into the third slot at 50.

As the morning progressed, Jackson's lead was evaporating and his round crumbled. A 32 in the final round put him at 80 and out of the top five. Hitt took advantage of that and fired a 26 to give him the lead at the halfway point for the second straight year in the championship. Last season, he held a two-shot lead through three rounds before falling out in the final round to Greg Ward, who would collect his fourth South Carolina title. Hitt had the pressure back on him as he was in the clubhouse with a score of 75. Wall fired a 26 to end his morning session at 76, while Guthrie, who needed to win a six-way playoff for the second clinching Clayton Cup spot based on tour victories for the season, was in third at 77. By then, Johnson was in at 84 and was tied for 16th.

After the one-hour break, play resumed and Wall continued to dominate. His third 26 of the tournament gave him a two-stroke lead on Hitt and Guthrie, with a score of 102. By the end of the fifth round, Wall maintained his lead but was shrunk to one stroke over Hitt after he fired another 26 to Hitt's 25. Johnson would slowly creep his way up the ladder and was five back of the lead and in sixth place going into the final round.

Johnson was also gunning in the six-way playoff for the Clayton Cup spot based on tour wins and would do whatever it took to get it. Johnson started the sixth and final round with a 10 on the front and was still peaking toward the end. Despite missing hole 15, a somewhat easy hole (and only the third one he missed in the round), Johnson aced out the final three holes for a course record tying 21, which was earlier set by Tony Varnadore in the fifth round of the tournament. Johnson would then await the other contenders to complete play as he sat in the clubhouse at 154.

Wall, who two years ago was the fifth round leader in Spartanburg, could not produce in the final round, and stumbled to his worst round of the day (32) to just stay within the top ten. Hitt was the only one with a meager chance to catch Johnson. With three holes left, he had to ace out to force a playoff. Acing 16 & 17 down the stretch, Hitt lined up his putt on 18 and lagged it. Hitt mentioned that he topped his ace putt and left it less than a foot from the cup which was on line. With that, Johnson posted his first ever South Carolina State Championship in one of the most incredible finishes ever recorded in the tour's history. The nine-stroke deficit after the halfway point was the largest to overcome in the history.

For winning, Johnson received $700 prize money, while Hitt took home $550 for his second place finish at 155. Todd Fowler, 1997 champion, came strong in the afternoon to finish third at 156. Four players tied for fourth include Rick Baird, Ray Guthrie, Gary Hester, and Brad Lebo, all in at 159. Finishing out the top ten were Andy Coradini, Tony Jackson, Randy Reeves, and Allen Wall, all tied at 160. Greg Ward, the defending champion, finished tied for 19th in an effort to defend his title with a score of 164.

Also, with the win, Johnson became the second player behind Ward to qualify on the South Carolina Clayton Cup team. The qualifications required the first two making it on the most total wins on tour, then the eight players finishing on points. Behind Ward and Johnson, the team will consist of Michael Hitt, Andy Coradini, Tony Varnadore, Tony Jackson, Todd Fowler, Darrell Britt, Gary English, and Rick Baird. This group of ten players will compete against three other tours and looks to become three-time defending champions later this month in Burlington, North Carolina.

An awards banquet was held the night before at Prime Sirloin Steakhouse in Spartanburg. Awards were presented to the Pro and APA Divisions in their respective wins for 2002. Special awards were given out as well. Greg Ward was the 2002 South Carolina Player of the Year in the Pro Division, while Tommy Hutchinson was the South Carolina Player of the Year in the APA Division. Betty Helton was the recipient of the Most Improved Player Award, while Dan Anders took home the Bob Jackson Sportsmanship Award.

Also, the naming of the 2003 SCTPA committee was announced prior to the state championship. Four Pro Division members were elected to return and an old member returned to the committee. Robert Johnson, along with Michael Hitt, Todd Fowler and Frank Warren all return to represent the 2003 committee, while Tony Jackson, who served as president for five seasons, makes his return to the committee. Steve Helton will serve as the APA Representative for 2003.

Scores provided by Walter Kolb with tournament recap by Opie Roberts.

Professional Division of the 2002 South Carolina State Championship
(Spartanburg, SC - 6 October 2002)

Round Prize
Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total Money

1

Robert Johnson 27 29 28 25 24 21 154 $ 700.00

2

Michael Hitt 25 24 26 29 25 26 155 $ 550.00

3

Todd Fowler 26 26 26 29 26 23 156 $ 500.00

4

Ray Guthrie 25 26 26 30 27 25 159 $ 438.00
Gary Hester 26 25 29 29 23 27 159 $ 438.00
Brad Lebo 26 28 28 29 25 23 159 $ 438.00
  Rick Baird 29 31 25 24 23 27 159 $ 438.00

8

Allen Wall 26 24 26 26 26 32 160 $ 338.00
Tony Jackson 23 25 32 27 29 24 160 $ 338.00
Andy Coradini 26 31 24 26 29 24 160 $ 338.00
Randy Reeves 29 30 26 25 26 24 160 $ 338.00

12

Dan Anders 26 26 28 28 28 26 162 $ 250.00
  Peter Neumann 24 30 27 31 22 28 162 $ 250.00
Greg Newport 26 29 28 24 27 28 162 $ 250.00

15

Randy Orr 27 28 25 29 29 25 163 $ 195.00
  Gary English 27 29 29 27 25 26 163 $ 195.00
Frank Warren 30 31 28 23 24 27 163 $ 195.00

18

Greg Ward 30 25 24 32 27 26 164 $ 170.00
  Jay Klapper 26 28 28 31 24 27 164 $ 170.00
Bob Haizlip 29 29 28 27 26 25 164 $ 170.00

21

Darrell Britt 28 29 27 29 24 29 166 $ 160.00

22

Rick Rybaczek 26 28 26 31 25 32 168 $ 153.00
Tony Pack 32 27 29 30 25 25 168 $ 153.00

24

Rob Smarzik 29 24 35 28 28 25 169 $ 143.00
  Tony Varnadore 30 26 33 31 21 28 169 $ 143.00

26

Mike Flavin 27 30 31 26 28 29 171 $ 133.00
Vance Randall 30 30 28 28 32 23 171 $ 133.00

28

Mark Ross 27 32 29 28 31 25 172 $ 125.00

28

Gary Moore 27 28 29 30 30 29 173 $ 118.00
Opie Roberts 30 30 29 30 27 27 173 $ 118.00

31

Jonathan Reid 33 27 30 29 29 29 177 $ 110.00

32

Billy Caudle 29 30 29 28 36 27 179 $ 103.00
Bob Jackson 29 32 30 28 31 29 179 $ 103.00

34

Lewis Burton 30 28 30 35 28 29 180 $ 95.00

35

Kevin Chambers 30 30 32 32 30 30 184 $ 90.00

Amateur Division of the 2002 South Carolina State Championship
(Spartanburg, SC - 6 October 2002)

Round Prize
Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total Money
1 Tommy Hutchinson 26 29 24 26 28 30 163 $ 20.00
 2 William Glisson 30 24 27 31 25 26 163 $ 20.00
3 Richard Griffin 28 26 32 28 26 26 166 $ 20.00
4 Ricky D. Schults 26 27 25 29 29 31 167  
  Brian Hutchins 27 25 32 28 29 26 167  
6 Ben Blake 26 27 29 29 27 32 170  
7 Jamie Sanders 28 26 28 31 34 30 177  
8 Keith Waters 27 31 32 30 34 28 182  
9 Chris Hudson 32 29 28 33 30 31 183  
  Christopher Alley 30 34 33 26 32 28 183  
11 George Vozniak 32 31 32 32 31 30 188  
  Todd Trent 30 31 35 33 31 28 188  
13 Adam Smith 28 33 34 31 32 31 189  
14 Walter Kolb 30 31 34 36 35 31 197  
15 Steve Helton 31 27 39 33 33 35 198  
16 Blake Ross 32 32 41 36 35 29 205  
17 Brittany Davis 41 36 36 35 37 30 215  
18 Darren Harvey 38 41 31 40 50 43 243  
19 Joseph Tatum 37 43 47 49 40 46 262  
 

 

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