Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

Palmetto Amateur has produced 46 years of memorable finishes

The Palmetto Amateur has gone through its fair share of changes since the golf tournament debuted back in 1976.

It's been known by several names, starting as the Sertoma Greater Aiken Invitational, then adding sponsor names like Michelob and spending a few years as the Aiken Golf Classic before eventually landing on the name it bears today.

The format has changed three times - from 36 holes for its first 14 years, 54 for the next 13 and 72 for the last 20.

The fields have changed, from the early days as primarily an Aiken-Augusta event to one now that this year has elite amateur golfers representing 17 states and nine from foreign countries.

Plenty of other elements have changed, too, but one thing that has always remained constant is the quality of golf that has led to so many memorable tournaments. Here's a look at some of the notable finishes in Palmetto Amateur history. This year's championship, the 47th annual, starts Wednesday.

  • 1976 -- Let's start with the inaugural edition of the tournament, at the time called the Sertoma Greater Aiken Invitational. Houndslake Country Club's Len Yaun, a former Aiken High and Clemson great, won the 36-hole tournament by a shot over Michael Carlisle and Lucius Bultman. Yaun posted rounds of 73 and 71 to win his first of three titles in what eventually became known as the Palmetto Amateur, and he led Houndslake to victory in the team component of the tournament.
  • 1977/78 -- The Palmetto Amateur is composed mostly of college golfers these days, and the first collegiate champion was Paul Williamson. Williamson, a letterman at Clemson in 1978, won the second and third editions of the Greater Aiken Invitational, sometimes referred to as the Aiken Golf Classic. His second win was a dramatic one, as he saved par from a greenside bunker with a 10-foot putt on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory over Yaun, Carlisle and Bill Howard.
  • 1979 -- The tournament's first venture into extra holes featured the only two men who had won the championship to that point, as Yaun and Williamson were tied after 36 holes and headed to the par-3 16th for sudden death. Both went long of the green, but Yaun chipped to a foot for par and the win.
  • 1983 -- Carlisle broke through for his first of three wins in tournament history, and he did so in a way that hadn't been seen before and hasn't since. Carlisle, 25 years old at the time and training for a professional career, shot rounds of 64 and 71 for an 11-stroke victory that is still the record for largest margin of victory. Carlisle's opening 64 was highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole followed by an ace on the par-3 seventh.
  • 1989/90 -- Augusta's Bill McGowan became the tournament's second repeat winner, surviving sudden death on both occasions. In 1989, the last year it was a 36-hole tournament, McGowan lost his first-round lead but recovered to win a playoff over Kenny Wiland. The following year the tournament was extended to 54 holes, and again that wasn't enough. This time, McGowan trailed by as many as seven shots in the final round but hung around to beat Kevin Ratcliffe in a tense, four-hole playoff.
  • 1992 -- Terry Ezell set the 54-hole scoring record at 7-under 206 to run away from Cadillac Cup rival Carlisle. His final-round 71 gave him a five-shot win as he stayed away from mistakes and finally birdied the "easy holes" - the par-5 sixth and 10th, where he made 4s for the first time all week. 
  • 1995 -- University of South Carolina All-American and eventual Hall of Fame inductee David Seawell took advantage of late miscues by Clemson's Joey Maxon to win by two shots in the tournament's 20th edition. Seawell's victory came at Woodside Plantation's Jones Course, as Palmetto was being renovated at the time.
  • 1997/98 -- Carlisle, at this point a half-dozen seasons into his career as USC Aiken's golf coach, added his second and third titles to join Yaun as the only three-time champions of this event. He won by a shot in 1997 and then by six the following year, tying Ezell's 54-hole scoring record of 206. The tournament was now being referred to as the Palmetto Amateur, and another change was on the way soon.
  • 2003 -- Former USCA golfer Scott Usher ushered in the Palmetto Amateur's new 72-hole format with a record performance. His third-round 61 was the highlight, as it tied the course record at the time, and his 14-under total of 270 set a tournament record for scoring in relation to par. His nine-shot victory is the second-largest margin of victory in tournament history, and it started a run of four wins by five shots or more in a six-year span.
  • 2005 -- This was another of those runaway victories, as USCA All-American Dane Burkhart turned in the finest performance in tournament history with a final-round 59 to forever etch his name in Palmetto lore. Burkhart eagled all three par 5s and made six birdies without a bogey for golf's magic number, breaking the course record (60, set by USCA teammate Scott Brown), the tournament single-round record (Usher's 61) and scoring record in relation to par (20 under). His 264 total hasn't been matched, and only one other player has posted a 72-hole score lower than 270. He chipped in for birdie on 13 and did the same for eagle on 14, then fittingly birdied the 18th to finish off an eight-shot win.
  • 2013 -- The University of Georgia's Nicholas Reach redeemed himself after losing in a playoff at the 2011 Palmetto Amateur by winning the 2013 edition in sudden death, handing the University of Alabama's Scott Strohmeyer his third runner-up finish. Reach, who blitzed Sage Valley Golf Club in 2011 on his way to a win in the inaugural Junior Invitational, birdied the second hole to win the rain-shortened, 54-hole event.
  • 2016 -- The Palmetto Amateur had been defined by youth for a while by now, but never like this. Inman's Trent Phillips, who later won back-to-back Southern Cross titles to set more history at Palmetto, won by three shots as a 16-year-old rising junior at Boiling Springs High School. He posted a score in the 60s in all four rounds en route to a 72-hole total of 271.
  • 2017 -- Four rounds in the 60s are nice, but how about five? That's what Zhengkai "Bobby" Bai did in 2017. Bai, then a rising sophomore at the University of Central Florida, shot 69 in the Monday qualifier just to make it into the field, then produced the second-best 72-hole score in tournament history with a 12-under 268 for a five-shot victory.
  • 2020 -- The coronavirus pandemic forced some changes to tournament procedures but couldn't derail the Palmetto Am, which produced its third consecutive exciting finish. This time it was Georgia Tech's Tyler Strafaci, fresh off a win at the 120th North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2, who saved par at the last for a one-stroke victory. Strafaci rode that momentum to a win later that summer at the U.S. Amateur, earning him exemptions into the Masters Tournament and U.S. Open.

Palmetto Amateur champions

Year: Player; score; margin of victory

1976: Len Yaun; 144; 1

1977: Paul Williamson; 136; 3

1978: Paul Williamson; 144; 1

1979: Len Yaun; 146; playoff (Paul Williamson)

1980: Chuck Mason; 140; 1

1981: Larry Boswell; 143; 4

1982: Len Yaun; 144; 3

1983: Michael Carlisle; 135; 11

1984: George Bryan; 147; NA

1985: Elliott Sturman; 142; 2

1986: Hugh Royer III; 140; 3

1987: Ron Schroder; 142; 1

1988: Jay Cudd; 141; 2

1989: Bill McGowan; 140; playoff (Kenny Wiland)

1990: Bill McGowan; 214; playoff (Kevin Ratcliffe)

1991: Ron Schroder; 214; 2

1992: Terry Ezell, MD; 206; 5

1993: Daran Womack; 208; 1

1994: Scott Summers; 213; playoff (Larry Penley)

1995: David Seawell; 212; 2

1996: Joe Hendrick; 215; 2

1997: Michael Carlisle; 212; 1

1998: Michael Carlisle; 206; 6

1999: Jason Martin; 214; 2

2000: Mark Gaynor; 216; 1

2001: Matt Davidson; 213; 1

2002: Tom Kennaday; 209; 2

2003: Scott Usher; 270; 9

2004: Brian Duncan; 271; 1

2005: Dane Burkhart; 264; 8

2006: Ben Martin; 272; 8

2007: Luke Hopkins; 275; 3

2008: Andrew Landry; 279; 5

2009: Josh Gallman; 278; 1

2010: Todd White; 280; playoff (Riley Pumphrey, Paul Woodbury)

2011: Will McCurdy; 270; playoff (Nicholas Reach)

2012: Mitch Gray; 275; 5

2013: Nicholas Reach; 205; playoff (Scott Strohmeyer)

2014: Emmanuel Kountakis; 271; 4

2015: Ben Schlottman; 272; 2

2016: Trent Phillips; 271; 3

2017: Zhengkai Bobby Bai; 268; 5

2018: Bryce Hendrix; 274; 1

2019: Jamie Wilson; 276; playoff (Evan Brown)

2020: Tyler Strafaci; 270; 1

2021: John Gough; 271; 5