It has been a while since Jim Gillespie has had any real competition in the Blount County Amateur Golf Tournament.
This year is different. Bobby Perkinson is adding some excitement to the super senior division, which Gillespie has won the last nine years.
“It will be a fun day tomorrow,” Gillespie said. “Matches like these are extremely fun, and that’s what you play for.”
Saturday at Wild Laurel Golf Course in Townsend Perkinson shot 2-over 72 — one stroke better than Gillespie’s 73. It was enough to tie the score at 227 heading into the final round of the four-day tournament that is played on four local courses. Competition will wrap up Sunday at Egwani Farms.
While Gillespie said he appreciates the competition, he didn’t hesitate when asked if he prefers a little drama.
“No,” he said. “I’d rather have a 20-shot lead.”
Gillespie has won 16 Blount County Amateur trophies overall, including two championship division titles. He and Perkinson are Green Meadow Country Club members, so it’s not the first time their paths have crossed.
“He normally will beat me by one or two shots,” Perkinson said, a grin stretching across his face. “Maybe this will be my year.”
Gillespie said he got off to a rough start on the first hole at Wild Laurel when he hit what he thought was a good shot down the fairway. He never found his ball, resulting in a two-stroke penalty.
“Then I missed a little put about that long,” Gillespie said, holding his two index fingers roughly a foot apart. “Bobby — he’s a competitor. I hope I can stay close to him.”
In the championship division, Michael Bradshaw Jr. also struggled early Saturday. As the defending champion and current frontrunner, Bradshaw was 3-over after six holes before playing the last 12 at 5-under to finish at 2-under 68. He leads the pack with a score of 202 — 16 strokes ahead of the current runner-up, Bryce Beeler.
“I made a good putt on seven and bounced back,” Bradshaw said. “Stick to my game, not think about the lead and just play golf — that’s the plan for tomorrow.”
Kent Heaton cushioned his lead in the senior division after heading into Saturday with a four-shot advantage. He shot 2-under 68, which put his score at 217. Mike Bradshaw Sr. trails in second place with a score of 225 after shooting 2-over 72.
Heaton won the senior division in 2016. The defending champion and one of the tournament’s organizers, Tony Hughes, is tied for third at 230 with Terry Tuttle. Heaton and Hughes played in the same group Saturday — a first for the pair.
“We had a great round — he’s very fun to play with,” Heaton said of Hughes. “When I’m playing around people I like and enjoy, it makes it so much easier on myself. … I feel very confident (about Sunday).”
A soon-to-be sophomore at William Blount, Nick Etherton put himself in a promising position to win his first Blount County Amateur title in the open division. He extended his lead from two strokes to six after Saturday, shooting even-par 70. He sits at 213 through three rounds.
“I’m pretty happy with that — let's see what we can do with that tomorrow,” Etherton said. “I’d love to win it. I’m just going to go out there tomorrow and see what happens.”
Behind Etherton, Hunter Bradley and Brad White are tied for second with a score of 219. Bradley jumped into the runners-up spot by shooting 3-under 67.
White, who entered Saturday on Etherton’s heels, said he would probably “need some help” if he were to make up enough ground to win Sunday. He’s not counting on getting it from Etherton.
“Nick is solid,” White said. “He doesn’t make mistakes or compound his mistakes. If he hits a bad shot, he comes back and hits a good shot. He’s got a good head for a 16-year-old.”