Bradley County’s two representatives at the 2012 TSSAA Class AAA State Golf Championship have one thing in common — their work ethic.
Both Katie Bishop of Walker Valley and Bradley Central’s Chase Montgomery have made a concerted effort to improve their games with extra time on the course and private lessons.
“She (Bishop) has put the work in. It has really paid off for her,” proclaimed Lady Mustang coach Bob Williams. “She has played in several tough tournaments during the (high school) offseason and that has helped her raise her game considerably.”
“Chase (Montgomery) has worked really hard and done what he’s needed to do to become a better player,” praised Bear head coach Jim Kibler. “He is at the course all the time working on his game and it has really shown this year.”
Both players will be in Manchester for the next four days to compete with the best prep golfers in the state at the WillowBrook course. They will play practice rounds today and tomorrow with the actual 36-hole tournament being held Tuesday and Wednesday.
For Bishop it is her second berth in a state tournament as she and current Middle Tennessee State University player Avery George teamed up to bring home the runner-up team trophy in last fall’s event.
The Lady Mustang junior fired an opening round 83 at last year’s state and came back the second day with a 3-over-par 75 for a 158, which tied for the eighth-lowest score of the event. Due to the number of ties, she ended up in 11th place, just one shot out of earning all-state honors.
“My goal is to make all-state this year (a top 10 finish) and contend for the state title,” she related. “I like the (WillowBrook) course. It suits my game very well.”
“Having already played in one makes me more relaxed and confident going into it but there is still pressure because it’s the state tournament,” Bishop remarked. “Having played on the Southeast (Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama) and Hurricane (Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina) tours during the summer has me used to playing this level of competition.”
“I’m disappointed the team isn’t going, but I will do my best to represent us (Walker Valley) well,” she said after the District 5-AAA champion Lady Mustangs lost in a playoff with Cookeville for the Region 3-AAA title and a team berth.
“At least she kept my string alive,” joked Williams who has had players or teams earn state berths in all of his seven years since taking over the program. Last year his boys team finished sixth to go along with the second-place showing by the fillies. “This is the first time I’ve only had one player qualify.”
Montgomery becomes the first Bradley boy to earn a shot at the state title since 1998, when the whole Bear team went. “That’s when ‘Chief’ (the late Coach Bill Robertson) took Brandon Cissom, Jared Baldwin and the Tarver brothers, Bill and Heath,” related Kibler.
“The season started a little shaky for me, but it ended just how I wanted it to,” stated Montgomery, who is also a junior this school year. “I felt confident going into the region tournament. I like the Bear Trace course. I’ve had good success on it.”
In his second straight region tournament, Montgomery shot a 1-over-par 73 at Bear Trace last week to qualify for his first TSSAA state event. He had three birdies in regulation plus made a birdie on the third hole of a four-way playoff to earn second low-medalist honors.
Also setting a goal of a Top 10 finish and all-state honors, Montgomery is one of 10 players to qualify with 73s, while there were a pair of 69s, three 70s, two 71s and a trio of 72s ahead of him.
“It will be a tough field,” the TGA Junior Tour veteran commented. “I feel like I’m peaking at the right time. When I shot par against Walker Valley out at Chatata Valley during the season, I felt like things started going right for me. I feel confident going into the state.”
Both Bishop and Montgomery picked up golf while in middle school and enjoy the personal challenge the sport presents as well as having to deal with different course layouts.
“You might shoot an 85 one day and then come out the next and shoot par,” Bishop remarked. “There’s also the fact that unlike other sports where the playing fields are pretty much the same, in golf each course is laid out different and presents its own challenges.”
“While there is a team concept to the matches, you are also competing against yourself and the scores you posted before,” added Montgomery. “It’s more of an individual sport in that your play doesn’t depend on someone else doing something.”
Both players are taking extra instruction from swing coaches — Bishop working with Zeb Patton in Chattanooga for the last three years and Montgomery going to Georgia to train with Russ Allstun from Dalton Golf and Country Club, for the last month and a half.
“He videos my swing to evaluate it. I go down there about once every two weeks,” Montgomery explained. “I feel like I know my swing better now and have matured to become a better player.”
“I feel like my strengths are my driving and chipping. I’m feeling good about my driver. I only missed one fairway in the region tournament,” he added. “My chipping has improved. I’m able to get up and down for birdies. In region playoff I got up and down from 50 yards out for a birdie to win it.”
“My strength is my driver,” proclaimed Bishop, who was also the second-low medalist with an 81 at the girls region tournament. “I’m able to outdrive most of the girls I play with.”
“She has a very strong competitive drive. She is harder on herself than anyone else is,” related Williams. “She made up her mind she wants to play golf in college and she’s working hard to accomplish that goal.”
“I would love to be a professional golfer someday, but right now I’m working to get my game to the level to where I’ll have a chance to play in college,” she commented.
So far the 4.0 straight A student athlete has drawn interest from Berry and Rhodes colleges, as well as Lee and Bradley universities.
The 20-plus hours a week of extra work on their games has really paid off for the local linksters as they will carry the Bradley County banner high as they make the journey over Monteagle Mountain.