Rhea will be playing in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill on Aug. 13-19, and he has a monumental comeback to thank.
The rising sophomore on the East Tennessee State golf team and former Science Hill player was fighting his swing through much of the 36-hole qualifier Tuesday at Twin Orchard Country Club in Long Grove, Illinois. Then he finished like a champ, making birdies on three of his final four holes.
When the scores went up, Rhea was one of four players out of the 90 who started to make the U.S. Amateur field.
“It’s going to be pretty sweet to go to Pebble Beach,” Rhea said. “I’m really excited.”
With his father, A.R. Rhea, caddying, Jack shot rounds of 73 and 67 and finished tied for second.
“I knew if I could do something in the afternoon, I could make up some ground,” Rhea said. “I was hanging in there, waiting.”
That first-round 73 left Rhea well back of what it would take to qualify, but he kept at it and it paid off.
“My game has kind of been up and down lately and I really didn’t hit the ball well in the first round,” he said. “I found something the last nine. It took me all day.
“It was something pretty simple. I was way too open at address. I fixed that and it worked. That doesn’t happen very often.”
Rhea and his dad, a former Science Hill and Milligan College athletic star and former minor league pitcher, played together in the Tennessee Four-Ball and qualified for match play.
There were 7,463 entries into the U.S. Amateur and Rhea will be one of 312 players in the field when it all begins. Making match play is always the first goal for players, and then the real fun starts. The two finalists traditionally receive invitations to the following year’s Masters, provided they remain amateur.
“To win,” Rhea said. “That’s always the goal.”
It will be Rhea’s second USGA event. He had previously qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2016.
The Ridgefields Invitational is set for this weekend and a strong senior cast highlights an overall field that had about 60 entrants as of Wednesday afternoon.
Mike Poe and Mike Wood head a Senior Division contingent that also includes Bill Hardin, Tony Green, Mark Halvorsen, Tim Dinwiddie and Ron Waters.
Poe, Wood and Hardin all won their respective age groups in last weekend’s East Tennessee Amateur at Elizabethton Golf Course. Wood won the overall senior title with a score of 15 under par. He held off Poe, who finished 13 under.
Halvorsen is the defending senior champion.
At least three former champions will be in the Championship Flight. Carlson Cox, who won the second of his Ridgefields titles in 2013, has regained his amateur status after a foray into mini-tour professional golf.
Other former champs entered are Eddie Karst and Ben Campbell.
The 54-hole tournament begins Friday and runs through Sunday at the Club at Ridgefields in Kingsport. William Nottingham, a Clemson golfer from Kingsport who has won the last two Ridgefields Invitationals, is not in the field.
WILLOW CREEK QUALIFIER
A U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier was also held at Willow Creek in Knoxville on Tuesday, and North Carolina State golfer Benjamin Shipp won with rounds of 64 and 68. Nolan Ray of Brentwood took the other spot. He won a three-man playoff that included Chase Roswall of Bristol.