And he cashed in quite nicely.
Lane, the defending champion, shot a five-under-par 67 Friday at Elizabethton Golf Course to grab a two-stroke lead over Greeneville’s Matt Dibella.
“I think having won it last year takes a lot of pressure off,” said Lane, the golf coach at Knox Bearden High School. “I’ve wanted to win it for so long. To finally do it, I’m just playing with house money, kind of free swinging a little bit.”
Lane had six birdies and a lone bogey when he three-putted the eighth hole. He played the back nine in 32 strokes.
“I was just really solid 10 feet and in,” he said. “I made a lot 8- to 10-footers.
“It’s always fun to come here. You just get a special feeling when you come here. The staff and Mike (Matheson) all do such a good job running the tournament it just makes it fun for us. It’s a special week.”
Dibella, a 22-year-old former Tusculum University golfer, came in a few groups ahead of Lane, and for a while his 69 was leading.
“I felt like the way the course was playing today, there was a 67 or maybe even a 66 out there,” Dibella said.
Moments after Dibella made his comments, Lane came in with his 67. Brandon Mathis, of Alexander, North Carolina, posted a 68 in the final group.
Chris Guy, two-time champion Cayman Ratliff, former champ Blake Howard and Lawrence Largent were tied for fourth at 70.
Guy, a 48-year-old from Hampton, has finished second or third six times in this tournament.
The tournament is sponsored by Carter County Bank, where Guy is a vice president and commercial loan officer. Its official name is the William B. Greene Jr. East Tennessee Amateur, named after Guy’s boss, who spent some time at the course Friday and even hit a ceremonial tee shot on the first tee.
“It’s always been a special tournament to me, even before I started working at the bank,” Guy said. “I’m in my 19th year at the bank, and this is my 25th year playing in this tournament. I don’t know how many people can say that. I love coming back to my home course.”
Guy came closest to winning in 1997, the third year of the event, when he lost in a three-man playoff that included Brennan Webb, now the golf coach at Tennessee, and eventual champion Jim Volpenheim. After Webb fell out of the payoff first, Guy bogeyed the 18th hole while Volpenheim made par for his second consecutive victory.
“It’s been really tough,” said Guy, who has been playing more as he prepares to join the senior field in a couple of years. “You feel like you can’t close the deal. It eats at me.”
Twelve players broke par, including 71s from Nick Cohen, Joe Brooks, Jeff Scott, Ben Harris and former champ Bryan Sangid.
The championship division field will be cut to the low 30 plus ties after the second round.
In the overall senior competition, defending champion Mike Wood of Franklin, North Carolina, shot a three-under-par 69 to grab a share of the lead with 2017 champion James Fender of Limestone.
Cary Daniels was third at 70, followed by five players — Mike Poe, Pat Kenney, Tony Gouge, Mark Halvorsen and Mitchell Nidiffer — at 72.