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Denman captures first State Amateur title, punches ticket to 124th U.S. Amateur

Payne_Denman_hang_looseLOUDON, Tenn. — In a field full of college golfers, it was a college coach who hoisted the Martin Condon, Jr. Trophy at the conclusion of the 109th Tennessee State Amateur Championship. Middle Tennessee State University men’s golf assistant coach Payne Denman put together a spectacular four rounds of golf to emerge from the 144-player field victorious at Tennessee National Golf Club.

“You always dream about [winning] it,” Denman said. “I think when it comes to the moment and when it happens, it always feels different. You're so in the moment when you're out there and, it didn't seem real.”

The 32-year-old made dreams a reality with his week in Loudon. But it could have gone very differently had he let early mistakes dictate his play. On his eighth hole of the tournament, Denman faced one of the more intimidating shots on the course. The 17th hole, 189 yards of pure carry over water which surrounds three sides of the green. Denman put his into the drink off the tee.

“That was one of the worst shots I hit all week on 17 the first day,” Denman said. “At that point too I was cruising at four under. But I was just happy to recover and I felt like if I just played my game that it would work out.”

He certainly did. Throughout the next 64 holes, Denman made one bogey and one double bogey. He played the final two rounds of the Tennessee State Amateur bogey-free, never once giving a shot back to the field.

Admittedly not the longest player in the field, Denman played his game all week and steadily approached the top of the leaderboard. After round two, he was just three shots back of the lead. Following day three, he had a one-stroke lead he would never relinquish.

Winning did more than put Denman’s name forever on the Martin Condon Trophy. He became the first Tennessee State Amateur winner to receive an exemption into the U.S. Amateur for his state championship victory. This week, winning meant a little bit more… even if he tried not to think about it before his final round.

“My mom asked me what winning it would do for me. And I just told her, ‘Look, I don't want to talk about that,’” Denman said with a chuckle. “There's a long day ahead. I'm just going to try to do the best I can do and we'll figure that out afterward.”

Luckily, Denman hadn’t booked any of his travel to local and final qualifying for the U.S. Amateur. The only travel arrangements he needs to make now are for Hazeltine National Golf Club in August.

The challengers for Denman during the week came from a slew of college golfers returning to their home state for the summer. In the final pairing, Ole Miss’ Cameron Tankersley and Austin Peay’s Patton Samuels had Denman in their sights, sitting one and three shots back, respectively. 

Tankersley kept making a push at the lead but caught a few bad breaks early on. An eagle on six erased the early miscues, but at that point, Denman had made a pair of birdies to extend his lead to three. Still, Tankersley's solid and consistent play throughout the week earned him a runner-up finish at the Tennessee State Amateur at 14-under-par 274, four-shots back from Denman.

Samuels had an up-and-down final round, recording five birdies, three bogeys and two doubles to finish tied for sixth at 9-under. The highlight from the week was firing the low round of the tournament on day three to earn his spot in the final pairing for the second year in a row. The Clarksville native had a 9-under-par 63 to come within one shot of tying the Tennessee National course record.

Among the other top 10 finishers was the day one and two leader Haden Maxwell who finished the tournament tied for third with 2023 Tennessee State Amateur runner-up John Houk. One of Denman’s recruits at MTSU Sheldon McKnight finished in fifth place after a steady week of under-par golf. Future MTSU golfer Thad Whitfield finished in ninth.

Ryan Terry, the 2018 Tennessee Mid-Amateur Champion, was one of five golfers to turn in four, under-par rounds at the 2024 State Amateur, finishing tied for sixth.

Adam Hooker returned from a recent injury and finished in eighth place at 8-under-par.

For complete results from the 2024 Tennessee State Amateur Championship, click here.