VONORE, Tenn. --- While he doubted his chances of getting into the 24th Tennessee Match Play Championship field, there were no doubts at the end of the week that Cooper Hayes was the best at The Links at Kahite. An unbeaten 6-0-1 record proved that as Hayes captured his first Tennessee Golf Association title.
His name will now be etched along some of Tennessee’s best on the Tim Jackson Cup, including Tennessee Golf Hall of Famers Tim Jackson, Rob Long, and US Amateur Champion Steven Fox.
Hayes’ dominant run to the championship started on Tuesday when the Strawberry Plains native rattled off two wins with a 4 & 2 victory and a 1-up victory in his first two rounds of pool play.
Wednesday he met Conner Brown in the final match of pool play. The winner of their match would advance to the elimination bracket. Hayes was 4 up thru ten holes before Brown mounted a comeback, eagling the 18th to force a playoff. Three playoff holes later, Hayes returned to the clubhouse to watch his name be added to the bracket.
Before the final match, Hayes needed just about all 18 holes to close out his matches. A 2 & 1 victory in the Round of 16 was followed by a 1 up victory in the Quarterfinals. On Friday, Hayes used a birdie on 18 to win 2 up.
That putt set up a showdown with longtime friend Reece Britt in the final match. On the surface, it appeared the Maryville native had relatively cruised until his semifinals match, never needing the full 18 holes to win his match. But he battled throughout the tournament.
The Round of 16 may have been his most impressive victory of the event. Pitted against Brentwood’s Ryan Terry, Britt found himself down three thru 10 holes. After halving the 11th, Britt found a new gear and won the next five straight holes to go two up with two to play.
In the semifinals, Britt needed some heroics to punch his ticket to play in the afternoon round. One up on Humboldt's Jeff Reuter on the 18th tee, the Maryville product hit his tee shot out of bounds, opening the door for extra holes. After putting his next shot in play on the par 5, Britt went for the green and put it to 10 feet. He drained the putt for par and Reuter missed his birdie attempt.
With the final pairing set, Hayes and Britt were a win away from a title. Hayes jumped out to an early lead, starting eagle-birdie. He picked up another hole on five to go three up into the turn. With a win on holes 10 and 11, all Hayes had to do was hold on to his five-up lead the rest of the match. It ended in his most dominant win of the tournament, a 5 & 4 victory where he did not lose a single hole.
Full results are available here.