DICKSON, Tenn. – Two years ago Nolan Ray claimed the Tennessee Amateur title, which set the stage for him eventually turning professional less than a year later.
Thursday at GreyStone Golf Club, he claimed what he hopes will be another career-defining victory.
The Brentwood, Tenn. native, pulled away over the final eight holes to notch the first win of his pro career at the 72nd annual Tennessee Open Championship. The trophy came with a first-place prize of $10,000.
“This feels like a big step for me,” said Ray, who had recorded a couple of runner-up finishes on the SwingThought Tour prior to his breakthrough moment this week. “It feels a little bit different (compared to winning the Tennessee Amateur). This is my first professional win. I don’t think I would be here without the State Am win.”
“Hopefully this is just another step for me - another step in the right direction.”
Ray – a product of Tennessee junior golf, having grown up on the Sneds Tour and other local tournaments – spent four years playing for the University of Tennessee before joining the Lipscomb University squad as a graduate transfer last year.
Just as he did at the Honors Course two years ago for the Tennessee Amateur, he walked off the 18th green at GreyStone on Thursday to warm hugs from his father, Don, and fiancé, Anna, as well as many other well wishers.
“To have that support on such a special occasion means the world to me,” Ray said.
Ray arrived at GreyStone on Tuesday having played in a 36-hole U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier in Atlanta the day before, leaving him low on energy and not having played a practice round for the Tennessee Open.
“I was really tired all week,” Ray admitted. “Honestly, I think it may have helped me a little bit. I was just trying to take it one shot at a time. I didn’t have any energy to waste. I told myself before every round, ‘Don’t get mad. Don’t get overly excited. You’ve only got so much energy in the tank’.”
Ray entered the final round at 15-under, one stroke ahead of local high school standout, 17-year-old Cameron Tankersley of Dickson, and two up on veteran David Holmes of Knoxville.
The front nine featured a few birdies but little separation amongst the top three. Tankersley pulled into a tie for the lead on two occasions, after birdies on 1 and 10. He bogeyed 11, though, and Holmes birdied, which reset the scoreboard and left the trio just how they started – with one stroke between each of them.
Ray birdied three of the next four holes, though, to get to 20-under and up his margin to four strokes over Tankersley. The eventual champion added another birdie on 17 and finished with a round of 6-under, 66. His three day total was 21-under (65-65-66).
Tankersley finished as tournament runner-up and low amateur at 18-under (62-68-68). Another Dickson County product, Ben Wolcott, stormed up the leaderboard with a 64 on the final day to finish alone in third at 17-under.
Holmes (-16) and Trey Cox of Bartlett (-13) rounded out the top five.
Among those in sixth place at 12-under were: defending tournament champion Hunter Green; Austin Lancaster, whose 63 was the low round of Thursday; and a pair of University of Tennessee players in Jake Hall and Bryce Lewis.
Tankersley fired the lowest round of the tournament as he opened play on Tuesday with a 62. He made headlines last month when he Monday qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour’s Simmons Bank Open and made the cut.