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Ryan Terry of Nashville wins Florida Azalea Amateur

Ryan Terry can’t remember shaking any hands after he won the Florida Azalea Amateur on Sunday afternoon, but on a weekend with precious little live sports action, he put together a finish full of drama. Terry needed a birdie on the closing hole to win, and poured one in from 15 feet to take home the trophy.

The long-running amateur event at Palatka (Florida) Golf Club went off as planned this week, but with social distancing measures in place. Terry said the whole thing felt relatively normal. With little live golf going on this week, Terry joked that someone should have called ESPN or Golf Channel. The ending certainly would have made for good TV.

After opening rounds of 69-66 at Palatka, a classic Donald Ross design that plays to a par 70, Terry had a two-shot lead entering the final round. Amateur events rarely have live scoring, so Terry was blind to the fact that Steve Albright, playing ahead of him, was working on a closing 63. It was a 13-shot turnaround from his second-round 76.

By the time Terry got to the par-4 ninth, his closing hole, he and Albright were tied for the lead. Terry stuck his approach to 15 feet and made it for a final-round 69. It was the perfect execution of this week’s mantra: Stay patient and let the birdies come.

Terry is not quite a Ross aficionado but has an appreciation for the courses nonetheless. At Palatka, the greens are tiny and pitched. The course is short, but it hardly plays easy.

“A lot of them, I feel like the greens are the most difficult piece,” he said of Ross courses. “That was definitely the case with this one.”

Terry, a 27-year-old financial advisor from Nashville, Tennessee, played college golf at Lipscomb. He didn’t pick up the game until high school, relatively late for a player competing at that level.

As a young professional, he filled his weeknights with basketball or hockey. After he tore his ACL and meniscus, he slowly returned to golf. As he completed his recovery process, Terry hit the short-game facilities. It laid the groundwork for what has become a quite respectable comeback.

Terry ramped up his competition schedule in the second half of 2018, winning the Tennessee Mid-Amateur. He was paired with Tim Jackson, a Tennessee Golf Hall of Famer with two U.S. Mid-Amateur titles, in the final round of that event and shot 9 under to win. Before that, he hadn’t really known that Tennessee golf community existed. He also got a history lesson from Jackson, one of Tennessee’s most talented golf products.

It was all huge for his confidence. Terry finished runner-up at the event in 2019.

“Winning that event was really the first time that I started to believe that I was good enough to believe going into every tournament I played in that I could go out and win,” he said.

Terry wants to expand past the Tennessee scene this year. The Florida Azalea Amateur was just the start of that. A win this week balances out a bit of bad news from last week.

Together with Blanton Farmer, Terry had managed to qualify for his first USGA event, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, to be played in May. But the USGA canceled that tournament this week, plus the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s obviously a lot going on right now but selfishly, it’s two and a half months from now. Part of me wishes they could have waited or held on,” he said.

Depending how things progress, Terry has an eye on the Dogwood Invitational in June, the North & South Amateur in July and then it’s on to more USGA qualifiers. He did the trifecta in 2019 – U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur – but came up short in all of them.

As long as Terry can find tournaments to play, things seem to be looking up for 2020.

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