Gainesville High graduate Spencer Ralston felt a surge of confidence going into the final round of the Linger Longer Invitational. Now a junior at the University of Georgia, he was on familiar ground as he chased his first career individual victory at the Reynolds Lake Oconee Course, just 40 minutes south of Athens, in Greensboro.
“We got to go down there a few times this fall before the event so we were very comfortable with the place and with it being so close to Athens,” Ralston said.
Starting the third and final round Sunday two strokes off the lead, Ralston strung together three straight birdies and finished with a final-round 66 to win with a three-day total of 11-under-par (205).
Ralston said he drew energy from his Bulldogs teammate, junior Trevor Phillips, who was draining birdies in the pairing one group ahead. Ralston followed, starting the back nine of the final day with three straight birdies and stayed away from any bogeys.
“I knew we were five or six shots back (as a team) and Trevor was playing in front of me, so I saw him make a few birdies and we fed off of each other,” Ralston said.
With Ralston finishing in front, along with Phillips in a tie for second place (8-under par), No. 12 Georgia also emerged with the team title on the course it routinely plays practice rounds in the fall.
The Invitational was a welcoming site to the Bulldogs most experienced player, who accomplished a career-best, 12-under-par (204) last season at the same event.
Over the weekend, the former Red Elephants standout compiled three rounds of 11-under par (205), three shots clear of the second-place Phillips and Alexandre Fuchs (Liberty).
Though the event was a display of Ralston’s professional potential, it also acts as a looking glass into the future of the Georgia men’s golf program.
“We haven’t won since I’ve been in school until this spring,” Ralston said. “Our team chemistry has been awesome. We won’t lose anyone after this year. We’ve got two juniors in the line up, a sophomore and freshmen.
“Trevor and I have been getting the younger guys more comfortable with each other, giving them confidence.”
Ralston believes he had an upper-hand coming into his college career, citing former Gainesville High head coach Bryson Worley and the Gainesville High program as the ideal transitional mold to the next level. But all of his achievements can be linked to his lifelong motivator — his father Mitch Ralston, who played golf at Clemson University.
“It’s very cool [to share my experiences with him]. He’s done a lot in the game of golf. He’s done a lot of what I’m doing. It’s probably more cool for him because he’s been there. He introduced me to play the game. He never pushed me but just showed me the rules and etiquette of the game.”
With faithful supporters in the wing, the Gainesville native has set a high ceiling for himself with performances like the Linger Longer Invitational to back it up.
“I don’t know where and what events, but I would love to play professionally,” Ralston said. “Just keep on working hard and excelling and hopefully I’ll get there.”