BIG STONE GAP — Bryan Sangid couldn’t say how long it had been since he last played Lonesome Pine Country Club prior to Saturday’s first round of the Lonesome Pine Invitational.
But Sangid fell into a comfortable groove and navigated his way around the course better than anyone else in the field.
By the end of the day, Sangid signed his name to a 3-under-par round of 68, giving him a one-stroke lead over Carlson Cox in the championship flight heading into today’s final round.
Sangid said memories of how to play certain shots rushed back into his mind as his round unfolded.
“It did come back to me every now and then,” he said. “The greens are so fast and the course is in good shape.”
The lightning-fast greens provided the course’s primary defense. Precise shotmaking, especially on approach shots, was a must in order to take advantage of scoring opportunities.
As a result, Sangid and Cox were the only two players under par in the championship flight. Bryan Bentley and Clint Lowe were three shots back after playing even par, and three players lurked four shots behind the leader.
For Cox, success at Lonesome Pine proved elusive before he broke through with a 69 on Saturday.
“I grew up playing middle school golf here, but I’ve never broken par out here before,” he said.
Cox, who plays his college golf at Memphis, relied on a bold strategy best summed up as controlled aggression. He overpowered the course off the tee, driving the green on four par 4s, but showed a healthy respect when it came time to putt.
“You’ve got to be aggressive out here — you can’t be tentative,” he said. “But if you’re above the hole out here, you’re going to have a 10-footer coming back uphill. It’s automatic.
“You’ve got to be below the hole if you want to score on this golf course.”
Meanwhile, J.R. Smith and Lloyd Cantrell both recorded rounds of 70 to share the lead in the senior flight. Allen Blanken will start today’s final round two shots behind the leaders.
Bobby Fox and Tracy Stallard were the co-leaders in the super senior flight after firing matching 73s. Junior Marshall was one shot back.
When Sangid and Cox tee off together today, there is more on the line than the invitational title. Both players are battling for the first Food City Tri-Cities Amateur Tour points title. Cox currently leads the standings, and Sangid is in sixth place.
“You’ve got so many great players in this region,” Sangid said. “Most all of the guys know each other, but it’s fun to play with different guys.”
Cox believes the new amateur tour has done a lot to strengthen the fields in all of the events on the TCAT schedule.
“You’ve got all of these good players that never wanted to come all the way out here, and they’re signing up,” he said. “It makes for great competition.”