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State Amateur time for LaGrange alum Purcell

Ridge Purcell will be taking a break from his work with the local First Tee program this week to play in the Georgia State Amateur Championship. The four-day tournament begins on Thursday on St. Simons Island. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

Purcell

He’s at home on this stage. From 2011 to 2013, LaGrange High graduate Ridge Purcell played in the Georgia State Amateur Championship each year, and he never finished lower than eighth place. His best finish was in 2011 when he was fifth, and he was eighth in 2012 before surging to a sixth-place finish in 2013. After finishing 23rd in last year’s tournament, Purcell will look to get into contention for the title when this year’s State Amateur gets under way on Thursday at the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island. It’s a four-round tournament, and after two days, the low 70 players and ties, and anyone within 10 strokes of the lead, will make the cut and be around for the final two rounds. Purcell has made the cut each time he has played in the tournament, and he has been one of the most consistent performers over the past four years. Purcell, who played college golf for four seasons and was a senior on the Armstrong State University team in the 2010-2011 season, said he enjoys playing in major events like this, and it shows. “I practice with these kinds of tournaments in mind,” said Purcell, who was an all-state golfer at LaGrange High. “When I get there, I feel more comfortable once I’m in tournament play. I focus a little bit harder. It feels comfortable when there’s a little bit of pressure.” In 2011, Purcell had just completed his second and final season on the Armstrong State golf team when he made a run at the State Amateur title. The tournament was held at Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta that year, and Purcell found himself just one stroke off the pace after a first-round 68. He was unable to keep up that pace and he ended up 4-over for the tournament, but that was good enough for a fifth-place finish. The 2012 tournament was played at Ansley Golf Club in Roswell, and Purcell shot a second-round 68 on the way to an eighth-place finish. The 2013 State Amateur was played at Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw, and Purcell was just one shot off the lead heading into the final round, but he settled for a sixth-place finish after shooting a 75. At last year’s tournament at Idle Hour Club in Macon, Purcell had another strong showing, and he finished 23rd after closing with a 69. Now, Purcell is ready to tackle the state’s premier amateur tournament once again, and he’ll be playing on the Sea Island course for the first time. He made the trip south on Tuesday, and he’ll be able to play a practice round today, and he’ll have someone with local knowledge of the course with him. “I’m going to play with a buddy who lives in Brunswick, so it’s in his backyard,” Purcell said. “I’m sure he’ll tell me where to be, and where not to be, all the good spots, where he thinks pins might be. That’s a little bit of an advantage.” The course plays hosts to a PGA tournament each fall, and it’s the home course for a number of professional players who make Sea Island their home. “I’ve heard it’s a course that’s gettable,” Purcell said. “You just have to be in the right spots.” Purcell feels his game is in solid shape heading into Thursday’s opening round. He recently competed in the Rice Planters Amateur at Snee Farm Country Club in South Carolina. Purcell didn’t feel he was at his best, but he still made the cut and had a respectable showing. “I was a little disappointed in my finish, but I learned a lot from the tournament,” Purcell said. “I came back and made a small swing change, and I’m feeling a lot better. I feel like how off I was, I still made the cut. I didn’t let the rounds get away from me. I feel like I’m hitting it a lot better than I was, so I’m hoping the scores reflect it.” Purcell works with the local First Tee program as a youth instructor, and he has also been working with young golfers at Highland Country Club. Through his work at First Tee, Purcell has access to LaGrange’s Allen Doyle, who won the Georgia State Amateur a record five times. After turning pro, Doyle continued to win big, and he captured a pair of U.S. Senior Open titles after joining the Champions Tour. “He has a different way of getting about things, but it sure seems to work,” Purcell said of Doyle, who enjoyed an extraordinary career despite an unorthodox swing. “If I go to him for advice, it’s always advice in the mental game, which is as good as any part of his game.” Can Purcell follow in Doyle’s footsteps and become a State Amateur winner? Whether that happens or not, Purcell is always happy to be a part of this event. “I always look forward to this,” Purcell said. “They always take good care of us. It’s a big tournament, and it has the atmosphere of a big tournament. It’s pretty fun.” Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports