Volpenhein poised to win East Tennessee Amateur

By Allen LaMountain

   It doesn't look good for the first three-peat in East Tennessee Amateur history as two-time defending champion Adam Shanks stands 11 shots in back of leader Jim Volpenhein going into today's final round of the East Tennessee Amateur golf tournament at Elizabethton Golf Course.
   Shanks shot a five-over par 77 on Friday, but got back to form on Saturday with a two-under 70, but he will have to leapfrog over nine other golfers to win again.
   "I got my putter going better today," said Shanks. "I struggled at first, missing a short birdie on six. I was four under on the last 10 holes, but going into tomorrow, as impossible as it sounds, I'm going to have to shoot for a bird on every hole. I can afford to be more aggressive as far back as I am."
   For leader Volpenhein, this is a familiar position as he seeks his third ETA title, having won in 1995 and '97. Volpenhein -- a former pro, having been sponsored by Cincinnati Reds great Johnny Bench when he went to PGA school in 1985 -- got a bit of a break on Friday on the number six hole.
   Volpenhein hit his drive into the trees but managed to right himself for an eagle on the par-five hole. In fact, he eagled six both Friday and Saturday for his two-day total of 136.
   "I was a little more familiar with the course today than yesterday," said Volpenhein. "I'm tickled to death with the way I have played, you just have to be careful where you miss. The first eagle on six gave me confidence, and on 11 I just try to hit it so it fades a bit."
   Volpenhein joked about having been set up on a blind date the night before, saying: "I'm superstitious, so I'm going to have to go out with her again. Anything to get an edge."
   Of his time as a pro, Volpenhein said: "I retired after one year after making it to the finals at tour school. I made $45,000 that year, but spent $65,000, so that's when I decided to call it."
   Ryan Strickland - who has finished second in this tournament twice before -- finds himself in a familiar spot, in third place, but just three shots down at 139 after a second-round 69.
   "I three-putted 18 from 15 yards out," said Strickland. "I thought I had worked on that last night, but I'll work on it some more. I have been in the last group three of the last four years."
   Cary Daniels (70-68-138) -- who didn't participate last year, but finished third in 1998 and 2000 -- is just two shots from the leader in second place and is looking for a good finish today.
   "I didn't think I hit the ball as well today as yesterday, but I scored better," Daniels said. "I did a good job of taking it one hole at a time, and that's what you have to do."
   The last group to tee off will be Volpenhein, Daniels and Strickland at 1:30 p.m. In the next to last group will be Chris Guy (70-72-142), Bryan Sangid (69-73-142) and three-time ETA champion Dr. Bill Argabrite (74-69-143).
   Argabrite won in 1996 and won consecutively in 1998 and 1999 before Shanks won the last two years.
   Argabrite, who shot a 69 on Saturday after an uncharacteristic 74 on Friday, said: "I played well after 10 holes, but bogeyed both 11 and 17, which was a little disappointing. It will take a real good round tomorrow to win, but a 69 or better should put me in the running."
   The par-five 11th hole has been the kiss of death for many of the participants, but Volpenhein has handled it with ease, with birdie's both Friday and Saturday.
   "I put a little fade on it and got it right to the top. I have been consistently reaching the par-five greens in two." said Volpenhein.
   Others still in the running are Jimmy and Joe Humston, who stand at 144 and 146, respectively, and Thomas Smith at 144.
   "I ran into trouble on number six," said the younger Humston brother, Jimmy. "I duck-hooked it and also bogeyed nine. But I won't put any extra pressure on myself. I play this course all the time, and it's no different that any other day."
   Joe Humston, who equaled the course record of 61 just over a month ago, was disappointed with his showing this weekend.
   "I had a tough time sleeping last night," he said. "I played better today, but I had no confidence in my putting, and my tee shots haven't been real good either. The par-fives have been the worst for me so far.
   "I'm just going to go out there tomorrow and shoot at every pin, and I'd say it will take a 65 to even have a chance."