Chris Whittington, left, and Parker Rutherford stand next to each other during the final round of the 2013 Warren County Championship. Whittington won the tournament for the third straight year, and will go for his fourth in a row this weekend at Clear Creek Golf Course. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)
Chris Whittington, left, and Parker Rutherford stand next to each other during the final round of the 2013 Warren County Championship. Whittington won the tournament for the third straight year, and will go for his fourth in a row this weekend at Clear Creek Golf Course. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Whittington, Rutherford set for Round 3

Published 10:10am Wednesday, July 23, 2014

County Championship has been stage for duels

On nearly every trip to the 18th green in the past year at Clear Creek Golf Course, Chris Whittington has tried to replicate the luckiest shot of his life.

He’ll place the ball on the sloping back corner of the green, only about 15 feet from the hole but a million degrees of difficulty from success. Each time, his wedge sends the ball somewhere other than the hole.

“It was such a hard shot. Every time the pin is back in the corner I try it, and I’ve never made it. I’ve tried it about a hundred times,” Whittington said.

Whittington, of course, wouldn’t be trying so hard if he hadn’t made it the first time.

It was a year ago Monday that Whittington plopped in his birdie chip to win his third consecutive Warren County Championship. He’ll go for No. 4 when the 2014 tournament tees off on Saturday, but he admits even another victory will be hard to top that moment.

“It was a dream come true. It’s something that just doesn’t ever happen,” Whittington said. “I had no clue it’d go in. I wasn’t even trying to make it. All I did was try to pop it up, get within a foot or so, and we go to a playoff.”

Whittington’s ecstasy was shadowed across the green by Parker Rutherford’s agony.

Rutherford had been in contention to win the County Championship five times, but was denied each time — twice by Whittington.

In 2012, Rutherford rallied on the back nine but fell a stroke short of Whittington. Last year he had the upper hand in another back nine duel between the two, taking a one-shot lead to the 18th hole.

Rutherford faced a 30-foot par putt while Whittington had his seemingly impossible chip. At best — or worst, depending on which side of the 50-person gallery you stood on — it seemed Whittington could get up and down to force a playoff.

Whittington, of course, got up and in for birdie. Rutherford suddenly needed to make the long putt to win and left it short. He tapped in for a bogey, a final-round 75, and a one-shot loss.

The victory evaporated into thin air, but the sour memory has lingered on. Rutherford has not forgotten the feeling of being denied a title he’s craved for years.

“To everybody here in Vicksburg it’s a big deal, obviously. To me, it’s a big deal because I’ve been in the final group every year since I was 13. Last year and the year before I lost it on the last hole. It’s definitely a lot of motivation,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford added that, while walking off a winner at Clear Creek on Sunday isn’t exactly slipping on a green jacket at Augusta, for him personally it’d feel almost as good.

“It would be satisfying, for sure. It would feel good to get the trophy,” Rutherford said. “The Warren County Championship isn’t the Holy Grail of golf, but it’s a trophy I want to win.”

Although Whittington has been Rutherford’s archnemesis in the County Championship, both players said they’re friends.

Rutherford is quick to call Whittington’s chip “a great shot,” and the two even teamed up to play in the Bud Light 2-Man Scramble at Clear Creek in June. They finished second.

“We were kind of devastated,” Whittington said with a laugh.

The two have also played scores of friendly rounds at Clear Creek over the years, although not too many since last year’s County Championship. It’s not because of any bitterness over the finish, though. They’ve simply drifted apart.

Whittington has taken a step back from golf. A new job has taken up a lot of his free time, and his intense passion for the game has waned a bit. Although he’ll defend his title this weekend, he said he’s not sure how much of a factor he’ll be.

“I haven’t been able to play as much as I normally do. I’m going into this without practicing. I’ve just been playing with my buddies,” Whittington said.

Rutherford, meanwhile, went away to college at Nicholls State. He was on the golf team there for one season, but transferred to Ole Miss in the spring. He said he might try to walk on to Ole Miss’ golf team in the fall.

Before that, however, there is the one piece of unfinished business to take care of — winning the hometown tournament that has eluded him for so long. Rutherford has continued to play competitive tournaments outside the college ranks, and said he feels he’s playing well enough to finally lay claim to the title of Warren County’s best golfer.

“I feel like it’s my time,” he said.

Warren County Championship

Clear Creek Golf Course will host the Warren County Championship this weekend. The 36-hole tournament will be played Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m. each day, and the course will be closed to the public both days.

The tournament is open to all Warren County residents and the entry fee is $100. There will also be a shootout Friday at 5 p.m. for the top 12 players from the 2013 men’s Championship. The entry fee for the shootout is $20 per person.

For more information or to register, call Clear Creek course pro Kent Smith at 601-638-9395.

 

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