Finally, something goes right in 2020.
The 71st Press Thornton Future Masters had enough final-round drama to fill an ESPN 30 for 30. Six different golfers held at least a share of the lead on Saturday and that did not include the runner-up.
In the end, a 10-year veteran of the prestigious junior golf tournament, Carter Loflin of Duluth, Ga., shot a final-round 67 and won the shootout by a stroke. Loflin, 16, started the day five shots behind leader Jack Turner and finished with a 54-hole total of 6-under-par 204.
He played in the third-to-the-last group, the first champion to emerge from beyond the final foursome in years at the Future Masters.
And he had to watch a dramatic 45-foot birdie attempt by Zach Adams of Charleston, S.C., on the final hole lip out to clinch his one-shot win over Adams and Michael Mays.
If you thought this was the first Press Thornton Future Masters without longtime general chairman Press “Doc” Thornton, who passed away earlier this year, think again.
Sonya Loflin, the champion’s mother, relayed a story about Doc that involved Carter.
He first played in this event as a 7-year-old and didn’t really contend. As he often did, Doc made sure he spoke to the kids who looked despondent after the tournament. He encouraged Carter to keep trying, keep playing and keep coming back.
“Who knows, it might take you 10 years, but you just might win this thing someday,” Doc told the boy.
This was Carter’s 10th consecutive year playing the tournament.
Loflin got to see another side of the Future Masters on Saturday — the awards ceremony. He earned the 15-16 age division, the overall champion’s trophy and, of course, the prestigious blue jacket.
“I stayed for the awards when I was 10 and a couple times before that, but I haven’t been back for a while,” Loflin said between photos and interviews. “It’s sweet. It’s really cool.”
During parts of the final round, Turner of Orlando, Fla., Robert Davidson of Trussville, Andrew Spaulding of Spring, Texas, Ryan Eshleman of Vestavia Hills, Mays and, of course, Loflin either led or had a piece of the lead at some point.
Loflin finished several minutes before the final group came in. He birdied No. 14 to go 5-under and added a birdie on 17 to move to 6-under.
“I was trying not to pay attention, really,” Loflin said. “You just wait until the end and whatever happened, happened.”
Well, plenty happened. Mays of Winter Park, Fla., chipped in for birdie on No. 16 and took a one-shot lead at 7-under. Unfortunately, Mays had a costly double bogey at No. 17.
“I might have got ahead of myself,” Mays said. “I hit a bad drive, but had a good recovery to about 30 feet downhill, down grain, downwind. I should have rammed it by six or seven feet but I left it 3½ feet short and missed that one. Then I had six feet coming back and missed that. It was rough, but it is what it is.”
He went from one shot up to one shot down with Loflin in the clubhouse. Mays made a par on No. 18.
That left Adams, who played a steady final round, needing a birdie to tie. He made birdies on Nos. 8 and 10 to reach 5-under and reeled off seven straight pars. His approach to the front-right pin position was in the back left corner of the 18th green. He estimated it as a 45-foot putt.
“I asked my dad, ‘Do I have to make this to win?’” Adams said. “He was like, ‘Yeah.’
“It was a double-breaker. It broke right at first and broke back left. When it was five feet from the hole I thought I’d made it.”
It hit the hole and spun away and the Loflin family was able to exhale.
“Everything in my game was really solid,” Loflin said. “I missed shots in the right spot. I made putts when I needed to. I got off the tee pretty well for most of the round. Overall, it was just solid play.”
However, he told himself he needed more when he shot 1-under 34 on the front nine.
“In the back of my mind, I knew I really had to get on it on the back nine to have a chance at one of the big trophies,” Loflin said.
He said he wasn’t nervous.
“I was relaxed from the moment it began to the final putt on 18,” the champion said. “I’ve played a lot of tournament golf. I’ve played pretty well this summer already and I’ve had a couple situations similar to that.”
He birdied No. 10 to get to 5-under, but gave a shot back with a bogey on No. 11. He birdied No. 14 and got to 6-under with a birdie on No. 17.
“Speechless,” is almost all that Stephen Loflin, a very proud father, could say when asked about his son’s final round.
“People said I was crazy for sending a 7-year-old out here 10 years ago,” Stephen added. “On 10 it used to be driver, 3-wood-wedge, putt. Now it’s driver, 6-iron and hope he doesn’t fly the green.”
A bigger, stronger Carter Loflin is growing into his golf game, the father said.
“Todd Thompson does an amazing job with the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour,” Stephen Loflin said. “He’s won two events this summer and the first time he won was the first time he’s won in seven years. And then two weeks later he won again.”
The elder Loflin said that two-time Future Masters champion Stewart Cink is a family friend who encouraged them to play in Dothan many years ago.
“This is the biggest tournament Stewart got to go to,” Loflin said. “There are bigger tournaments than this. But there’s not a city that’s behind you like this. We can go to any city and play in a golf tournament.
“This place is awesome. We’d have said that if he had won or lost. This is a special place to us, not just because he won.”
Loflin also expressed his gratitude that the tournament was played in a crazy 2020.
“I’m so glad the Future Masters officials did not cancel. These kids need an opportunity to get out and play,” he said.