TAMPA, FLORIDA | After Brendon Wilson safely landed his second shot greenside on the par-5 18th to assure himself victory in the 68th Gasparilla Invitational, he took out his phone and started a video. It was a simple pan of the dense gallery roaming freely in the fairway and the packed, buzzing throng surrounding the final green.
He wanted to remember the feeling.
“This is the best amateur event I’ve ever played,” Wilson told Global Golf Post. “You play other am events and they are nothing like this. Nobody comes out. This is huge, and it’s so fun. I was just like, ‘Whether I win or not, I’m enjoying this.’”
Wilson’s final round will go down as one of the most impressive in tournament history. The Chattanooga native and reigning Tennessee Mid-Amateur champion left his first visit to the Gasparilla with a share of the tournament scoring record at 10-under 200 – a mark that was set last year by Logan Blondell – after he put together a 6-under 64 that gave him a three-stroke victory over Nick Maccario.
Starting the final round in the penultimate group two strokes behind 36-hole leader and 2018 tournament champion Marc Dull, Wilson raided Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club with four birdies in his first five holes. While Dull faded to a closing 4-over 74, Maccario and Blanton Farmer jumped into contention among a pack of competitors in close pursuit.
"I got the invite (to play the Gasparilla), and it’s been sweet. The members are incredible, and the facilities are sick. It’s the shortest, toughest, hardest golf course I’ve ever played.”
But it was Wilson, a former University of Tennessee-Chattanooga golfer who plays out of Council Fire Golf Club, executing with precision throughout the afternoon. With former Moc teammate Courtney Brazier on the bag, Wilson embarked on a stretch of nine consecutive pars that kept him at 8-under and one ahead of Maccario, who had three-putted the 10th hole to drop to 7-under. A 12-foot birdie putt on No. 15 and 15-foot birdie conversion on 16 created separation. Despite missing a short par putt on the par-3 17th – it was Wilson’s only blemish in his final 28 holes – he received no additional pressure from the final threesome.
Wilson earned a college tournament title in 1998 and won a mini-tour event at PGA National back in 2000 shortly after finishing school, but he said this accomplishment against one of the best mid-amateur fields in the country ranks high on his list of golf accomplishments.
“I had a couple of friends who were trying to get me to play here and I have a 9- and 7-year-old, so I don’t really get to travel that much to play,” Wilson said. “But I got the invite (after winning the Tennessee Mid-Am), and it’s been sweet. The members are incredible, and the facilities are sick. It’s the shortest, toughest, hardest golf course I’ve ever played.”
It all happened so quickly for Wilson, the co-owner of a company that provides transportation management software.
The Gasparilla got off to a rousing start when Chip Brooke and Joe Neuheisel both opened the tournament with 8-under 62s. Conditions were warm and the wind didn’t play a leading role any of the three days, so low scores were available. Wilson wasn’t among those low scores on the first day, as he settled for a 1-under 69.
Palma Ceia never gives up her gold easily, however. Brooke and Neuheisel both sputtered in the second round, and Wilson’s 3-under 67 sent him unexpectedly racing up the leaderboard.
“I figured we might be in the top 10 or top 15 after that round, but all of a sudden we were only two shots back,” Wilson said. “I thought if I could pressure the leaders, I might have a chance.”
A few hours later and the party was on. The crowd, which seemingly grows larger and more boisterous every year, gave Wilson a massive ovation when he tapped in for his closing birdie.
“I’ll be coming back next year, that is for sure,” Wilson said.
Maccario, one of the top mid-ams in the country, settled for solo second at 7-under 203. Jonathan Bale of Jupiter, Florida, and Farmer from nearby Bradenton shared third place at 4-under 206.