Yi shot a 71 as a freshman to tie Hillgrove senior Matt McKagen, and then beat him on the second playoff hole to win medalist honors. Last season, Yi posted a 1-under 70 to tie Whitefield Academy senior Anders Olsson after 18 holes. In the playoff, both golfers parred No. 1 and No. 9 before darkness suspended play, resulting in Yi and Olsson being declared co-champions.
Yi is back to defend his title once again in the fourth installment of the Invitational, which has already crowned three different team champions in Lassiter, Hillgrove and Walton, respectively. Many of Cobb County’s top golf teams will be participating over the par-71, 5,721-yard course, and Yi’s individual challengers include some of the best in the area.
Including Yi, six of the top 10 individual finishers from last year’s Invitational return, possibly making for a crowded field as Tuesday’s final holes are played.
“I can feel the pressure (of being the two-time defending champion),” Yi said, “but I’m not nervous about it. I’d like to win again, but if I don’t I can’t cry about it. Someone just played better golf than I did, and I’ll have to play better in my next match.”
Other top 10 golfers returning are Kennesaw Mountain sophomore Jonathan Keppler and Mount Paran Christian junior Tyler Young. Mustangs’ senor Cole Hunsucker, Kell sophomore Mattthew Hines and Hillgrove senior Kurt Brucker area also back.
Keppler and Young tied for fourth last year with a 72. Hunsucker, Hines and Brucker carded 73 and tied for fifth. Yi understands the challenges the other golfers represent, but he won’t let it get to him.
“I try to focus on the course and myself,” he said. “I think I’ve won (the Cobb County Invitational in the past) because I’m just hitting my fairways and greens well. I’m very comfortable on the course and not really nervous. As long as I’m comfortable on every shot, I’ll be okay.
“I’ve played some good and bad rounds this season, so I’ll have to see. I’m going to play the best I can and play how I feel (today) and Tuesday.”
Keppler, the Class AAAAA state champion last year, has struggled early this season, but said that he’s getting his confidence back in his swing and things are starting to click.
“I’m excited about (today) and Tuesday,” he said. “It’s a great field with a lot of good golfers. I think (City Club Marietta) is a good course for me. It’s a short course, so if I chip and putt well, I have a chance to win.”
Young is also feeling like he has a good chance at finishing No. 1.
“My game has progressed a lot since last year,” he said. “I feel good about it. I’ve worked hard all year to try to get better everyday.”
Facing such a formidable field is what brings out the best in Young.
“I like playing against good golfers,” he said. “If you’re going to play anybody, you want to play against the best to see where you stand. So, I’m looking forward to going against these guys.”
Hines has taken on the leadership role at Kell left by his brother Michael, who won the Class AAAA title in 2011. He said his game is going well and he’s playing the best golf he’s played in a while.
“We graduated three seniors, and because I’ve played pretty well, I have the No. 1 role now. They look up to me to play well. So, there’s pressure, but I’ve adapted.”
Brucker took six months off from playing and didn’t start back until one month ago. He believes the time off has helped him get better.
“It’s helped me get the mental aspect of my game stronger,” he said. “I don’t get as frustrated when I’m out there.
“I think I’ve put myself in a good position. The county is strong with some great golfers. It will be a strong group, and I can’t wait to go up against the best.”