Keppler returns family name to Georgia Open trophy

Jonathan Keppler (left) accepts the championship trophy for winning the Georgia Open from Mike Paull, executive director of the Georgia PGA.
Jonathan Keppler (left) accepts the championship trophy for winning the Georgia Open from Mike Paull, executive director of the Georgia PGA.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Jonathan Keppler continued to add to his family’s golf legacy Sunday when he won the Georgia Open championship.

The budding professional from Marietta tied for the lead with a birdie on the 16th hole and surged ahead for the first time all day on the 17th hole. He only needed a two-putt par on the final hole to secure the victory, which enabled him to join his father as the second father-son team to win the championship.

Stephen Keppler, the PGA professional at Marietta Country Club and member of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, won the Georgia Open in 1994 and 1995. DeWitt Weaver Jr. (1972-73, 1977, 1979) and DeWitt Weaver III (1988) are the other father-son champions.

“It’s definitely extra special,” Keppler said. “To have my name on the same trophy as my dad is pretty neat.”

Keppler also joined a small group of golfers who have won the Georgia Amateur Championship and the Georgia Open. That list includes Masters champion Tommy Aaron, Paul Claxton and Tim O’Neal, who all won events on the PGA Tour or Korn Ferry Tour.

Keppler closed with a 5-under 67 to finish 15 under at Jennings Mill Country Club and beat Zach Caldwell of Alpharetta, who shot 70, by one stroke. Jared O’Kelley shot 71 and finished third at 10 under and Ruan Pretorius of West Point, a native of South Africa and student at Point University, placed fourth and earned low amateur honors at 8 under.

The low round of the day was posted by O’Neal, who birdied six straight holes en route to a front-nine 30. He finished with a 63 and moved up 16 places to finish fifth.

Keppler had been at or near the lead of the Georgia Open all week and entered the final round two shots in arrears of Caldwell. Although he’d been scoring well, Keppler didn’t like the way he was hitting the ball, so he got an 11th-hour lesson Saturday from his swing coach, Chan Reeves of the Atlanta Athletic Club, and his father.

“I had an emergency lesson,” he said. “I got it in the hole the first three days, but didn’t strike it well. Today I hit it much better.”

The lesson — moving the ball a tad forward and trying to stay more centered — worked and Keppler began hitting lasers near the pin all day. Once the putts started dropping, Keppler was able to make his move. He caught Caldwell with a birdie on the ninth hole and the back nine morphed into a match-play situation between the two leaders.

Keppler made a six-footer for a birdie at the par-5 16th hole to tie Caldwell, who missed a putt of similar length. Keppler made another smooth six-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th and Caldwell missed a 15-footer on the same line.

Caldwell’s chance to force a playoff ended on the 18th. Caldwell missed the green to the left and was unable to hole his chip for a birdie. That left Keppler only needing two putts from 30 feet to secure the win and his first putt settled to with about six inches, which removed any drama.