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Back home at the Knoxville Open, PGA Tour pro and FHS alum Garrett Willis looks to fight through putting problems and get his golf game back on track

The bitter flick of his putter after missing putts on the 17th and 18th holes Friday afternoon perhaps told the story about Garrett Willis’ recent golf game.

It was nothing violent or unsportsmanlike — nothing Bobby Knight could relate to — just a quiet show of frustration symbolic of his recent struggles, which continued during the 2004 Knoxville Open.

“Golf is just frustrating, you play well and you shoot bad scores, that’s what’s frustrating,” said Willis, a PGA Tour pro who revisited the course and the town where, as a senior at Farragut High School in 1991, he won the individual TSSAA state golf title while leading the Admirals to the team crown.

“You hit the ball well and aren’t able to make putts, that’s kind of been what’s frustrating.”

A college All-American golfer at East Tennessee State University who won the first PGA Tour event he ever entered — the 2001 Tucson Open — Willis has come upon tough times.

Playing on his former high school home course for only the second time ever as a pro (also the 2000 Knoxville Open), Willis finished 2-under-par and tied for 48th-place.

The 1992 FHS graduate said he’s “not even close” to playing his best golf of late. In fact, until making the cut at the Knoxville Open, Willis had missed the cut in his three previous PGA events in addition to missing the cut at the Nationwide Chattanooga Classic in April.

“I had nine birdies the last tournament I was playing in (FedEx St. Jude Classic in late May) and shot seven-over par,” Willis said. “And made nine birdies in the tournament before that and shot three-under-par.

“I can’t put a finger on it, and say this is one sole instance that makes it happen. It’s just a combination of a lot of different things. I’m just making a lot of bogeys.”


“Just to maintain my sanity, and the love for the game,” Willis said about his immediate golf goal. “That’s the only thing that I can try to gain out of golf right now because it’s at the point where it’s so frustrating that if I can just remain positive and try to enjoy the game, then that’ll be huge for me.”

Living in Fox Den and playing regularly at FDCC while at FHS, “I feel I’ve got just as much, if not more, of an advantage on this golf course than anybody in the field,” Willis said. “I’ve played here enough to feel like I know it better than anybody else in the field.”

Eligible for this Nationwide Tour (or PGA “minor league”) event because he wasn’t among the top money winners for the Memorial invitational PGA Tour event last week, Willis got his chance to “come home.”

“Being on the tour the past three years I haven’t had an opportunity to play at Fox Den,” he said. “I really look forward to coming here because this gives me one of the best opportunities to win a golf tourney. But you still have to play well and make putts.”


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