D180709 Spirit of America Golf (copy)

Brooks Rabren has celebrated the past two Spirit of America Classic championships. When play begins Thursday, Rabren will be trying to be the Spirit's first three-time champion since it started in 1967. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

If Brooks Rabren’s visit to Decatur this week goes as well as his last two, the Andalusia native may just want to move to the River City.

Rabren is the two-time defending champion of the Spirit of America Classic. He will be in the field of just over 100 golfers chasing the 52nd Spirit championship when play starts Thursday.

“I love playing in the Spirit,” Rabren said. “The course is perfect for my game. It’s like somebody built a golf course just for me.”

Repeat champions at the Spirit are rare. Huntsville’s Frank Campbell did it in 1971 and ’72. Sam Farlow of Birmingham won it in 1988 and 1989. That was before the tournament became dominated by collegiate players. Carter Mize of Columbus, Georgia, took home the championship trophy in 1991 and again in 1993.

Nobody has won it three times. Rabren has the opportunity to make some big-time Spirit of America history if his name stands atop the leaderboard after next Sunday’s play.

“I would be lying if I said that it’s not something I’ve thought about,” Rabren said. “It’s not a priority. I’m just looking to have a good week of golf.”

Most recent Spirit winners have used the success at Burningtree as a springboard to a professional career. That’s what Rabren planned after playing one more year at South Alabama. Instead, Rabren did not play for USA. He used it as a redshirt year and plans to transfer to Georgia Southwestern State University for the fall semester.

“I haven’t played a lot of competitive golf since last year at the Spirit,” Rabren said. “I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, and playing in the Spirit should help.”

If Rabren plays even close to how he played in the last two Spirits, he’s going to be tough to beat.

In 2017, he opened with a first-round 72. He started his second round with a bogey, double bogey and double bogey to fall to six-over after 21 holes. He rallied over the remaining 15 holes to shoot a one-under 70. He followed that on Saturday with a three-under 68.

Sunday’s final round that year saw him start one shot behind the leader. After nine holes, he was the leader by one shot. Birdies on 15, 16 and 18 gave him the championship by three shots.

Last year he shot rounds of 69, 66, 69 and 68 to beat Vanderbilt’s Cooper Sears by two shots.

“Playing in the Spirit is really a great experience,” Rabren said. “Everybody makes you feel like you’re their friend. They take care of everything. All you have to worry about is just playing golf.”

Rabren will face some stiff competition this week. The field includes Birmingham’s Jack Goldasich, who won the Alabama State Amateur Championship earlier this month at Turtle Point in Killen with a nine-under, 278. Jack's older brother, Sam, finished 10th at two-under. He has also signed up for the Spirit.

“We’ve got some pretty impressive golfers from out of town coming that could make a run for the championship,” said Burningtree Club head golf professional Brandon Holt.

The University of Alabama will be represented by a team for the first time in many years. Representing the Crimson Tide will be Jake Dezoort and Tyler Hitchner.

Alabama Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Whitt of Athens is back. Also in the field is Clark Brown, who played at UAB, turned pro and now has his amateur status back.

The list of local contenders is strong. Matt Gourgeot won the Spirit in 2016. Brothers Sam and Mac Murphy, who will both be playing for Louisiana Tech this fall, are playing well. Sam finished three-under at the State Am. Athens’ Trent Alexander finished five-under at the State Amateur Championship.

 david.elwell@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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