By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Ricky Riley has had his share of ups and downs in the annual Butch Lambert Memorial Invitational.
Last year was an “up” for the 49-year-old Fulton golfer in the 36-hole medal play tournament at the Natchez Trace Golf Club. He defeated Pontotoc’s Scotty Patterson on the first playoff hole for his first Butch Lambert win after second-place finishes in 2009 and ’11.
“It was one of my prouder moments in golf,” Riley said. “I’d been so close so many times and to finally win was great.”
Riley tapped in a short putt for birdie to beat Patterson after coming up short on an 8-foot eagle attempt. He reached the green with a 214-yard shot – that just missed rolling in for a double eagle – with a 5-iron.
Riley returns to the scene of his triumph this weekend for the 29th annual two-day tournament which begins Saturday. However, he’s somewhat concerned about the state of his golf game.
“I guess I’ve got to defend my title,” he said, then laughed. “I haven’t had a good summer, but my game’s showing signs of improvement.
“Golf’s a humbling game.”
The par 72, 6,600-yard Natchez Trace course with its narrow fairways can force a golfer to use every club in their bag.
“You’ve got to be able to get up and down, Riley said. “You’re going to miss some greens and you’ve got to make par.
“I’m putting well right now. If I can strike the ball, I’ve got a chance. I understand the fairways are smaller and the rough has grown up. If somebody shoots a low number, they’ve had a good round.”
Natchez Trace pro Lan Gooch, a four-time Lambert champion, believes the course will be more of a challenge. Along with the narrow fairways, Fescue grass has been seeded on the perimeter outside the rough.
“You can get into trouble,” Gooch said. “The rough is difficult, you have hills and doglegs, and you deal with the contour of the greens. It’s hard to get around without making mistakes.”