ST. PETERSBURG — The wind blew hard and cold, and the greens were lightning fast, but none of it seemed to bother 19-year-old Remi Chartier the past four days at St. Petersburg Country Club.
Chartier, in fact, thrived in the rough conditions, shooting 6-under 282 to take the overall title by three shots at the 95th annual New Year’s Day Invitational, an event spiced with some of the best amateur talent in the country.
“I’d like to think my short game is pretty good, and I’m a pretty good putter,” said Chartier, a redshirt freshman at East Tennessee State, who had rounds of 67-75-69-71. “I would say I’m a grinder. I find a way.”
Sunday’s victory, in a way, is a metaphor for Chartier’s past 18 months, which largely were spent battling with a stress fracture in his back that completely sidelined him for months at a time. The first severe pain came in June 2019, when the Naples resident was “stretching cold, not warmed up” before he headed out for practice. From there, his back steadily got worse until he couldn’t even take a single swing.
Undaunted, Chartier kept at it (off the golf course) improving his core strength, lifting weights and so on. Slowly, steadily, he got to where he could actually play.
On Sunday, after sinking a par putt to finish his 1-under round, Chartier couldn’t have felt much better — from head, to back, to toe.
“This is definitely a great day,” said Chartier, whose victory marked the first time in 28 years that the tournament’s winner held the lead from start to finish. “I would say this is my biggest victory to date. There is so much talent here, and the course was challenging. And, of course, it’s (satisfying) after what’s happened (with the back injury).”
Only once during the final round did Chartier’s lead appear in danger. It came on the 440-yard par-4 15th hole, which Chartier bogeyed and his closest challenger, Tampa’s Matthew Ruel, birdied. That turn of events cut Chartier’s lead to two strokes with three holes to play.
“But (Chartier) did not get rattled at all,” said Ruel, a Jesuit High alumnus now playing as a fifth-year senior at Gonzaga. “He played the 16th (498-yard par 5) extremely well, and I didn’t play it perfectly (Chartier birdied, Ruel parred).”
Ruel finished second at 3-under 285, making him and Chartier the only players in the 96-man field to finish under par. The defending champion, University of North Florida freshman and former Mitchell High standout Nick Gabrelcik, finished third at 288, shooting par 72 each round.
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Toby Ragland won the mid-amateur division with a 72-74-74-72—292 total, followed by Troy Vannuci and St. Petersburg’s Mike Finster, who finished four and six shots back, respectively.
Mike Barkley took the senior division with three-round total of 73-74-78—225, one shot ahead of Brigham Gibbs.