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Former Herald POY Mitchell set for first pro tournament

Former Deerfield star golfer and Herald Player of the Year T.J. Mitchell is set to play in his first professional tournament May 2-5 at the Web.com Tour’s Stadion Classic in Athens. Mitchell, a senior captain at UGA, will be playing as an amateur after earning an automatic exemption by finishing as the Bulldogs’ top golfer this season. (University of Georgia/Special to The Herald)

Former Deerfield star golfer and Herald Player of the Year T.J. Mitchell is set to play in his first professional tournament May 2-5 at the Web.com Tour’s Stadion Classic in Athens. Mitchell, a senior captain at UGA, will be playing as an amateur after earning an automatic exemption by finishing as the Bulldogs’ top golfer this season. (University of Georgia/Special to The Herald)

ATHENS — T.J. Mitchell has made no secret of the fact that when his career at the University of Georgia is over, he’d like to play professional golf.

And he’s about to get an early glimpse of how he’d stack up.

Mitchell, an Albany native and former Herald Player of the Year at Deerfield — along with UGA teammate Keith Mitchell (no relation) — have earned two of the four sponsor’s exemptions to participate in the Web.com Tour’s Stadion Classic at UGA next week at the UGA Golf Course.

The Stadion Classic at UGA will be played May 2-5 at the UGA Golf Course in Athens.

The Web.com Tour is pro golf’s middle-tier professional tour and gives aspiring PGA Tour players a chance to hone their skills and earn a shot at playing with the big boys.

After playing a full regular season and the Southeastern Conference Championship, the Mitchells finished with the lowest scoring averages among all Bulldog golfers. As a result, the Stadion Classic at UGA awards two sponsor’s exemptions every year for current Georgia players.

In 2011, Russell Henley of Macon earned one of the exemptions and ultimately won the Stadion Classic at UGA, becoming — at the time — just the second amateur golfer ever to win a Web.com Tour event.

T.J. said he’s ready to take on the challenge.

“I am thankful for the chance to play in the Stadion Classic,” the senior captain said this week. “Watching (my former teammates) the last few years and then talking to them afterward, I could tell that it meant the world to them to have a chance like that. We all have aspirations to be professional golfers, and this lets us see how we stack up against some of the best players in the world. I can’t wait. I am extremely excited about this opportunity.”

T.J. leads the Bulldogs with a scoring average of 72.07. The Bulldogs’ team captain for the second straight year, Mitchell opened the season with a second-place finish in the Carpet Capital Collegiate Classic. He has four additional Top 10 efforts this season.

Keith Mitchell, a junior from Chattanooga, Tenn., ranks second with a scoring average of 72.29. He tied for medalist honors in the Bulldog Battle at Mountain Lake and has been in the Top 10 in three other tournaments this season.

Previous participants for the Bulldogs were Henley and Harris English in 2010 and 2011 and Brian Carter and Nicholas Reach in 2012. Keith Mitchell edged Reach by nine shots for a berth this season.

Keith echoed T.J.’s excitement about the opportunity.

“The Stadion Classic has created a situation that showcases the Georgia program, and that means a lot to us,” Keith Mitchell said. “There’s a buzz among the guys during the year knowing that these two spots are out there for us if we play well enough. Now that we’re there, I could not be happier to be one of the players who made it. We’ve got a golden opportunity in front of us, and it’s up to us to soak it all in next week.”

UGA coach Chris Haack, who was on hand when Henley won it two years ago, said the Mitchell boys earned their spots.

“T.J. and Keith have worked hard to get to this point, and we’re all very proud of them,” Haack said. “As two of our oldest guys, they’ve been leaders both on and off the golf course. Being put in this environment for a week will be great for them. And it’s not just the rounds of golf. They get to pick the brains of the pros and the caddies to find out what this career is like. I want them appreciate and enjoy every minute of it.”