Fairmont's Jess Ferrell is the only West Virginian in the field at the Greenbrier Classic.
The excitement is starting to build for Jess Ferrell, the 19-year-old from Fairmont who right now is the only West Virginia golfer in next week's PGA Greenbrier Classic.Pretty soon, he'll be rubbing elbows with some of the world's top players."Yeah, it's starting to sink in,'' Ferrell said Thursday. "It will really sink in Monday when I'm on the [driving] range with them, and on the golf course with them.''Ferrell, a rising junior at Fairmont State, earned an exemption into this year's Greenbrier field by finishing in a tie for second at last year's State Amateur and beating Hurricane's Sam O'Dell in a playoff.Christian Brand, last year's Amateur champion, played in the 2011 Greenbrier Classic, but with the PGA tournament moving up to the Fourth of July week this year (and being played before the 2012 State Amateur), last year's runner-up gets this year's Greenbrier exemption.And unless someone with West Virginia ties earns a spot in Monday's qualifier -- someone like Bakerton's David Bradshaw, Freeman's John Ross or Edgewood Country Club pro Craig Berner -- then Ferrell should gain additional followers as the state's lone representative in perhaps its biggest sporting event."I'm expecting a lot of people to come watch me,'' Ferrell said. "A lot of people in Fairmont said they'll come. My dad [Willard] is going to caddy for me, my mom and sister will be there all week and friends of the family are coming to watch Thursday and Friday."So I've got a little following - not anything like the other guys - but maybe about 30 people.''Ferrell is only guaranteed two rounds in the 72-hole tournament, but the first State Amateur winner to play in the event left his successors with a hard act to follow. Jonathan Bartlett, the 2010 Am champ who recently turned pro, made the 36-hole cut on the Old White TPC course two years ago.
"That's my ultimate goal - making the cut,'' Ferrell said. "The only thing I've got to do is play two good rounds. If I hit the ball well enough and hit enough greens to make birdies and stay around par, then everything's going right. I figure the cut will be around par."I'll just try to have as much fun as I can, and what happens happens.''Ferrell has been preparing this week by playing rounds at the Pines Country Club and Lakeview Resort in Morgantown and working with Pines golf pro Russell Reid.He hasn't let himself daydream about whom he might be paired with for Thursday's opening round."Not really,'' he said. "Last year, Christian was paired with some of the lower-level pros. They usually pair us with the Monday qualifiers. I don't think they'll pair me with anybody [famous]. If they do, it'd be a great surprise.''Ferrell is pleased to be part of what is being billed as the strongest field in the three years of The Greenbrier's PGA tournament.
"There's a lot of big guys coming,'' Ferrell said. "That's what they do in a new event, build on them. The first year, it's not real popular. Last year it was a pretty big deal, and this year everything's happening."By the fourth year, everybody will be there. It'll be one of the biggest events of the summer - a good, family atmosphere. Bring the family down and do what you want at the resort. Especially if they keep the Fourth of July weekend, they'll have tons more people coming over.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org