CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It might not make the waves of, say, Phil Mickelson signing up for the Greenbrier Classic, but there is news linking golf and southern West Virginia.Big news, in fact, if you're Hurricane resident and Sleepy Hollow general manager Jonathan Clark.See, he's qualified for the PGA Professional National Championship, where the cream of the country's golf club pros gather."It's exciting," Clark said. "Sad to say it's my first one, but I'm glad to be competing."
If the tournament rings a bell, it should. Sam Snead was one of only two players - Bob Rosburg was the other - to have won it and a PGA major event. Also, the Kanawha Valley's own Barry Evans, the pro at Berry Hills, took the PNC in 2002 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.The victory has had a major impact on Evans' life. He won a $47,000 check that day at Valhalla, qualified to play in the PGA Championship and went on to play in other PGA events like the Greenbrier Classic.Clark, meanwhile, has been one of the state's best players since graduating from Marshall as an All-America selection in 1996 (same year as Tiger Woods). He won the 2001 West Virginia Open and won it again last year at Edgewood County Club.
Now, finally, he's set to knock heads with the nation's best club professionals. He played in the Tri-State sectional tournament at Montour Heights [Pa.] Country Club last year and finished in a tie for eighth. The PNC allowed six qualifiers from the section. A couple - including Hurricane's Scotty Davis - decided to forego the event and instead play in the Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. Invitational, won by Harper's Ferry's David Bradshaw last year.Back door or not, Clark is in. He decided to join Evans, who is exempt until he's 60, and hit the PNC and Sunriver Resort, which is 15 miles from Bend, Ore."It was my seventh year as a Class A pro," Clark said. "It just seemed like [the opportunity] slipped away every time. I never made it there. Finally, I have."It's a great event. I cannot wait to get there and compete."
Evans and Clark played earlier this week in the Tri-State Open in New Castle, Pa., and competed quite nicely. Evans, 51, was the low professional, while Clark finished eighth among professionals and 13th overall."It made me feel good," Clark said. "I was on the 17th tee as the low pro, 1 over par for the tournament. I struggled on [Nos.] 17 and 18 [with a bogey and double bogey], but it was nice to be back, to have that feeling of 'I'm here.'"Hey, I played good for two days. I'm pretty confident.""Jonathan is so streaky," Evans said. "If he gets going, he can play in anything against anybody."
"I told the guys," Clark said, "I've been a general manager and not really a golf pro for a few years. But I'm playing better, I've got new clubs and I'm rejuvenated. I'm starting to feel better swinging the clubs. I'm coming around."Clark, though, won't be around to defend his title in the West Virginia Open, which will be held in Vienna in two weeks."I'm the defending champion," Clark said. "And I hate to say this, but it only took me about 10 minutes to decide between the two. This [PNC] is that big of an event."It's an extra bonus that Evans, a buddy of Clark, will be hitting Sunriver as well."It's nice," Clark said. "Barry has been around and won it. Being able to pick his brain, ask him what's going on and what to expect is nice."Evans called Sunriver "one of the prettiest places I've ever been to in the country."
We'll see if Clark can take in the scenery, and if he can make his wait worthwhile.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.