After 19 years of seeking his first West Virginia Amateur championship, Hurricane’s Sam O’Dell will now have to face the pressure of coming in as the defending champion.
O’Dell and 99 other golfers will take the course at the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier Resort today for round one of the 95th State Amateur.
Rounds one and four will be played on the Old White TPC with rounds two and three being held on the Meadows Course.
O’Dell will tee off at 11:09 a.m. along with two-time amateur champion Steve Fox of Huntington and Will Evans, a Marshall golfer and son of Berry Hills Country Club pro Barry Evans.
“Personally, it was an overwhelming response I received from people,” O’Dell said of his win last year. “It made it really special. I never truly realized how many people in the background were watching and rooting for you.
“Going into this [year’s tournament], it seems like [the win] just happened. But I’m starting to get excited again just knowing I can do it. It has always been a dream, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I thought my game was in a place where I could realistically win.”
The defending champ will have a tough field to deal with including 13-time champion Pat Carter of Huntington who will step onto the tee at 12:12 p.m. accompanied by a pair of young talents in Wake Forest player Woody Woodward and Concord golfer Evan Muscari.
As far as repeating as a winner, O’Dell would become the first to pull off the feat since Tim Fisher won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
Before that, Carter was the last, winning 10 in a row between 1995-2004.
O’Dell certainly has the game and the ability to survive four grueling days on two of the toughest courses in the state and he said he is working on rounding his game back into form.
“I’m playing pretty well,” O’Dell said. “I’ve been scoring OK, but my ball striking has been average. It’s a different feel when you get on the grounds [at The Greenbrier]. Of course, hitting off perfect turf never hurts either.”
Woodward finished in a tie for second at last year’s Amateur along with Marshall and former Hurricane player Brian Anania.
Those two, as well as Evans and Muscari, are part of a large group of good, young players that could be poised to make some noise this week.
“Anania playing on the collegiate level as well as some of these other young players, I think they’re prepared,” West Virginia Golf Association executive director Brad Ullman said. “They’re young and they have that look in their eyes — they’re ready to compete.”
Both Ullman and O’Dell believe the Meadows Course could loom as a large factor.
Last year, the Meadows was not part of the Amateur rotation as the four rounds were split between the Old White TPC and the Greenbrier Course.
Ullman and O’Dell agreed that the Meadows should present an even tougher challenge to the field than the Greenbrier Course did last year.
“There’s some really tight tee shots on the Meadows Course,” O’Dell said. “It’s much harder to shoot under par on the Meadows than it is the Greenbrier because you have some par 5s on the Greenbrier that you can go after.”
While O’Dell built up a big early lead and was able to coast to the championship last year, leading all four rounds along the way, mental toughness will play as much of a factor as anything over the next four days.
Several players in the field have already shown they are equipped to handle that grind. Whether or not a youngster is ready for that challenge will be proven this week.
“You’ve got to be consistent over all four days,” Ullman said. “If you have a bad hole it’s OK, you’ve got to keep on trucking. There’s a lot of golf to be played. A lot of golfers fail right out of the gate because they’re not mentally prepared to play.
“You walk out onto No. 1 on the Old White and you see the stands going up and people preparing the course for the PGA Tour, the world’s best, and you’ve got to mentally handle that. Pat can do that. Sam has proven that he can get that done now.”
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt