WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — There has been a considerable youth movement in West Virginia golf for several years. In the final round at the West Virginia Amateur, that trend really hit home.
At roughly 10 a.m. Friday, the following threesome teed off as tournament leaders: Twenty-two-year-old Brian Anania, 22-year-old Evan Muscari and 19-year-old Woody Woodward.
As the rest of the field fell off the threesome’s pace, it was clear the winner would be the youngest in years. After the tournament, that was traced back to 13-time champion Pat Carter’s first title in 1989, when he was 21.
That could get clipped as quickly as next year. Woodward, who took a brief lead Friday, feels confident after second- and third-place finishes in his two State Ams. Thadd Obecny II was the low junior, and he tied for sixth.
The elder statesmen who remain competitive have noticed. It’s about the longer hitters and better putters, but the youth movement goes deeper than that.
“Junior golf, the Callaway Junior Tour, the Tri-State Tour, you’ve got a lot more kids playing,” said Steve Fox, now into his 60s. “And when I was growing up, we had no tournaments to play. You played your club tournament and some inter-club matches, and that was it.
“You’ve got a 19- or 20-year-old now with four or five years of tournament experience. The nerves, the anticipation, the anxiety of playing in the State Am isn’t that big a thing. … It’s a young man’s game, and they’ve got a lot of preparation.”
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As much fun as both had, Geno Anania won’t serve as his son’s caddy at the Greenbrier Classic. The first reason was obvious if you saw the father tooling around the Old White course in a cart.
“First of all, I’m too old and they don’t let me use a cart,” Geno Anania said. “Second, we’ll have somebody out there who knows the golf course and knows golf better than Dad. I know his swing pretty well, but if he starts going bad, there’s not a lot I can help him with. He’s a tremendous golfer and I’m a hacker.”
The father thought his son’s even-keel composure was remarkable, considering the stakes. He has seen his son, who has won both the Junior Amateur and Junior Match Play tournaments, fluctuate emotionally.
The son had to overcome that over the last few holes Friday, as he was leaving putts short.
“You could tell on the last couple of putts he was feeling the pressure,” Geno said. “That last putt on 17, the second putt he made wasn’t an easy one. He left himself a 7-footer, 8-footer, and he put it right in the middle of the hole.”
Brian gave his dad a great Father’s Day present, but he felt rewarded, as well.
“It was awesome to have him here for the moment, all week. He was right there, trying to keep me calm,” he said.
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As Marshall play-by-play broadcaster Steve Cotton quickly noted Friday, 22 of the last 28 State Ams have been won by Marshall golfers, whether current or alumni.
Of course, Pat Carter accounted for 13 of those. But Christian Brand, Sam O’Dell, Harold Payne, Steve Fox and Eric Shaffer have won since Carter’s first title in 1989.
And now, Anania joins that fraternity. Wearing his Marshall had and two-tone green shirt, he received hearty congratulations from the Thundering Herd contingent.
“It’s a family, I’ve been so close with all the guys throughout my four years,” said Anania, also a Hurricane High grad. “Starting with the seniors when I was a freshman, Christian [Brand] and then all the guys through and all the younger guys now, I try to help them out, mentor them as a senior.
“We have a great crew there. We still talk to them every day; we always have a group [social media] message going.”
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Muscari’s path to The Greenbrier this week was most unusual. He would have had to go through the qualifying process at one of the six designated sites in late May and early June.
But success elsewhere got in his way. On May 14, the Pineville native won medalist honors at the local U.S. Open qualifier at Edgewood Country Club, shooting a 5-under 67 on a course set up as difficult as possible.
That sent him to the 36-hole sectional qualifier on June 2, termed “The Longest Day in Golf.” His trip to Springfield, Ohio, conflicted with his date of qualifier.
He wrote a letter to the WVGA’s championship committee. That panel rarely grants special exemptions, but thought that request was worthy. Also, there was a similar case in the West Virginia Open six years ago, said Brad Ullman, WVGA executive director.
Muscari has no such problems for next year, as his second-place finish gives him an exemption.
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The top 15 and ties are exempt for next year’s Amateur. Joining Muscari will be Woodward, Tad Tomblin, Trent Roush, Obecny, Jess Ferrell, Davey Jude, Joey Seabright, Alasdair Forsythe, Chris Williams, Harry Howell, Nick Dent, Josh Holmes, Jeremy Rogers and Will Evans.
O’Dell, Carter and Harold Payne also finished in the top 15, but were already exempt — O’Dell and Carter as champions in the last five years and Harold Payne on a lifetime exemption. Anania is now exempt through 2019.
Payne was the low senior amateur at 293.
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The 40 remaining golfers averaged 75.15 strokes Friday on Old White, down from the 77.848 the full field shot Wednesday in the second round.
The par-4 13th hole was the nastiest as usual, playing to a 4.825 average. Twenty-four players went bogey or worse, with Woodward scoring one of five double bogeys in a critical setback.
Jude had the day’s best round, a 67.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.