DANIELS — The West Virginia Open has always been a competition among the who’s who of in-state golfers, but when the 81st Open gets fired up July 21-25 at the Cobb Course at The Resort at Glade Springs, it could be the toughest field in recent memory.
Nine past Open winners highlight a field that is stacked with past amateur champions, collegiate players and club and touring professionals.
In fact, every West Virginia Open since 1996 has been won by a player in this year’s field, including David Bradshaw, who’s won seven of the last 10.
Several big names, including two-time champion Jonathan Clark, 2008 champion Barry Evans and current West Virginia amateur champion Brian Anania were on hand Thursday at Glade Springs for media day.
The players on hand played in four-man scrambles with several members of the media, but while the day was a fun one it was still an opportunity for some of the state’s best to become reacquainted with a golf course that will challenge them for four straight days.
“Just getting out here and getting a feel for the golf course,” Clark said. “Getting a feel for where I’m hitting it. I brought out my 1-iron and I haven’t had it in my bag since the last time I was here. It’s very beneficial to carry it around.”
For Clark, it may seem a bit like a return to the scene of a crime.
Clark, the general manager at Sleepy Hollow, won his first West Virginia Open in 2001 with a one-stroke win over Brad Westfall at Berry Hills Country Club.
Clark looked poised to win it again in 2006 at Glade Springs, but lost a lead late in the final round and eventually fell to Bradshaw.
He did pick up his second Open championship, registering a six-shot win at Edgewood Country Club two years ago, but he said a win at Glade would be even more special.
“I’ve got bad feelings on this one, I had some bad at Edgewood [in 2004, when he finished second to Bradshaw],” Clark said. “Whenever he beat me [at Edgewood] that stung a little, he was an amateur and I was a pro and it was his first one. Now, when we came up here, that hurt a lot. In my mind I had the tournament won coming to 16 and got an unlucky break off a tree, went out of bounds, made triple [bogey], lose by one — that hurt and it still stings.”
Clark said he hasn’t been playing as much as he would like as of late, but said by the time July 21 rolls around he will be more than ready.
“I have confidence my game is going to be ready,” Clark said. “The one week of the year that really drives me is this week. I don’t ever want to come to compete in this without having a chance to win. Therefore, I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure I’m ready to go.”
Clark and everyone else in the field will have to be ready to go to overcome a group of players that also includes 13-time State Amateur champion Pat Carter, 2013 Amateur champion Sam O’Dell and touring professional Christian Brand, among others.
“I think it’s the deepest field that we’ve had in recent history,” West Virginia Golf Association executive director Brad Ullman said. “It’s going to be a very good field, no question about it.”
Still Bradshaw has to be the favorite heading into the tournament after finishing in the top two in each of the last eight Opens.
“He does it for a living and that’s a challenge that other players in the field have to deal with, and the same for Christian Brand,” Ullman said. “When you have the opportunity to make this your living and work on it week in and week out, that’s the neat thing. I think that’s probably where David gets a little bit of an up on the rest of the field.
“He’s got to be the favorite, but I think this is going to be his most challenging Open. I think he has more competition than he ever has.”
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.