In the wake of erasing a six-shot deficit, tying a Meadows course record, earning an exemption into A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier and surviving a three-man playoff on Friday, 19-year-old Mason Williams said he needed some time before putting his victory in the 100th West Virginia Amateur into perspective.
Perhaps all of us in attendance did.
I know for the better part of a two-hour drive home from White Sulphur Springs, the events of four days on the state’s holiest of golfing grounds at The Greenbrier certainly flashed through my mind. Though four men tied for the lead on the 16th hole in the final round of the 100th edition of a 72-hole tournament to decide state supremacy is certainly dramatic, I couldn’t quite nail down just why it felt so special. So … big.
Truth be told, West Virginia Golf Association events don’t move the statewide sports needle all that much. If you’re a follower of mine on Twitter and you’re there for prep sports updates, you probably waded through 92 tweets worth of constant updating on Friday with relative disregard.
But it’s in that same vein — that love for prep sports, true amateurism and local heroes — that makes these events what they are.
In the buildup to the past week’s tournament, I did several stories and talked to several of the men who have been key players in the event over the decades. One of them was Pat Carter, a 13-time State Amateur champion and, by all accounts, a man who could have possibly had a successful career as a touring professional.
I asked him, point blank, how close he came to giving it a go, and he told me it was never even a consideration.
“I just wanted to be a lifelong [amateur],” he said.
Honestly, it baffled me. To think you could be good enough to chase the fame, the money and the world travel and leave all that on the table just to grind at a normal job with golf as merely an escape instead of a way of life.
On Friday, I began to see why. As the final two groups came down the stretch, one by one, people began to circle the greens. By the time we hit the 18th, an all-out gallery was watching. Word of what Williams was doing in the penultimate group raced backwards down the fairway to the main group where Woodward, Reale and Cam Roam were awaiting word. Woodward told me to keep him informed. Afterward, Reale and Roam both said they were following live scoring online at every opportunity.
As Williams, Reale and Woodward went back to the 16th tee box to begin a three-hole playoff, everyone jumped in golf carts, forming a miniature buzzing traffic jam in hot pursuit.
And in that crowd were the players. And girlfriends/wives of players. And kids of players. And parents of players. All of which had finished their rounds long ago but, knowing the situation atop the leaderboard, weren’t about to leave just yet.
WVGA Executive Director Brad Ullman gave me an interesting statistic on Friday: 40 out of the 53 players to make the cut are alumni of the Callaway Junior Tour. So, from a young age a community is being formed — part friends, part competitors, all family. It’s one of the most important things the WVGA does in this state for so many reasons.
Nobody in the field, not even Williams, left The Greenbrier with an oversized check or a Titleist sponsorship, and none hopped a plane bound for the next Tour stop where another opportunity at a trophy awaited. In fact, every player there paid a $200 entry fee just to be there.
Come Monday, they’ll go back to work. Maybe one of them will sell you insurance or rent you a car. Or maybe one of them owns the company that’s painting lines in your office parking lot.
But to them, for four days out of the year, that vision they dared to dream as young boys, when they all started meeting and forming relationships, is alive. One of lifting trophies, making history and proving to be the best over four long, grueling days.
On the PGA Tour, the next chance is less than a week away. For those in the West Virginia Amateur field, the happenings of last week will last a year.
So maybe to the average sports fan with no ties to area golf, the West Virginia Amateur came and went with a bunch of tweeting, news articles and short TV segments on the local news.
But on that car ride through the hills, even as the urge to speak in hyperbole and become a prisoner of the moment faded, I still knew I’d seen something special. Something I’ll never forget.
And if you weren’t there, I hope you’ve taken my words for it.