It was a question that Philip Reale had waited years, possibly even decades to answer.
“So, Phil, how does it feel to finally win the West Virginia Amateur?”
And yet, still misty-eyed from the accomplishment, Reale’s mind — and eyes — wandered. Away from the trophy. Away from the 18th green. Away from me.
They landed on a 3-year-old toddler standing a few feet away, looking up at her dad in anticipation of being picked up as her hair fluttered in the wind. The moment for which Reale had worked so hard and for so long to achieve arrived with a new sense of perspective and purpose.
In that moment, what Reale had done on the course faded. He had won the 102nd edition of the event at The Greenbrier Resort by nine strokes, matching the tournament’s largest margin of victory since 2011. He finished 10 under par, the lowest score relative to par since 2003.
He was happy. He was proud. He was relieved. But he is a father and a husband and a man who will soon welcome his second child into the world.
No matter what he had done in the hours preceding that moment, it all became secondary, even after achieving his ultimate goal in golf.
That is what’s different about the 37-year-old now than in the years prior. And so, the answer he’d waited so long to give became muddled in the moment.
“My daughter is here, she’s three-and-a-half so hopefully she’ll remember this — just having my whole family here is important,” Reale said. “She got to be out there for a few holes today. I don’t even remember the question, to be honest.”
So many things make the West Virginia Amateur one of the most special events on the sports calendar in West Virginia. West Virginia Golf Association Executive Director Brad Ullman and I sat down over a beer on Tuesday night and gushed over the history — more than a century’s worth — and the role the legendary Old White course has played during that time.
Events predating World War I were played on the exact course where Reale’s triumph occurred on Wednesday. The house that Slammin’ Sammy Snead built. The home of the 1979 Ryder Cup.
It’s so much to romanticize about, and it’s catnip to a sports dork like myself.
For me, perhaps the best thing about the event that I’ve grown to adore — so much so that it looms as my coverage highlight each calendar year — can be pinpointed somewhere in Reale’s loss for words when responding to my question. Some of these guys went back to normal jobs on Thursday. Others prepared to go back to college. Some even went back to their high school teams.
But all went back to their families, and several never left them at all. Over the course of four days, it truly was a family event. Fathers caddied for sons. Mothers caddied for sons. Sisters caddied for brothers. For four days, people trudged the cart paths clutching portable chairs, and it didn’t even matter if their son, grandson, niece, nephew, boyfriend, husband or cousin was in contention. Not in the least.
It’s a long jaunt to make around the Old White and Meadows courses. Fortunately, this week in White Sulphur Springs was the best weather I’ve seen over the course of four days. It was atypical for sure, but weather never stops them either. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know or even given a cart ride to some of them when I’m following along with the same group.
And that just accounts for blood relatives. But family within the West Virginia golf community goes way deeper than that.
At the West Virginia Amateur — and the West Virginia Open — stories are passed and float on the breeze day in and day out. Stories of past rounds. Of the day’s rounds. Of shots hit and shots missed, putts holed and those left begging. Of players who came before and are no longer with us to players that are on the way. You can hear them everywhere, in the casual conversations of every group.
If you live in this state, you know how the webs of our lives interconnect. Chances are, if I meet a player from Bridgeport, I can tell them the name of a friend I have there and they know them too. Strangers rarely exist in these events, especially for those who make the yearly pilgrimage to The Greenbrier’s hallowed grounds.
And they come from all corners, from all age groups and from all walks of life to challenge the state’s mecca of golf and each other. There is no massive cash purse on the line, just amateur supremacy.
But even that takes a back seat to the relationships that are rekindled on a yearly basis there. You could hear it from the players who gave their thoughts on Steve Fox, who played his 54th and final State Amateur this week. He wasn’t spoken of as a competitor, but as a friend and senior statesmen of an event that is woven into the fabric of our history, both in sport and as a state.
And backing them all, whether cleaning clubs and reading putts or hoofing it down the long and twisting concrete pathways in support or following along via live scoring and awaiting anxiously by the phone for a post-round call, is family.
So, while Reale’s answer strayed from the direction I thought it might go, it highlighted a point that I have grown to understand and appreciate with each year covering the event.
Even at the state’s premier tournament, golf is still secondary.
And that’s what makes our state amateur second to none in my book.