WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — With a crowded leaderboard stocked with several players plenty capable of going low, the table was set on Wednesday at The Greenbrier Resort’s historic Old White TPC course for another nervy, dramatic finish at the 102nd West Virginia Amateur.
But the third-round leader by one stroke had other ideas, blitzing the field with his second-straight round of 5-under-par 65 and turning the back nine into little more than a leisurely stroll down the fairways of West Virginia’s mecca of golf.
Considering the conditions and the stakes, it was an unbelievable round of golf.
In fact, it was unReale.
Hurricane’s Philip Reale ripped the monkey off his back and buried it under a barrage of key putts and pinpoint approaches as he left the field in his wake, running his score all the way to 10 under par in clearing runner-up Hutson Chandler by nine strokes for his first State Amateur title.
It marked the biggest margin of victory since Christian Brand won by nine in 2011, and it was the lowest score relative to par since 13-time champion Pat Carter set the event’s scoring record in 2003, finishing at 14 under.
Could Reale have ever foreseen his crunch-time barrage?
“No. Honestly I was nervous as hell starting the day,” Reale said. “My first tee shot, I damn near topped it. First couple of holes nerves were a factor but I made a birdie on [the par-3 third] that kind of calmed me down and I started swinging pretty well after that.
“I honestly didn’t know I shot 65 until I signed the scorecard. It was awesome.”
That birdie was sandwiched between two bogeys, but those hiccups at Nos. 2 and 4 would be the only miscues of the day as Reale gathered steam with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 6 and 7 and collected four more on the back nine at 10, 12, 15 and on a tournament-sealing 20-foot putt in front of a large gallery at 18.
His 65 was the best round of the day by four shots and only Carter and Chandler, who played in the penultimate group, joined Reale with under-par rounds. Both Chandler and Carter shot 1-under 69.
Reale’s putter was the key throughout the tournament, especially in the final two rounds. He rolled in a 40-footer on 15, and anything 10 feet and in was little more than a gimme.
“I hit the shots I needed to coming down the stretch and making putts — just unbelievable,” Reale said. “I made the putt on 15 and I told my father-in-law who was caddying for me, he said, ‘Here, let me take that,’ and I said, ‘Well, don’t burn yourself.’”
Paired with the fact that Reale was firing on all cylinders, everyone around him seemed to be stuck in neutral or worse.
Former Winfield and West Virginia golfer Chris Williams started the day one shot back, with former George Washington standout and Marshall player Joseph Kalaskey in tow as the third member of the final group at 2 under, three strokes back. Defending champion Alex Easthom, playing with Hutson in the penultimate group, also entered the day at 2 under, three shots behind Reale, with Marshall golfer Noah Mullens (1 under) and Chandler (even) all in the hunt.
But all of them ran into trouble. Unlike Tuesday’s third round, when Williams was 5 over through four holes before playing his last 12 in 8 under to rally for a round of 67, he couldn’t shake off a tough start on Wednesday. His opening tee shot caught a tree on the left and forced a punch shot into the fairway, eventually leading to bogey. From there, bogeys and Nos. 3, 4 and 9 and a double-bogey at the par-5 17th were far too much to overcome. His only birdie came at the par-4 12th, but by then it was much too late to try and keep pace with Reale.
Like Reale, Williams has had plenty of close calls in both the West Virginia Amateur and West Virginia Open, where he was also in the final group this year. But while Reale’s long drought finally came to an end on Wednesday, Williams, now 26 years old, will have to wait a little longer.
“My start didn’t feel as bad as it was, I had some opportunities, just kind of missed some short par putts,” Williams said. “I wasn’t hitting it that bad, I just couldn’t get anything going and had a bad finish on 17, but I was out of it at that point.
“But I think you always take something away from being in the final group. Just like the Open, I didn’t play that good the last day there but you learn some stuff and just keep putting yourself in that last group.”
Late on the front nine, Kalaskey loomed as the true threat to Reale as he grinded out eight straight pars before birdieing No. 9 to move to 3 under, just three back at the time. But it came apart on the back with consecutive bogeys at 12, 13, 14 and 15 as he faded a bit, finishing the tournament at even par, good enough for sole possession of third place.
Unlike Williams and Reale, Wednesday’s experience was a bit new for Kalaskey as the 20-year-old was in the final pairing for the first time.
“I just missed a couple of putts you need to make,” Kalaskey said. “Third isn’t too bad, I can’t be too mad about it. I figure you can only get a little bit better, so keep going up.”
Mullens finished the event at 1 over, as did Easthom and Williams, as the three finished tied for fourth. Beckley’s Isaiah Zaccheo carded an even-par 70 on Wednesday to finish at 3 over, good enough for seventh. Rounding out the top 10 were Huntington’s Cam Roam, Hurricane’s Jonathan Clark, Weirton’s Howie Peterson, Falling Waters’ Ryan Crabtree and Charles Town’s Christian Boyd, who all finished at 6 over in a tie for eighth.