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A 40th-anniversary observance should be significant.
The H.W. Weatherford/Wilson County Amateur Golf Championship reached its 40th anniversary last month and the men’s Open division quartet of Mark Whitley, Stephen Abrams, David Lee and Coalter Paxton IV certainly deemed the 2019 championship at Wedgewood Public Golf Course much more than significant.
Their feats in the showdown for the championship of the 41st county championship were precedent-setting.
A three-way playoff between Whitley, Abrams and Lee decided the champion after each played the regulation 36 holes at an impressive 10-under-par 134. Three golfers finishing at 10-under had never happened before.
Paxton wound up 8-under, missing the playoff by a mere two shots.
The final foursome for Sunday’s final round consisted of Whitley, Abrams, the 2018 winner; Lee, the 2017 champ; and Paxton. They wound up a combined 38-under for the tournament — a big-time first.
Whitley captured his first championship by defeating Abrams on the second hole of the playoff. Lee was eliminated on the first hole.
The show the foursome put on in playing the par-5 No. 17 layout arguably ranks at the top of the list in the event’s history.
After Lee laid up on his second shot, Abrams crushed a metal shot from some 260 yards away. The ball landed on the green, giving Abrams an eagle putt.
Next to hit, Whitley, with a metal, flew the ball some 250 yards, with it landing on the green. An eagle chance awaited him.
Finally, from some 240 yards, it was Paxton’s turn. His fairway-metal shot also landed on the green. Another eagle opportunity.
When the last putt had been holed, all four birdied the par-5 layout and headed to the No. 18 tee with Whitley, Abrams and Lee deadlocked and Paxton two shots back.
THE SHOT OF 41 YEARS
The approach shots on No. 17 for Whitley, Abrams and Paxton created quite a buzz.
But the No. 1 shot of the tournament’s history still belongs to Jerry Barnes.
“The shot” was fired in 2013 when Barnes was contending for the championship in the Seniors division.
Players began their respective round via a shotgun start and Barnes arrived at his final hole, the par-3, No. 12, trailing Tommy Howell, the front-runner, by four shots. Howell was also a member of the group.
First on the tee, Barnes holed his iron shot for a hole-in-one.
Obviously shaken, Howell would still emerge the Seniors champion with no worse than a bogey. However, Howell struggled in dealing with an errant tee shot. He wound up with a double bogey and in a tie with Barnes.
A playoff was necessary, and Barnes parred the first hole to complete the startling turnaround and his only county championship.
Howell did come back to win the Seniors crown in 2014.
ANOTHER ACE IN 2019
The men’s Seniors division produced another hole-in-one in the 2019 tournament.
During Saturday’s first round, Alfred Sutton carded his ace on the 165-yard, par-3, No. 5 layout. He chose a 6-iron for his “perfect shot.”
Sutton’s playing partners were Jerome Simms, Duncan Simms and George Cooper.
It could be suggested the gem lacked the drama of Barnes’ hole-in-one in 2013. Nonetheless, the ace was definitely dramatic for Sutton. It occurred in the county championship and was the first of his 17-year golfing career.
The 10-under 34 posted by Whitley, Abrams and Lee fell one stroke shy of equaling the tournament record for the lowest 36-hole score.
The standard is an 11-under 133 fired by Justin Hayes in seizing the 2016 championship. Hayes fashioned rounds of 66-67.
The record for the largest margin of victory belongs to Jay Pittman, a long-time club golf professional. Boosted by a torrid opening round, Pittman prevailed by 10 strokes in winning the 1985 title.
Hayes and Butch O’Briant share the mark of winning the most men’s Open division championships with five. Owning four championships are Bill Boles Jr. and Josh Talton.
John Williams, Kent Williams, Joey Gilbert and Stephen Harrison each claimed two county titles.
Hayes ruled in 2005, 2006, 2010, 2013 and 2016. O’Briant led the field in 1981, 1982, 1983, 1991 and 1994. Boles seized championships in 1979, 1980, 1992 and 2002. Talton’s name is on the permanent championship plaque for 2004, 2009, 2012, 2014.
Boles won the first two and O’Briant captured the next three. Only O’Briant has won three successive county titles in the men’s Open ranks.
For Wedgewood Public Golf Course professional and tournament director Brady Pinner, the yearly goal is a turnout of at least 100 players.
The tournament wound up about a dozen short last month and especially obvious was the representation of just two women.
Pinner does not consider a turnout of 80 or 90 disappointing, but is looking for ways to increase participation.
Pinner notes the usual date of the second weekend in September faces numerous conflicts — college football and hurricanes to mention a couple.
Options include moving the tournament from September to possibly May.
Such a decision merits careful consideration. For the 2019 tournament, the par-72 Wedgewood layout was about as good as Wedgewood can get. Participants raved about its condition.
Not staging the county championship in September might be an alternative the golfers will not heartily endorse.