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The turnout of some 80 golfers might have been viewed as somewhat disappointing, but the excitement level ranked with the most dramatic finishes in the 40-year history of the H.W. Weatherford Memorial/Wilson County Amateur Golf Championship last weekend.
The tournament wrapped up Sunday at Wedgewood Public Golf Course with the championship flight of the Men’s Open division.
The final group reached the No. 18 green with three members of the foursome deadlocked for the lead.
However, Stephen Abrams, at age 19, emerged the youngest champion in the tournament’s history by tapping in a two-foot birdie putt. Abrams sank his putt after Brock Godwin and Chance Cox, tied with Abrams, each missed on his birdie attempt.
The previous youngest winner was Jay Pittman, now a golf professional. Pittman was age 21 when he won the Men’s Open championship in 1985.
“The weekend proved you don’t need to have a lot of golfers to have a great tournament,” reasoned Wedgewood head professional Brady Pinner, who was involved with the county championship for the fourth year. “It was great; it couldn’t have been more exciting. The golf course was as good as it can be. (Golf course superintendent) Daniel (Lancaster) and his staff have done a tremendous job.”
However, boosting the turnout to at least 100 golfers is a top priority for Pinner and his staff — although he points out: “You can’t make guys play.”
Pinner mentioned that, in two of his four years, the tournament has conflicted with college football games involving either North Carolina vs. East Carolina or N.C. State vs. East Carolina.
He added the 2018 field was missing may golfers who normally play about every year. And more women golfers are certainly needed.
In the future, Pinner is hopeful county golfers will be attracted to a situation initiated this year. The percentage of golfers winning prizes in merchandise increased significantly.
The possibility was implemented with the decision to create two flights in the Men’s Open, Men’s Seniors, Men’s Super Seniors, Men’s Legends, Women’s Open and Women’s Senior divisions.
Therefore, if a player shot 65 in a particular division, another golfer who came in with an 88 would have, at least, some semblance of a chance as the result of being placed in a second flight.
Nonetheless, the county championship’s future appears secure.
“I love it,” Pinner assured. “It’s our biggest tournament; it’s our Super Bowl.”
UPBEAT IN DEFEAT
The 43-year-old Cox and the 35-year-old Godwin were entitled to be emotionally crushed after losing by a mere shot and tying for second place in the Men’s Open division.
But the reaction for each was genuinely upbeat.
Godwin was satisfied to play 5-under-par for two rounds and, on the final day, fired a 2-under 70 in the presence of his wife and two children, His wife was a spectator for the second time and the children watched their dad in a tournament for the first time. They were quite well-behaved as lap passengers in a carts occupied by Scott Irby and Ashley Narron.
“I was happy with my game,” Cox assessed. “Five-under will win it most of the time.
“Actually, I was kind of surprised it happened. It’s a surreal feeling to be playing like that. The big difference was that I had only two bogeys for the weekend. I played very smoothly and steady.”
Cox also carded four birdies Saturday and three on Sunday. He owned the lead much of the final round.
“I putted very well,” he said. “The lack of bogeys helped a lot. I am just as proud of that.
“I’m glad (Abrams) played like he did to beat me. He birdied the last three holes. You tip your hat to him; that’s all I can do.”
Cox could have forced a playoff by draining a birdie attempt of some 6-8 feet.
“I knew I missed it when I hit it,” he revealed. “It just did not leave the putter solid. It’s definitely one I should have made, but maybe the pressure got to me a little bit. Still, I loved being in that kind of moment.”
In a foursome of Cox, Abrams, Godwin and Matt Figg, Cox dealt with being the shortest in distance off the tee.
“I have done it all my life,” he said. “And I am a lot longer now than I was 5-10 years ago. I just try to stay inside the golf ball, make a good swing and play my game.”
THEY SAID IT
After blistering the Wedgewood layout with a 7-under-par 65 the first round, Charles Matthews struggled to a 79 on Sunday and wound up losing to familiar rival Irby by three shots. Irby shot 72-69—141.
The 62-year-old Matthews retained his sense of humor.
“I was glad to find out that he’s 69,” Matthews commented. “I don’t like getting beat by a 70-year-old --- at least not for another year.”
After a brief birdie spree, Irby preserved his lead by salvaging par from the fringe of the green on No. 18.
“I got absolutely what I wanted there,” he emphasized.
Complaints were sparse Saturday and Sunday, but Legends champion Doug Barnes would offer a suggestion if asked.
“No. 9 needs to be adjusted,” he contended. “That’s the only complaint I have.”
No. 9 is a difficult par-5 layout, and the adjustment Barnes is suggesting is moving up the Legends or silver tees. Then, golfers ages 70 and up would have a chance to reach the corner of the slight dogleg right in two shots.
Rick Proctor was involved in the Seniors shootout with Irby and Matthews.
While Matthews stayed under par after his opening 65 and Irby improved his overall score to below par in the final round, Proctor stayed in contention with steady play.
He finished fourth at 72-73—145.
“I’m just 1-over-par,” he observed, “and I feel like I’m getting killed.”
In Super Seniors, John Wooten birdied the last two holes and wound up losing by two shots to Ricky Joyner.
He fumed over double bogeys on the par-5 layouts at Nos. 3 and 9. He understandably felt the par-5s cost him the championship.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” he reasoned.
Danny Barnes played well in Super Seniors with a third-place showing of 75-75—150.
“I still enjoy trying,” he said.
Priscilla Brewer played the best golf of her career in seizing the Women’s Seniors title.
She fired a career-low, nine-hole score of 39 on Saturday and topped that feat with a 37 on the back nine Sunday. The 82-79—161 represented her career low 36-hole total.
She credited golf lessons for her drastic improvement. However, Brewer indicated some frustration is attached.
She explained Wilson Country Club head professional Josh Price is teaching her a new putting stroke and declared: “It has me all messed up.”
LEE AND HIS IRONS
The demanding task of defending the Men’s Open championship did not go well for David Lee. Lee landed in Championship Flight B and finished fourth at 75-76—151.
“I hit my irons terrible,” he reviewed. “I was fine off the tee and I putted good. But in between, I didn’t have it; I struggled the whole time. I never got rolling.”
Lee congratulated Stephen Abrams, the new champion.
He noted the situation of Abrams, Cox and Godwin being tied when they stepped onto the No. 18 green and each having a birdie putt. Lee was also aware that Abrams birdied four of the last five layouts.
“That’s why golf is great,” he remarked.