(White Sulphur Springs, WV) – Vienna’s Alan Cooke managed to achieve something in the final round that he failed to master in the first three of the 97th West Virginia Amateur Presented by Mercedes-Benz – play the par 3s better than even.
As a result, the rising senior at West Virginia University became the fifth first-time winner of the Amateur since 2007 with a steady Thursday on the Old White TPC. He was 4-over par on the par 3s at the Greenbrier course (first and third rounds) and even on the Old White TPC in the second.
“I didn’t know I did that,” said Cooke, a 2012 graduate of Parkersburg High School who earns an exemption into the seventh Greenbrier Classic July 7-0 at the Old White TPC. “I was just going a shot at a time, hoping to stay level headed.”
He birdied No. 18 where there was parked a 2016 Mercedes-Benz that would have been rewarded to Thursday’s first ace – but there wasn’t one. He got up and down from a bunker on No. 15 and was 2-under on par 3s in two rounds on the Old White TPC.
Huntington’s Pat Carter dominated the Amateur from 1995-2006, winning 11 times, including a national-record 10 consecutive (1995-2004).
“Deserving win for Alan,” Carter said. “That’s what you have to do. You have to play well on the tough course and lapped the field, really.”
While Hurricane’s Sam O’Dell claimed the championship in 2013 (his first) and 2015, and Tim Fisher finished on top three times from 2005-09, there has been a range of newcomers topping the leaderboard since Carter seemingly owned the position.
Jonathan Bartlett, a native of Ocala, Fla., who was a real estate salesman at The Sporting Club in 2010, won the Amateur that year when the championship offered the first of six exemptions into the Greenbrier Classic. The former University of Mississippi player turned professional shortly thereafter.
Anthony Reale, a native of Gilmer County who resides in North Carolina while pursuing his law degree, won in 2007. His older brother Philip, looking to join Anthony as the first brothers to win the championship, was runner-up, eight strokes back.
“I would’ve had to shoot 64 to keep up (with Cooke),” Reale said. “It was fun to watch. He was in a zone all day.”
Former Capital High School standout and high school state tournament champion Christian Brand won in 2011. Brand turned professional and is seeking his PGA Tour card. Hurricane native and another former high school champion, Brian Anania, won in 2014 before turning professional.
Bartlett remains the only player during the half-dozen exemptions at the Classic to make the first cut. Since then, Brand (2011), Carter (2012), Jess Ferrell – who defeated O’Dell in a playoff for the exemption in 2013 – Anania (2014) and O’Dell (2015) played two rounds during the PGA Tour event at the Old White TPC.
Charleston’s Will Evans, a rising senior at Marshall University, finished second, one stroke ahead of defending champion Sam O’Dell, who said it was “awesome,” watching Cooke’s performance. Wheeling’s Joey Seabright was fifth and 13-time champion Pat Carter, of Huntington, was sixth. Wheeling’s Thadd Obecny was tied for seventh with Kermit’s Davey Jude.
The top 15 players earn an exemption into the State Open Championship July 20-22 at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club.
Meanwhile, Cooke, who turns 22 on June 29, will celebrate his birthday in grand style the following week – with a position at the seventh Greenbrier Classic. He isn’t the youngest player to win the Amateur. That title belongs to Barney Thompson, who was 17 in 1966 when he won.
He credited caddy Gary Dent, the father of Nick Dent – former Bluefield State College golf coach – and Walker Dent – who shot a 7-over 147 in two rounds on the Old White TPC and finished in the top 20 this week.
Cooke birdied three of the first four holes and didn’t relinquish the lead, scoring pars on Nos. 8-16 and icing the deal with birdies on the last two.
“We were just trying to keep it simple,” Cooke said, speaking of Dent. “Gary was helping me stay level-headed the whole time. Hat’s off to him. I wouldn’t have done anything without him. He’s a hell of a greens reader.”
Cooke now will try to focus on the Greenbrier Classic, but admitted he hasn’t “even thought about that yet.”
By RICH STEVENS