The State Open Championship hasn’t seen much change at the top of the leaderboard since the turn of the century, being dominated by a collection of playing and teaching professionals. Just six players — all pros — have won the last 16 Opens, removing a lot of guesswork, but certainly not drama.
The 83rd Open Championship could provide more of the same when it completes its current swing through the Kanawha Valley with an eighth visit to Sleepy Hollow Golf Club in Hurricane.
Last July at Berry Hills Country Club, a three-hole playoff resulted in Web.com player and Kanawha Valley native Christian Brand winning his second consecutive title. He defeated seven-time champion and Canadian PGA Tour player David Bradshaw of Bakerton in a battle of the players generally considered the state’s top professionals.
Of those last 16 Open championships, Brand (2) and Bradshaw (7) have won nine, with teaching professionals Brad Westfall (2000, ‘02, ‘03) of Grafton, Jonathan Clark (2000, ‘13) and Craig Berner (2005) of Hurricane and Barry Evans (2008) of Charleston combining for the other seven.
Truth be told, Brand and Bradshaw would rather be playing for pay on the big stage in July instead of competing in Hurricane.
With or without them, an amateur will be hard-pressed to emerge after 54 holes of grueling competition next summer. As a 21-year-old amateur in 2004, Bradshaw won the Open at Edgewood Country Club, holding off Clark for a one-stroke victory. Clark missed an 8-inch birdie putt on the final hole, depriving him of his second crown in three years.
That win was the catalyst for Bradshaw’s dominance that wasn’t waylaid until Brand won the last two. Brand will try to become the first player since Bradshaw (2009-11) to win three in a row and only the second to win three straight since Sam Snead won it four consecutive times (1970-73).
Although it has been 11 years since a pro failed to come out on top at the Open, three of the seven contested at Sleepy Hollow were won by amateurs.
Overall, close hasn’t been good enough for West Virginia’s best amateur golfers.
The most notable is Huntington’s Pat Carter, a dominant amateur who stretched 13 State Am victories over 24 years and holds a national-record 10 straight. He finished no lower than fourth place or more than nine strokes behind at the Open from 2000-07.
In July, the top players will gather for the last big event of the WVGA season at Sleepy Hollow, which boasts more than monstrous greens and a generous margin for error.
The seven Opens contested on the well-manicured 6,928-yard, par 72 track hold some good, and not-so-good, memories.
In 1962, amateur Ed Tutwiler emerged with his third Open crown by virtue of a one-shot victory over fellow Charleston resident Joe Taylor. Rain, snow and freezing temperatures pushed the opening round back one day and cut the tournament to 36 holes.
Also in ‘62, Tom Weiskopf was two years away from turning pro and beginning a 16-win PGA Tour career when he finished eighth while John Shelton, an African-American member of the West Virginia State College golf team, was denied an opportunity to participate.
Dennis Bradley was inducted into the Western New York PGA Hall of Fame in 1988, but 26 years earlier he tied for fourth in the same field as Huntington amateur Bill Campbell. Campbell had the second-lowest amateur score that year. A two-time president of the United States Golf Association and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Campbell was a three-time Open champion.
In 1968 at Sleepy Hollow, Sam Snead won the 13th of his 17 Open championships.
Following a 17-year hiatus from the Hurricane layout, the Open returned in 1986 with club member Harold Payne becoming the third player after Campbell and Tutwiler to win the Amateur and Open in the same year.
Just three years later, Bluefield’s Todd Satterfield — an amateur — won the Open at Sleepy, followed by pros Barney Thompson (1996) and Westfall (2002).
In 2010, Bradshaw won at Sleepy Hollow for the second of his three straight. He and Brand have finished in the top three for the last four Opens and are expected to be near the top again in 2016, if they play.
With or without the favorites, here’s no reason to expect an amateur to crash the party at Sleepy Hollow. Eight golfers — Tutwiler (1951, ‘56, ‘62), Campbell (1953, ‘55), Blake Watt (1974), Matt Cooke (1981), Jim Fankhauser (1983), Payne (1986-88, ‘93), Satterfield (1989), Bradshaw (2004) — combined to win the 14 Opens claimed by amateurs.
Tournament week will include practice rounds and the Coca-Cola Shootout.
By RICH STEVENS