WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — At times during Monday’s second round at the 102nd West Virginia Amateur at The Greenbrier Resort, it was tough to tell what the players were most competitive about — their scores, or who registered the fastest swings and farthest drives.
Those things and several others such as spin rate and carry distance were measured on the 17th tee of the Old White TPC on Monday by the TrackMan 4 launch monitor, which also provided each shot with a shot tracer. After play concluded, each player was emailed a report that contained the data of the tee shot.
Competitors as they are, not many golfers held back on the 17th, and it was certainly a talking point after the rounds.
“It’s cool, we always say hit it hard so it gets you like, ‘I’m ripping this one,’” co-leader Chris Williams said. “It’s not the best for tournament golf but it’s a cool feature they did.”
Williams is among the field’s longest hitters, as are first-round co-leader Hutson Chandler, defending champion and current co-leader Alex Easthom and Davey Jude, who regained his amateur status just in time to participate in this week’s tournament.
Jude, a native of Kermit and former Marshall player, had his round go a little sideways on Monday as he finished with an 8-over 78 and sits at 8 over for the tournament, nine shots back of Williams and Easthom. Monday’s round contained a double-bogey on 16 and brought Jude to the 17th tee with plenty of frustration to take out on a golf ball with the TrackMan 4 there to record just how hard he could swing.
“I was in a position where I was a little upset from hole 16 and I was like, ‘I don’t care, I’m going to swing hard,’” Jude said. “Some people it’s going to be demoralizing for them and some people are going to be like, ‘Wow, I hit it very far.’”
Easthom certainly falls in the latter category, though he said he was able to keep the device out of his head long enough to pipe a drive right down the center on 17. But he believes things like the TrackMan 4 will become more and more common at the West Virginia Golf Association’s biggest events.
“I think it adds some to the tournament,” Easthom said. “I’ve been kind of surprised they haven’t had more of that in a way, especially with Facebook Live and all that stuff. I’d say within the next couple of years you’ll see the WVGA start getting some of that set up to where you can almost watch people play their rounds or featured holes — I think you’ll start to see that in the coming years once they figure out how to get that set up.”
One theme of the week has been the number of reinstated amateurs.
Jude is the latest to make the move, but Jonathan Clark, who is at 1 over and just two back of the lead, returned to amateur status in time for last year’s event.
The return of players from the pro ranks certainly solidifies and toughens the field as a whole. Other players who have also made the move in the past include Woody Woodward, Hutson Chandler, Ben Palmer and Tad Tomblin.
Each of them has his own reasoning.
“The golf industry has changed a ton,” Clark said. “The desire to be a PGA pro at a club has sort of lost a little luster, and once you do what I do and get out of the industry and realize how much fun it is to be out of the industry and have weekends off, holidays off, play more golf than you did at the country club — the guys that like to play competitively, it’s a huge plus. I’ve got my competitive juices back to where I’m swinging golf clubs like I’ve never swung golf clubs because I like to hit that shot when it means something.”
For Jude, family brought him back to West Virginia from Florida after the death of his father in July of 2019. Once here, and with the COVID-19 pandemic beginning at the PGA Tour’s stop at The Greenbrier being discarded, the West Virginia Open remained as the only big event left in the state in which pros are eligible.
That was enough to sway Jude, who also has a young son who he can bring to The Greenbrier for years to come.
“There’s one pro golf tournament in West Virginia every year, so what is the reason for being pro?” Jude said. “Just something that made sense, and if something happened in my life and I found a way to become better, you can always turn back pro. For now, it was to get my status back and play more tournaments — the Fourball, the Two-Man Scramble. You want to be able to compete. Being a pro in West Virginia, it’s hard to compete. It’s not fun.
“Kids change a lot of things and being close to family was a big thing. The annual trip up here — we’ve got a picture of my son out there in front of The Greenbrier and we’ll do it every year as he grows. Maybe one day we’re playing in it together.”
Scary moment for Williams
One scary moment for co-leader Chris Williams didn’t involve a shot he hit on Monday, but a mistake he made behind the wheel — of a golf cart.
After hitting his tee shot well right on No. 17, Williams took off across the fairway after it and misjudged the slope of the rough falling toward Howard’s Creek. It was a scary moment at the time for both him and cart partner Woody Woodward, who lept from the cart as it started to careen down the hill.
But after, it was a lighthearted near-miss to laugh about.
“We were on two wheels but Woody jumped out and we got it straight,” Williams deadpanned.