Every multi-time champion of the West Virginia Amateur golf tournament started with a first title.
So, even at the ripe old age of 20, have we entered the Mason Williams era?
We begin to find out this week as the 101st Amateur is slated to start on Tuesday on the Meadows Course at The Greenbrier. The tournament will run four days with rounds alternating between the Meadows and the Old White TPC.
Last year, Williams became the youngest winner of the event since 1966, surviving a three-player, three-hole playoff with Philip Reale and Woody Woodward. That came after Huntington’s Cam Roam lost a one-shot lead on the final hole with a double bogey.
On the final day last year, Williams established a Meadows Course record with a 6-under 66 to storm from behind and notch one of the more memorable wins in recent history.
Now a rising junior at Georgia Southern and a former two-time high school individual medalist at Bridgeport, Williams seems to be peaking as he enters the event having set a new Bridgeport Country Club record with a round of 60 just a couple of weeks ago.
“That was a lot of fun,” Williams admitted.
What lies in front of him this week are four grueling rounds at arguably the state’s epicenter of golf with one of the deepest and most talented fields ever assembled for the event.
Four-time champion Sam O’Dell, of Hurricane, is back this year after missing last year’s event. Pat Carter, a 13-time winner, is also in the field as is a horde of capable players including Roam, Woodward and Reale.
Also, in the field is Jonathan Clark, a two-time winner of the West Virginia Open as a professional who applied for amateur status two summers ago and became eligible Monday morning.
Needless to say, if Williams is to win the event for the second straight year, he will have earned it.
“It is a fabulous field,” said West Virginia Golf Association Executive Director Brad Ullman. “We have a great defending champion, Sam O’Dell is back, Jonathan Clark is fresh back to the amateur golf world. Then there’s Todd Duncan, our junior phenom who’s played great all summer long and you can never count out Pat Carter either. The list goes on and on.
“It’s a great field of youngsters with a good mix of some veterans as well.”
For Clark, a Marshall Hall of Famer and Hurricane resident, this week will mark his first appearance in the Amateur at age 46. It has been over two years since Clark has played a competitive round, and though he’s confident that his game is still there, getting reacquainted with tournament golf could take a few holes.
“I think as long as I can get through four or five holes to get back acclimated with it, it will all come back to me pretty quick, I hope,” Clark said. “I’ve been playing a couple times a week for the last couple of weeks, but it’s just playing. It’s not putting it in the ground and really playing. I’m sure there will be a little bit of nerves and really just some anxiousness to play.”
As for Williams, he was in the final group at the West Virginia Open in June before fading a bit on the final day. That showing came a little more than a week after he was able to leave quarantine after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in early June.
While being forced to take two weeks off just ahead of one of the state’s two biggest tournaments would seem like a major hurdle to overcome, Williams said that in a way, the extended break was beneficial.
“It was kind of a weird little curve and it almost helped me,” Williams said. “Because I went to the Open and I knew I hadn’t played in a tournament in three or four months and I hadn’t gotten the practice a few of the other guys had.
“I started the tournament and had no expectations. I knew it was going to be a long week with plenty of adversity and I took all of that adversity really well.”
Looking at the field, it’s difficult to tab a favorite with so many players having already proven the ability to go low in tournament play. But if there is a man to beat, it may just be Williams, who is streaking into the event having played some of the best golf in his life in recent weeks.
And unlike most players in the field outside of O’Dell and Carter, Williams now knows just what it takes to prevail after four long rounds.
“It’s golf and it’s hard,” Williams said. “You still have to hit the right shots and do the right things.
“Over 72 holes, it’s not who makes the most birdies, it’s who limits bogeys and mistakes, because you’re going to make bogeys. It’s almost impossible to play a 72-hole tournament and not make a bogey. It’s one of those things where you have to keep things in perspective and remember that there’s a lot of golf to play no matter what hole you’re on.”
“He already knows he can do it, because he has done it,” Ullman added. “It’s a great field with a lot of great players, but it’s going to be hard to bet against him.”