Things happen. That’s the PG way of saying it anyway.
On Thursday afternoon, coming down to the final four dramatic holes of the West Virginia Open, I had a health scare in my family and had to rush home.
It was unfortunate, but, thankfully, everything is OK now.
At that moment, the tournament was about the last thing on my mind. Yet since, as everything has calmed on the personal front, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect. And what an odd, fun three-day trip around the Cobb Course at the Resort at Glade Springs the 87th West Virginia Open really was.
The Open was a tournament of swatted locusts, shanked shots and furious rallies that came up a few holes and a few strokes short. And that goes without mentioning the torrential rains of the first day that led to three lengthy delays during the afternoon wave.
Favorites floundered, dark horses stepped into the spotlight and, by the end, we had a tournament explained more accurately by a number than by a word — 2020.
But as much as I’ll remember the 87th edition for its oddities, I’ll also remember it as the return of drama, something the tournament had been missing in recent years. Not since Christian Brand defeated David Bradshaw in a playoff in 2015 had the Open been close with Bradshaw claiming victory in each of the four tournaments thereafter.
Even then, however, the tournament was a shootout between two players. As the back half of the field made the turn on Thursday, there were still around 20 players within five shots of the lead.
That included Brand and Bradshaw, who each made their runs at leaders Thadd Obecny and eventual winner Kenny Hess. Brand, a two-time winner, crept within a single shot of the lead with a birdie on No. 13, but bogeys on 15 and 16 ended his comeback attempt. Bradshaw shot a 5-under 67, but it wasn’t enough to overcome two uncharacteristic rounds over par to start the tournament.
For many, it was a tournament of what-ifs and what-happeneds? Consider that in the first two days of play, only 10 rounds in the red were recorded. But on Thursday, in the third and final round, 16 players shot under par.
The undoing of several favorites could fairly easily be pinpointed. For Brand, it was a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 fourth hole during his second round. Will Evans — who shot the low round of the day on Thursday with a 7-under 65 to finish solo third at 2-under for the tournament — was 6-over on his first six holes of round one. Sam O’Dell was forced to play 13 holes without a putter after his broke during the second round. He shot 5-over 77 that day with matching 1-under 71s on Tuesday and Thursday.
And then there was Bradshaw, who played with a torn ACL and MCL and will undergo surgery in July. For much of his back nine on Tuesday and his second round on Wednesday, the course was cart-path only, meaning he would take a significant number of extra steps walking back and forth to and from his ball. Bradshaw consistently denied that the injury had any effect on his game, but, at least during the first two days, something was certainly amiss for the 11-time champion.
Hess had a major mistake his own, a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 fifth hole during the second round, eventually leading to a round of 3-over 75 and that put him three shots behind leader Obecny entering the final day. To Hess’ credit, he found a way to overcome on day three, firing a 6-under 66 on the third day and using a birdie on the 54th and final hole to nip Obecny by a single shot.
There was certainly plenty to celebrate with Hess, who was playing in his 15th West Virginia Open and 10th as a professional. A birdie for Obecny on 14 put Hess behind by a shot after the two were tied at 3-under through 13. Then, Hess likely hit the shot of the tournament, firing an approach that back spun to an inch of the hole on 15. It led to birdie with Obecny parring and it was an answer Hess had to have at the moment.
While I’m certainly happy for Hess, who did everything he needed to — including birdieing the final hole to win the tournament — I’m proud of Obecny as well. I’ve covered Obecny since his high school career at Wheeling Park and now, a 24-year-old professional and graduate of Coastal Carolina University, his maturity, growth and consistency are evident.
A combined 26 rounds under par were recorded over three days, and Obecny was the only player with three of them.
Though he’d played in a final group at the Open just two years prior, it was alongside Bradshaw, who had a significant lead. But heading into Thursday with a three-shot lead, the pressure was squarely on Obecny, who admitted on Wednesday that he played the beginning of his second round a bit nervously.
His game plan on Thursday was rock solid, full of irons and layups, fairways and greens, making Hess or someone else come and get him. In the end, Hess was able to do just that, but it took a round of 6-under to get there.
I’m not sure Obecny would have hit those same shots and shown the same levelheadedness just a couple of years ago. I can say with relative certainty, Obecny will get his, sooner than later.
And aside from all of that, selfishly, it felt pretty darn nice to cover sports again. Last week marked the first time I had covered a sporting event since the girls state basketball tournament was halted in early March. And there are very few events on the calendar I enjoy covering more than the West Virginia Open and the West Virginia Amateur golf tournaments.
It reminded me just how much I love my work, just before I was reminded how much I love the people at home.