WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — What a difference a year or two of college is making so far at the 101st West Virginia Amateur.
The top of the leaderboard through two rounds is crowded with current collegiate players that were former high school standouts, led by leader Noah Mullens (5-under), who played at Cabell Midland, Southern Wesleyan and now Marshall.
Mullens graduated in 2017 with 2018 products Mitch Hoffman of Poca (tied second, 4-under), Alex Easthom of Ravenswood (fourth, 3-under) and Mason Williams of Bridgeport (tied fifth, 1-under) all near the top as well.
Williams has already shown the ability to win big tournaments, having won the West Virginia Amateur a year ago. But then, he went in as a player that had the potential to pull it off. This year, he was one of the pre-event favorites.
So, is there a changing of the guard happening at The Greenbrier this week?
There’s a lot of golf left to be played, but all of the youngsters say their games have grown exponentially over the couple years since their prep careers ended.
A big part of that is the added mental maturity that comes with age and several of those players, particularly Hoffman and Williams, showed that resilience on Wednesday.
“I think I’ve made leaps and bounds when it comes to the mental game and plotting my way around the golf course,” Hoffman, a rising junior at the University of Charleston, said. “High school you just get up and hit it and you get made if you make bogey, but I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years.”
“You get to play a lot of golf and you realize that golf is hard and you’re OK with hitting a bad shot and getting over it,” Williams, a rising junior at Georgia Southern, added. “I know when I was younger if I hit a bad shot, it was the end of the world.”
Easthom had to show that maturity early after bogeying his first three holes on Tuesday and stepping up on the par-5 fourth hole on the Meadows Course already 3 over for the tournament.
But since, the West Liberty Hilltopper is 6 under and has put himself right back in the thick of it, just two shots behind Mullens.
“I kind of pressed the reset button,” Easthom said. “I was kind of steering it and hit a bunch of bad shots. My game plan was to hit fairway wood on the fourth tee, but I said, ‘No, we’re going to bust driver and swing at something.’ Birdie there kind of changed momentum for the whole round and I hit the ball well after that.”
All agreed that the ability to put bad shots behind them comes with experience and when that competition comes at the college level, it’s even more valuable.
“I’ve played a lot of different courses, played a lot of competitive rounds and that just helps,” Mullens said. “After that first year of college you take that little hump and I got so much better between my first and second year. That’s why everyone is playing good, once they get that one year of college and see who’s out there and what everyone else is doing you just kind of figure it out a little bit.”
Cam Roam has become the ultimate grinder, a guy that can never be counted out.
So, it came as little surprise when he followed up a round of 4-over 74 on Tuesday with the day’s best round on Wednesday, a 5-under 65 to move right back into contention.
It’s a reputation Roam has come to embrace and it’s one that keeps him in the thick of things in nearly every tournament he enters.
“It’s a part of who I am,” Roam said. “I never feel like I’m out of it.”
Roam was a hole away from finishing the job a year ago before double bogeying the 72nd hole to go from a one-shot lead to out of a three-man playoff.
He needed several moments to compose himself in the aftermath and it’s something that has stuck with him for over a year now.
But after driving it poorly on Tuesday, Roam made the decision to change driver heads. A few shots at the driving range on Tuesday night and he was confident Wednesday would be a much different day.
Needless to say, it was.
“I got out there and I was trying to take right miss out and only miss left and what happened was all I did was miss left,” Roam explained. “I came to the range, hit about 20 balls and knew right away that was the switch and that today would be pretty good.”
If momentum means anything, look out for Pat Carter on Thursday.
Carter finished with back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18 to card a quiet 1-under 69 and is at 1-under for the tournament, tied with Williams and Roam for fifth.
That was especially good having come on the Old White TPC, a longer golf course that puts Carter at a bit of a disadvantage at times.
“Very pleased with today, this course is very difficult for me,” Carter said. “I didn’t drive the ball as well today, but still hit it solid off the tee and I need to do that. I just made a bunch of pars. Going onto 17 I had made 15 pars and one bogey, so I’m very happy with where I am through 36 holes.