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Ferrell prepped for challenge

Chip Ellis
Jess Ferrell qualified for this year's Greenbrier Classic.

Jess Ferrell was part of the maddening crush earlier this month at the Greenbrier Classic PGA Tour event at The Greenbrier resort featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson.

So there probably won't be much that will faze the junior-to-be at Fairmont State when he tees it up Monday at the 93rd West Virginia Amateur golf tournament at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.

After all, Ferrell finished runner-up at last year's Amateur, only his second one, securing his spot in the Greenbrier Classic on one of two sponsor's exemptions with a one-hole playoff victory over Hurricane's Sam O'Dell.

Ferrell, the lone state golfer in the Classic field, finished with a 4-over-par 74 in the second round of the Classic to go along with a 10-over 80 in the opening round, but missed the cut on the historic Old White TPC course.

"The last day was a great day,'' said Ferrell. "I played really well. I played better than my score. It gave me confidence because I know I can play the golf course well.''

Old White will again be part of the Amateur rotation after being omitted last year. The venerable course had its greens renovated, most holes lengthened and other changes made after the 2010 Greenbrier Classic.

The Amateur and Classic flipped places on the July calendar this year, allowing for Old White to be put back in play for the Amateur. The customary par-72 Greenbrier course will also be used for the tournament.

"I have a lot more experience on it,'' said Ferrell of Old White. "It's basically the same course it was. They haven't drastically changed the course. It'll be a little bit shorter. It'll be nice to play it again. If you've had any experience on it you're going to be all right.''

The Amateur field will again be wide open since last year's champion Christian Brand of Charleston, a former Marshall golfer, turned professional in late spring. There are also several other notable players who will be absent.

Tim Fisher of Staats Mills, who won back-to-back Amateur titles in 2008-09, is serving another year-long suspension from the West Virginia Golf Association while Anthony Reale, the 2007 champion, isn't playing this year.

Among those in the hunt are Pat Carter, the 12-time State Amateur titlist, Nathaniel Begley of Oak Hill, who as an 18-year-old was the first-round co-leader last year with O'Dell and Hurricane's Brian Anania, a Marshall golfer who finished sixth.

Carter's reign ended six years ago, but he is always a threat despite the fact that he failed to have any under-par rounds last year and tied for 12th.

"I think you're going to see a lot of new names at the top,'' Carter said. "It's basically who will be the most consistent will win the tournament.''

Carter said he has been busy this summer coaching his son's Little League baseball team and hasn't played as much golf as he would have liked. Two years ago, he was on a business trip and missed the Amateur for the first time in 26 years.

"I kind of like the way I'm hitting the ball,'' said the insurance firm manager. "I haven't worked much on my short game. I think if I play well I'll be in contention. It's been a long July. Between work and baseball, it's been hard to fit any practice time in.

"I did get a few rounds in this week in between the rain. It's going to be nice getting back to the Old White. I'm just looking forward to being back on it. It'll definitely be a test of golf for sure.''

O'Dell tied for fourth in last month's West Virginia Open, which pits the state's top pros and amateurs against one another.

"I feel like I've been closer and closer every year,'' he said. "The last two years I feel my game has been as consistent as ever. Hopefully I'm in a place I can give myself another chance.''

O'Dell said between his busy dental practice and other obligations, golf has become fun again. 

"It seems like golf has kind of been my outlet,'' he said. "I've got to enjoy myself and I think that's helped me. I've put so much pressure on myself. I just got to sort of let it happen.

"I'm just going to try and stay patient and hopefully I'll have a chance that last day. It's tough to win a golf tournament whether it's the Amateur or a small one. You have to have the right things going for you.''

Anania might be one of the hottest players entering this week after qualifying for the U.S. Amateur last week. He was also seventh at the Open.

Other contenders include Wheeling's Joey Seabright, who shot a 2-under 68 and was the only player in last year's Amateur final round to finish under par. Seabright, a West Liberty golfer, was fourth at 11 strokes off the pace.

Todd Westfall of Clendenin, a former pro who recently regained his amateur status, had a strong showing at the Open, tying for ninth.

"I don't know if there's a clear favorite this year,'' said Ferrell. "Anybody can win it. I think a lot of people are on the same playing level. It's a great atmosphere.''

Ferrell earned All-West Virginia Conference second-team honors and won several tournaments this past spring, including a Division I tourney at St. Bonaventure and another at Kiawah Island, S.C.

"I'm hitting the ball a little bit farther,'' he said. "I need to get more precise on my tee game, make sure I'm in the fairway. Once I'm in the fairway, I play really good. Just put it all together, I'll be right there.''

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.

 


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