State Open 'like a big family reunion'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- David Bradshaw and Christian Brand are busy chasing their dream of playing on the PGA Tour.
The West Virginia natives, though, always make time to return to their home state and renew old acquaintances when the West Virginia Open rolls around.
Bradshaw and Brand will be two of the favorites when the 80th edition tees off Wednesday at Parkersburg Country Club, which is hosting the event for the first time since 1983.
"I love coming back to the Open," said Bradshaw. "It's like a big family reunion. It's more than a golf tournament. I go to these mini-tour events and it's very cutthroat. We're all trying to earn a living and get on the PGA Tour. Everybody's really nice [at the Open]. They're asking you how you're doing and how you've been. You get to catch up with everybody."
"I'm excited to see Parkersburg County Club, what the course looks like from what I remember," added Brand, who cut his teeth on the West Virginia Golf Association's junior tour. "I haven't been there in probably eight or 10 years. I'm just looking for a great week. I travel so much now I don't get a chance to see the guys from the WVGA. It'll be nice."
Bradshaw and Brand tied for second at last year's Open at Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville as Jonathan Clark, the pro at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club, won his second championship.
Clark isn't defending his title this year and instead will be playing in the 46th PGA Professional National Championship June 23-26 at Sunriver Resort near Bend, Ore. Barry Evans, the Berry Hills Country Club pro who won the Open in 2008, also opted for the PGA Pro National Championship, which he won in 2002.
Another top player who will be missing the Open is Pat Carter, the reigning West Virginia Amateur champion who withdrew Sunday because of an eye injury.
Brand has been plying his trade on the Carolinas-based eGolf Professional Tour and NGA Pro Golf Tour recently. He doesn't have any wins, but has finished in the top 10 on several occasions.
"I feel like I've been playing pretty well," said the former Capital High School and Marshall standout. "My game has been rounding into shape and getting better recently. I spent the winter in Florida and been playing pretty much two or three tournaments a month since I've been back."
Brand, who broke through by winning the 2011 West Virginia Amateur, has consecutive runner-up finishes at the Open. He earned an exemption with his Amateur championship into that year's Greenbrier Classic PGA Tour event.
"I just want to add it to the resume," he said of capturing the Open. "No expectations. I'm just going out there to try and play my best golf and if I do that everything will fall into place."
Bradshaw won his last mini-tour event in California, and this past week was two strokes off the lead in an eGolf event near Charlottesville, Va.
"I'm playing as good as I've ever played in my life," said the Bakerton native, who has won six of the last nine Opens. "I've had some really solid scores. I'd say the last eight of my nine competitive rounds I've broken 70.
"My scoring average for the year is probably somewhere close to 68 or 69. I've done about five Monday qualifiers and I've finished in the top five in all five. My golf game's better than ever."
The Open will feature several of the state's top golfers including: Bob Friend, the pro at The Pines in Morgantown who was runner-up at the Open in 2011; Craig Berner, the pro at Edgewood Country Club who finished fourth last year and won it in 2005; Brad Westfall, a pro who is a five-time champ; John Ross, a two-time winner; and amateur Sam O'Dell, who tied with Berner for fourth last year and was also the low amateur. O'Dell upset Carter to win last month's West Virginia Mid-Amateur Championship.
Carter, a 13-time State Am champion and Hall of Fame inductee, pulled out due to an eye injury suffered earlier this year. The injury left Carter with muscle damage to his eye, which has caused blurred and degenerative vision.
"I'll be having my surgery early this week and I need to have everything ready by the time the State Amateur rolls around," Carter said in a release issued by the WVGA.
Carter is hopeful to be ready to return to action in time for the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic. Carter earned an exemption into the event by capturing last year's State Amateur.
Carter, who has never won the State Open, missed last year's championship because of a scheduling conflict.
Ken Tackett, the executive director of the WVGA, said the Parkersburg Country Club course is ready for the Open.
"Right now, it's prime," he said. "The fairways are in great shape. The fairway has been tightened up a bit and the greens are where you're able to cut [them] down tight and roll them. They're already really solid and it won't take much work at all to get them where we want them to be."
Tackett said the course will play at par 72 and 6,900 yards. He said the redone No. 1 tee box should offer quite a start.
"It has similar qualities to No. 1 at Old White [with an] elevated tee," he said. "It adds about 20 yards, which puts the bunker into play and the choke point in the rough. They've built a little patio around it. It's a neat theater for golf."
The Open festivities kicked off with Sunday's Coca-Cola Shootout, won by Hurricane's O'Dell. A two-session pro-am will take place today at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. followed by practice rounds Tuesday.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.