ANYONE WHO stumbled upon the final group playing in the last round of the West Virginia Open Friday might have been surprised by what they found.
Good friends Jonathan Clark and Craig Berner certainly kept things loose making a lap around the Edgewood Country Club golf course, along with playing partner Christian Brand.
You wouldn't have known a state championship hung in the balance. The atmosphere wasn't exactly stodgy or refined. In fact, it was probably more "Caddyshack'' than country club.
Like on the green at No. 10, when Clark paced off a 25-foot uphill putt while Berner was sizing up his own 15-footer.
"I don't know, I don't know,'' Clark said to Berner as they crossed paths.
"You'd better watch yourself,'' said Berner, Edgewood's head pro, in reply. "I've been known to make a few putts here.''
That's how it went most of the day. Clark eventually captured his second State Open championship, but all three had smiles on their faces as they exited the course late Friday afternoon.
"In my mind, that's a better way to play golf than stand out there and just not say a word to anybody and get in your own element,'' Clark said following the round. "We have a blast. That's what makes it fun about these State Opens. Whenever you're sitting around players that all get along and just have a blast, it's a good time.''
A few more glimpses of the final threesome:
Clark apologized for looking and looking at a difficult chip just off the No. 11 green.
"Take your time,'' Berner deadpanned. "We aren't going anywhere.''
Later, Clark nearly struck a putt on No. 16 as Berner was walking across to chase down his shot, which landed in a greenside bunker.
"That's all I need to do is putt while he's walking through there,'' Clark said amid laughter from the gallery.
Clark and Berner kept it so light-hearted that even Brand, more than a dozen years their younger, stuck a few zingers in there of his own.
Just before knocking in a downhill birdie putt at the 12th hole estimated at 60 feet, Brand bemoaned the fact that his caddie had gone back to the cart for something.
"It'd be nice to have a caddie right now to hold the pin for me,'' Brand beckoned.
Also on No. 16, as storm clouds gathered and thunder rumbled in the distance, Berner asked Brand if he was satisfied with putting out instead of waiting.
"I'm all right,'' Brand said. "I'm just trying not to get struck.''
Brand said he felt at ease trading barbs with the two good friends, who had never before played a single round together at the State Open, but wound up playing all three rounds together this week.
"You have to [fire back],'' Brand said. "If you don't, they'll run you over with their trash talk. We had fun today.
"We all know each other. We're all three Charleston-area guys and we play a lot of golf together. Today, it was easy-going. They're both great champions. They're fun. They're best friends, and I just tried to tag along today.''