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Why no Columbia County natives in pro golf?

Posted: April 6, 2013 - 11:04pm

What do the following golfers have in common?

Charles Howell III, Brian Gay, Scott Brown, Patrick Reed, Vaughn Taylor, Henrik Norlander, Will Claxton, Blake Adams, Kevin Kisner, Scott Parel, Matt Hendrix, David Robinson, Kyle Bradley, Wallace Booth, Taylor Floyd, Major Manning, Rob Bennett and John Engler.

A. They all have ties to the Augusta Area

B. All but Engler are currently playing on a professional golf tour

C. None of them are Columbia County natives

D. All of the above

The answer? D. All of the above.

As I was going through the long list of local players, I realized that there are no true Columbia County natives playing on any of the tours right now. As a matter of fact, we have never had a Columbia County golfer have success in professional golf. You might say, well, Columbia County is not that big and there are plenty of counties our size that have not produced pro golfers. However, when you look at our proximity to the Augusta National, our affluent neighborhoods, quality schools, and the fact that virtually every county around us seems to have a pro to pull for, I found it puzzling.

Sure, we have former Augusta State University star Carter Newman. He is an Evans native and was home schooled. While he had an outstanding college career, he has yet to make waves as a pro.

Then, we could claim Justin Lower, Henrik Norlander or even Vaughn Taylor. Norlander, another former ASU star, now claims Champions Retreat as his home course. However, he hails from Sweden and his only real tie to the area was his decision to play his college golf at ASU. Taylor, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and a Ryder Cupper, lives in Evans during the off-season, but grew up in Richmond County and played his high school golf at Hephzibah.

Lower is an interesting story. He is currently the leading money winner on the NGA Tour (formerly The Hooters Tour), having earned $41,000 in five events this year. Lower plays out of Jones Creek Golf Club, but he is not an area native. He grew up in Ohio and, until a few months ago, lived there his entire life.

Heck, I could even try to claim Rob Bennett. Bennett has played in four events on the EGolf Tour, but has yet to make a cut. As a freshman he led Augusta Prep to the GISA state title, but he is from Richmond County, and he spent the remainder of his prep career at Richmond Academy before playing college golf at the University of Georgia.

So, why hasn’t Columbia County been able to produce any professional golfers? If you are still thinking this is much ado about nothing, here is the previous list, but this time I have added their hometowns or local ties.

Charles Howell III – Augusta, (currently ninth on the PGA Tour money list)

Brian Gay – Louisville, Ga. (currently 15th on the PGA money list and has a win in 2013)

Scott Brown – North Augusta, (grew up in Augusta and now lives in Aiken; 28th on the PGA money list and has a win this year)

Patrick Reed – Played at ASU (97th on the PGA tour money list)

Vaughn Taylor – Augusta (126th on the PGA tour money list)

Henrik Norlander – Played at ASU (176th on the PGA money list)

Will Claxton – Swainsboro (190th on the PGA money list)

The remaining players compete on a lower-level or “mini” tour:

Blake Adams – Eatonton, Ga. (nine top 25s on the PGA Tour last year. Has recently undergone hip surgery)

Kevin Kisner – Aiken

Scott Parel – Augusta

Major Manning – Played at ASU

Matt Hendrix – Aiken

David Robinson – Swainsboro, Ga.

Kyle Bradley – North Augusta

Wallace Booth – Played at ASU

Taylor Floyd – Played at ASU

Rob Bennett – Augusta

John Engler – Augusta, (three-time All-American at Clemson. Played on the PGA tour before a career-ending leg injury. Has regained his amateur status.

North Augusta, Aiken, Augusta, Swainsboro and Louisville all have golfers who have made it to the highest levels. Why not Columbia County?

I really wish I had an explanation. We are just down the street from the world’s most prestigious golf course. Just like Howell and Taylor, kids in Columbia County grow up dreaming of playing in the Masters.

We have affluent neighborhoods and quality golf courses. Sure, Champions Retreat is still relatively new, but Westlake has been around more than 40 years and Jones Creek has been around nearly 30. So we cannot claim it is a lack of course accessibility.

We also have quality public and private schools. Lakeside High School and Augusta Prep have captured multiple state golf championships and Greenbrier has been in serious contention.

We have also had several golfers find success at the college level. Courtland Lowe (Augusta Prep) was a standout at Wake Forest and Jay Mundy (Lakeside) had a solid career at Auburn. Former Evans golfer Adam McKenney was a late bloomer who improved tremendously at Georgia Southwestern and even had some minor success on the lower level mini-tours a few years ago.

So what gives?

I would not have even considered it if there were not so many players from the Aiken-Augusta area doing so well this year. Heck, Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner are best friends who both play out of Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, and they won events on the two biggest tours in the country in the same week.

Brown, who played high school golf at North Augusta, won the Puerto Rico Open and $630,000 on the PGA Tour, on the same day his pal Kisner pocketed $117,000 for winning the Chile Classic on the Web.com Tour.

Also, back in January, Gay defeated Howell in a playoff to win the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif. Gay claimed the $1 Million first-place check and a spot in this year’s Masters.

That reminds me – we do have to mention 1987 Masters Tournament champion Larry Mize. He played his high school golf at Augusta Prep, but he was technically from Augusta and now calls Columbus, Ga., home. So, no, we can’t count him either.

It is only a matter of time. We have some great young talent in the county. Last year, the Lakeside girls won the state title and the boys from Lakeside were runners-up. Greenbrier finished fifth on the boys side. Hopefully, one of those players can break through professionally one day.

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