The largest stroke-play event in Oklahoma teed it up for a 47th time on Saturday
Note: Today I went back to the event I’ve been covering for a generation and played in a majority of those years. I’m not in the field and still being there for it again was great fun. Also, if you’re only now learning that I have this outpost on the Internet, please think about subscribing. For now, it still costs nothing and only asks for your e-mail.
As written so many times, the Westwood Invitational’s about the stories, because everybody has one (or several) at what continues to be the largest stroke-play event in Oklahoma, 158 golfers teeing it up in Saturday’s first round.
Though who won’s typically less important than the time had by all, it’s about the golf, too, and this may be one of the years it’s really about the golf.
Have you seen the leaderboard?
Luke Phillips, who looks more like a distance runner than a guy who can hit it a mile and make every putt, continues to be the latter.
He won Championship Flight four years ago, going 68-62-62, tying Sam Powell and former Sooner All-American Brad Dalke’s 54-hole tourney record score of 18-under 192, and Saturday tied the 18-hole tourney mark of 9-under 61, previously shared by Powell, Clark Collier and Jondavid Metzger.
An amazing score on any course, it may not be as interesting or fun as the story behind Ryan Bell, who along with Parker Payne, is tied for second after shooting 64.
Ryan’s father is Rick Bell, a star on Oklahoma’s 1989 national championship team as well as a 2021 U.S. Senior Open entrant, and before the tourney kicked off, Westwood head pro Rick Parish, upon seeing Ryan’s entry sheet in which he listed his handicap as 2 out of his home course of Belmar, called Parish to ask if Ryan should maybe be flighted a rung below in Masters Flight.
Ryan, who plays his golf at Central Arkansas, called Rick back and said he was ready. After making seven birdies, it looks like he was right.
Payne’s a terrific story, too.
His next school year will be his third at Noble High School, where the 16-year-old has won and finished runner-up at the last two Class 5A state tournaments.
Metzger, by the way, a Norman High alum like Bell, is in the thick of this tourney, too, tied for fourth after an opening 67.
The Westwood Invitational is also about all kinds of little things that don’t have a category.
Like, walk into the pro shop and there’s a good chance assistant pro Bobby Florer’s going to tell you how great you look in your shirt.
“You look good in that shirt,” he told Jay Gibson, once Norman North’s wrestling coach and a perennial Fourth Flight battler and tourney volunteer
“You look good, you look sharp,” he said not a moment later to John Reese, a previous winner of the First and Second flights and a Westwood fixture for decades
“You look good,” Florer told me somewhere in there, too.
More impressive, he passed out the compliments in the aftermath of a 79, his worst round in 36 years playing the tournament; which is kind of impressive considering he’s always in the first group off the tee and it’s always in the midst of his longest work week of the year.
Florer’s spread for all those rounds, the first as an 18-year-old not long out of Jones High School, is 13 strokes, for he’s also carded a 66 or two through the years.
“It ties me up,” Florer said of his forgettable round. “It makes me want to fight.”
Nevertheless, no clubs were thrown, no unrepeatable words were screamed and, in the clubhouse, with spirit and sincerity, he loved everybody’s shirt.
Yet another uncategorizable charm of the tourney is the beauty of the scoreboard, the names and numbers exquisitely printed just so.
Kevin Frank has put the names on the sheets for 40 Westwood Invitationals and for 27, Parish has posted the numbers.
“They told us at PGA business school that we’d have to do it,” Parish said, “so I just wanted to learn to do it.”
Parish was told that in 1990, a year he doesn’t have to worry about forgetting because there’s a plaque in his office commemorating his finishing in the top five percent of his class.
Sometimes, the tourney offers cool surprises.
Though Parish would love to have a women’s flight, many years the field’s been entirely men.
This year, though, there are five women, the most in memory, maybe ever, each playing from the same tees as the rest of their flight.
Jade Staggs, who might be the only person ever to be both a Sooner and Cowgirl on the golf course, and a former women’s state amateur champion, is in Master’s Flight. Blaine Bruton, Mikaela Rendermann, Sharon Hayes and Johana Abiodun are in Fourth Flight.
For years and and years, out-of-state and well-beyond-Norman players have made pilgrimages to Westwood, but Abiodun and her boyfriend, Scott Hanna, are in a class by themselves.
Hanna, whose father lives in Norman and is in the tourney for the eight time, and Abiodun live in Prague, Czech Republic, where Hanna operates a casino just inside the Czech border, Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, on the other side.
If you’re keeping score, Hanna and Abiodun traveled roughly 5,200 miles, one way, to compete.
Has to be a record.
The preponderance of players, still, are from close, like Norman’s Jeff Jones, in the tourney a 25th time.
I found him on No. 17, playing the back nine first, a First Flight interloper in a Masters Flight group so he could play with his friend Steve Hixon.
He’d just hit a 129-yard 9-iron to two feet. He made it, but the 18th did not go well, leading to an opening back-side 39.
“Two birdies, two double bogeys, two bogeys,” Jones said. “Solid.”
That's the Westwood Invitational.
You’ve got to love it.
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