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Expanded Amateur field would spark youth interest

(June 11) Chad Westfall's 1998 West Virginia Amateur performance was, by most accounts, forgettable: A 17-over par 89 the first day, a 13-over 85 the second day, leaving him 10 strokes shy of the 36-hole cut.

But it wasn't forgettable to him.

Westfall is a 16-year-old from Glenville, a soon-to-be junior at Gilmer County High School who was making his first appearance at the state Amateur.

"I'm looking forward to playing future Amateurs," Westfall said afterward. "At least I have this one behind my back. Not too many 16-year-olds are at the Amateur."

While Westfall didn't cart home any trophies, he did gain some invaluable poise.

And after a tough first round, he received some vital positive reinforcement from Bill Stines, director of golf at Pete Dye Golf Club.

I'm sure that little pat on the back from Stines, that reminder to Westfall to "keep his chin up" and the comment to the youngster that he was a good golfer all will stick in Chad's mind for years.

Stines is no Tiger Woods, but he does run the toughest golf course -- by a lot -- in West Virginia. So he also isn't exactly persona non-grata to amateur golfers.

There are lots of Chad Westfalls throughout West Virginia, young guys just getting started in golf who could blossom into great, good or at least fair tournament golfers with the right incentive.

And that very well could be a trip to the Amateur.

But in most cases, it won't.

While the West Virginia Golf Association increased its Amateur field from 78 to 90 this year, it's still not enough.

Hike that to at least 120 players next year, and give more Chad Westfalls a chance at the highest-profile, and most rewarding, annual golf event in the state.

It won't make any difference in the outcome.

I don't think Pat Carter or Michael Veres even knew who Chad Westfall was as they battled for the Amateur lead during the first two rounds. Anyway, by the time those two top-flight golfers were heading to the tee Tuesday, Westfall was finishing his round.

I also don't buy into the argument that a bigger field would hurt the tournament's exclusivity. Again, the best golfers will rise to the top and command the spotlight.

But it would encourage more of the state's youths to play golf, or, if they're already doing so, to keep playing tournament golf.

Will it ever happen?

Hard to say.

Two-time champion Steve Fox also would like to see the field grow to 120, and he would even like to see the cut made somewhere in the low 50s instead of low 36 and ties.

But Fox acknowledges a major stumbling block is that any course hosting the event would stand to lose tee times.

For example, every Amateur golfer playing at Pete Dye Golf Club this week meant one less paying golf round for the resort.

I hope the golf association can work it out.

For all the Chad Westfalls out there.