Mitch Laurance becomes first hickory player in long history of World Amateur Championship
By Jim Davis
If you really love hickory golf, like Mitch Laurance does; and you have a radio show, like Laurance does; and if you have media and presentation experience, like Laurance does; how much more can you do to promote your favorite sport?
Well, you might become the first player ever to compete in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Championships – like Laurance.
The Myrtle Beach World Amateur, Aug. 26-Sept. 1, is said to be the largest amateur golf tournament on the globe. Now in its 34th year, the tournament draws players from all 50 United States and over 30 countries. More than 3,000 players participated in 2016, and at least that many have signed on for the 2017 event, scheduled for Aug. 26-Sept. 1. The event consists of 72 holes of net and stroke play on over 60 championship golf courses. Players are flighted by gender, age, and handicap. Organizers say they employ an “innovative handicap monitoring system” that keeps the competition fair and equitable. And puts all players on a level field to compete for a World Champion Amateur title. Handicaps range from +4 to 36.4. The World Am is played simultaneously over 50 of Myrtle Beach’s award-winning courses, including some bucket-list courses designed by such architects as Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Mike Strantz and Rees Jones.
For the past 25 years, Laurance served as an emcee at the event, usually at the “World’s Largest 19th Hole,’ which features a main stage, vendors, demo bays and an indoor hole-in-one and longest putt contest.
“Every night I’d introduce guest speakers on the main stage, relay tourney info to players on the floor, and emcee the final night hole-in-one/longest putt contests from the floor,” he says. “This year will be the first I won’t have any duties, and it seemed a good time to play in this amazing event.”
It was natural gig for Laurance who has been an ESPN commentator for ESPN Championship Billiards and acted/produced/hosted/wrote for On the Green Golf Video Showcase from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he lives. He has also hosted Hooked on Hickories, a radio show he produced with colleague, Darin Bunch. The two now produce Talking GolfGetaways with Mitch & Darin, which is audiocast on GolfNewsNet.com.
Hickories at the World Am, though? While Laurance, who posts a modest 18.6 handicap index, has been an avid hickory golfer for almost a decade, wouldn’t hickories be a tough go against the average guy with modern technological marvels. Not for our man.
“There was never a thought to play anything other than my hickories,” he says. “It’s who I am as a golfer now. I’ll do what I do every time I play. Have fun, do my best, play each shot, and connect with the history of the game I love.”
Yes, he’ll sport plus-fours, at least on the first day. “Weather may dictate other days, especially if it gets really hot,” he says.
Laurance plans to approach the event as with any other golf event he joins. “No difference in approach. No game plan,” he says. “I’ll be playing from the senior tees – age-appropriate! – and, in this case, shoot the lowest number I can. No expectations.”
A straightforward approach, but many tournament directors, especially at private clubs, are halted by the USGA’s “non-conforming clubs” rules from allowing their hickory-wielding members from using those clubs. But Laurance said that in discussions with the tournament director, the question of non-conforming with his hickories never came up.
“Mostly, I assume, because the issue is usually about clubs giving a player an advantage due to technology,” he says. “It’s pretty clear to me that there’s one thing for certain – hickories will never be thought of as ‘game-improvement’ clubs.
He has a point, especially where the scorecard is concerned. Hickories for most us will not lower that bottom line. Still, there are hundreds of hickory players who will tell you their enjoyment of the sport has increased immeasurably since they took up hickory golf. So it is with Laurance who has said he “loves the feel of the wood and the sound of the shaft moving through the swing.”
“Hickory golf gives me the opportunity to get back to the true creativity of the game, to experience the game in a pure way,” he says. “The enjoyment I’ve gotten by playing with hickories has led me to deeper growth both on and off the course. I had been frustrated with golf and its technological aspect, so much so that I was close to giving it up. Playing with hickories brought me back to the game. That’s why when I have a chance to play, I only play my hickories.”
And that’s why the World Amateur is going to see one well-dressed Mitch Laurance on the tee with his set of vintage hickories, including one owned by the late Mike Just.
Lest you think the directors are giving him an edge in handicap for his hickories, no way. “I’m playing straight-up, with my SoHG handicap,” Laurance says. “Maybe next year we’ll try for a “Hickory Division!”
Laurance is not aware of any particular media interest in his participation at the World Am, but then he’s not really into that.
“I’m not really interested in anyone following me for four days,” he says. “I’m just going to go play and enjoy it. Might try to have my friend Alan Blondin, the golf writer for the Sun News here in MB, do a little feature on it, if he has the space…… And I’ll be doing a Talking GolfGetaways podcast episode with Darin after the event about the experience.”
Laurance plans to post something about each day’s round on social media. You can find his comments on Twitter and Instagram @MitchLaurance, and on Facebook at “Mitch Laurance.”
As well, Laurance will talk about the experience on his podcast with Bunch following the event.
Who knows, Laurance says, “maybe a hickory division at the World Am in the future?”