By Brian Paglia
Between the youngest (16) and oldest (67) at the Georgia State Golf Association's 88th annual Georgia Amateur Championship are two more entries of diversity, both from the Southern Crescent, both approaching this weekend's tournament from distinct places but with a common aim.
"Every competitive player in the state wants to have this trophy on their mantle," Clayton State golfer Wade Binfield said. "It's a nice piece of hardware. Some great players have won this trophy."
Within the context of amateur golf in Georgia, no event matches the prestige of the Amateur Championship, held tomorrow through Sunday at the Country Club of Columbus, nor the implications for a golfer's future. They are implications McDonough-native Dave Womack no longer ponders, but implications Binfield is just beginning to test.
There was a time when this tournament was a barometer for Womack, when as a golfer at Georgia State the prospects of a professional career weren't outlandish.
While Womack was still ripe, he gave the nomadic life - the golfer's life - a chance after college. He'd finish a tournament in the Hooters Tour on Sunday, then drive sometimes seven or eight hours to the next one. But the traveling wore him down.
"I'm just a home-body," Womack said.
Womack gave the transient life less than a year before he returned home, sold insurance and regained his amateur status. Those parameters define much of his life still.
But there has always been the Georgia Amateur Championship. If there is anything left to add to an amateur golf career that includes the 2006 Mid-Amateur Championship, the 2006 GSGA Tommy Barnes Award given to the overall player of the year and qualifying for the 2007 Masters, it is this tournament that he's played nearly a dozen times and finished as high as fourth.
"It's always been a goal, and I think a goal of every amateur in the state on the competitive level, to win the state amateur," Womack said. "It gets tougher every year. The competition just gets stronger.
"So it's always been a goal of mine to compete in it and win it. I'd love to have my name on the trophy."
Binfield steps onto the same path Womack once attempted to navigate. The Clayton State rising senior from Fayetteville didn't begin competitive golf until his junior year at Our Lady of Mercy. The timeline for his development has looked much different than his peers.
But now, as Binfield enters the twilight of his college career, things seem to be turning. He was named an honorable mention All-American this season. Three weeks ago he finished second at the Southeast Amateur Championship at this same Columbus course. This past Sunday he was runner-up at the Spirit of America tournament in Decatur, Ala.
"He's certainly raised the level of his game this year," Clayton State golf coach Barry Harwell said.
Little by little Binfield has elevated his talent to where this weekend suddenly seems pivotal to his golfing career. Three years ago he entered this event and missed the cut, overwhelmed by its magnitude. Last season, he tied for 21st.
Now, he steps onto the County Club of Columbus acutely cognizant, as Womack once was, that the Georgia Amateur Championship represents much more than a trophy, that perhaps something as enormous as a future is at stake.
"This is the proving grounds," Binfield said. "This is where you earn your stripes. This is where you prove to yourself you can do it, and gain your confidence and experience.
"Seventy-two holes later I hope that I've got that trophy in my hands."