Some have simply blended back into the field. Others have gone straight to the top.
Marcus Harrell and Ott Chandler split this year after four successful years and two dramatic Classic victories together, but don’t look for any drop-off in the two teams they’ve spawned.
Harrell has joined forces with Pine Hill Country Club pro Cory Etter, while Chandler is teaming with his son Dalton. Both teams are first-time Sunny King partnerships and both are expected to be among the contenders — with Harrell-Etter favored to win — when the Ford Mustang championship flight tees off Friday at Silver Lakes to open the 34th annual Classic.
“It’s hard (to split),” Harrell said. “Ott and I have played a lot of tournaments together. We’ve had a lot of good memories, a lot of good times, together, for sure.
“But, Cory and I ... have a good chemistry as a team as well. It should be fun. It’ll be interesting, really interesting to see how we do. It’s not like we’re (he and Chandler) leaving on bad terms or anything.”
Chandler said the split was “my choice.” He said Harrell wanted to play together again this year but Chandler wanted the chance to play with his 16-year-old son, an emerging talent in his own right, while he was still competitive.
Chandler already has a share of four titles: Two with Harrell, 2008 and 2010; and two with Gary Wilborn, 2004,2005.
“If me and Dalton could ever win one, it would be greater than all four of them put together,” he said. “Any time you watch your kid do something it’s special.”
Both of the new partners have their own history of success in the Classic. Two years ago, Dalton and Madison Williams won the Third Flight by four shots with a final-round 61. Last year he finished second in the First Flight with T.K. Waugh, one shot off the lead.
Cory and his dad, Rich, finished tied for ninth in the Championship A Flight in 2010 and finished fourth in Championship B in 2009.
“It’s just a progression,” Ott said. “We started to (team up) last year, but I didn’t want to leave Marcus, him being one of the best players in the county to go to somebody who at the time just wasn’t ready. I think now (Dalton’s) as ready as just about anybody. He’s only 16 but he’s worked really hard. We may not be up there in the favorite’s role, but we’re going to be competitive. If we could get in there and play good, that would be something we could always cherish.”
Neither of the new partners say they feel any pressure to live up to the players they are replacing. Actually, both teams are keeping just about the same skill sets. Dalton, a rising senior at Alexandria High School, will bring the length Harrell brought to Chandler, and Etter, who said he’s playing as well now as he did when he won back-to-back PGA Dixie Section Apprentice titles in 2006 and 2007 while at Cider Ridge, will bring the short-game skills Ott brought to Harrell and his long putter.
In the scramble at Silver Lakes and the modified scramble at Cider Ridge, that’s a formidable combination. But they’re all just as skilled playing their own ball in the best-ball format on Championship Sunday at Anniston Country Club.
“I like this; I think it’ll be fun,” Dalton said. “I hope if we don’t win, maybe they will.”
Harrell and Etter may be in the favorite’s role, but if this were a city election there’d be a runoff. They held less than a one-percent edge over four-time winners and defending champions Jeremy McGatha and Jaylon Ellison among 2012 Classic players who had a preference in a recent Anniston Star tournament poll.
Defending hasn’t been a good experience for McGatha and Ellison — “In ’04 we played bad, in ’07 we didn’t play great and in 2010 it wasn’t awful, but ...” McGatha said — so they’ve taken a different approach to their preparation this year in an effort to change history.
They’ve played in seven two-man events of varying formats this season — sometimes passing up closer, important individual events to do it — to sharpen their Classic defense. They won five, finished second in another and missed the match-play cut in the State Four-Ball.
“The individual tournaments are very fun, they’re competitive and at the end of the day they can be rewarding when you win,” Ellison said. “But two-man tournaments are a little different. You’ve got to have that special ingredient to win. We want to be prepared for the Sunny King.
“We all know it’s going to be a three-day mental and physical grind on your body. We hope what we’ve done pays dividends, but we won’t know until Sunday.”
NOTES: Tournament officials have revised the flight breakdown, adding another flight, to reflect a more even team distribution in the divisions. They are as follows: Ford Mustang (handicaps 0-4, 38 teams); Acura RDX (5-7, 27 teams); Honda CRV (8-11, 28 teams); Toyota 4Runner (12-13, 27 teams); Ford Edge (14-16, 27 teams); Honda Accord (17-18, 28 teams); Toyota Camry (19-above, 26 teams).
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.