SILVER LAKES — We’re a long way from knowing which team will win the 36th annual Sunny King Charity Classic, but we know the tourney’s most focused individual.
We knew before Friday’s first round.
We knew at 7 a.m. Friday, when recently certified PGA Class A professional Brennan Clay reported for work at Silver Lakes, one of Sunny King’s three courses.
We knew for the next four hours, as the staff pro got the morning wave off the tee, then burned a path on the clubhouse rug between the pro shop, front door and cart stand outside. His shaved head and orange staff shirt stayed on the move, even after he changed from slacks to playing shorts at about 11:30 a.m.
We also knew something about Clay’s focus as new playing partner Jeremy McGatha showed up, and Clay transitioned from work mode to member of one of the tournament’s top tandems.
Clay has to stay focused all three days of the tournament.
“My agreement with my boss is, ‘If you’re going to play, you’re going to work and play,’” Clay said. “That’s great to me.”
This is not Clay’s first time to work and play the Sunny King. He’s worked as assistant to Silver Lakes director of golf Jason Callan since September of 2011.
And truth told, Clay would never tire of the Sunny King. The 2007 Alexandria High grad grew up around the area’s signature golfing event. He started playing in it in 2006, when he and Scott Pettus were among three teams that tied for second, two strokes back of McGatha and Jaylon Ellison.
“After playing on Sunday and coming up there with all of those people on (hole) 17, it’s like a tour event,” Clay said. “I kind of fell in love with it then.”
Clay has been part of two second-place teams and one third-place team. He’s not playing just for the love.
That’s why he jumped at the chance when McGatha approached him on the driving range this past fall about being Sunny King teammates. McGatha was part of four championships with Ellison.
“I told him I’m tired of not winning it,” Clay said. “I think I’ve got enough experience now where a win is the next step.”
But Clay is just as serious about his work.
He finished the process toward certification as a Class A pro at the end of May and achieved PGA membership in the first week in June. That opens doors for positions as a head pro or director of golf.
This is his career, and his Robert Trent Jones course is hosting a major annual event. Not that he minds the mix of business and pleasure.
“It’s tiring,” Clay said. “Come Monday, I’ll be ready to get off work and go sit on the couch and watch TV. Just the past couple of weeks preparing for it — the golf side and the work side — it’s tough.
“But this is what I signed up for. I live to play golf, and I live to work in golf, so it doesn’t bother me at all.”
Clay and McGatha had Silver Lakes’ final tee time Friday, at 12:42 p.m., after working four hours and change, eating lunch and switching to playing mode. They finished their round at 13-under-par 59, five shots back of the leading tandem of Gary Wigington-Freeman Fite.
Then came the tournament party Friday night at Anniston Country Club.
“Hopefully, I’ll get in bed around 12 or so,” Clay said.
Clay will report for work at 5:45 a.m. Saturday to do prep work for Saturday’s and Sunday’s rounds. Among his duties are cart plates and tee sheets, and he’ll start the morning wave for Saturday.
Then he’ll make the 28-mile, 42-minute drive to the southern end of Calhoun County for a 12:09 tee time at Cider Ridge.
Not that Clay has ever asked, but Callan has been nice enough to give him Sundays off during the Sunny King. It’s a safe assumption that Clay and McGatha will be in contention when they tee off Sunday at 1:10 p.m. at ACC, and Clay can focus on playing.
“I know what it means to him,” said Callan, whose one Sunny King playing experience came in 2011, after tornado damage forced Silver Lakes out of the Sunny King for a year. “It’s an important event to him, and I think it’s important that he plays in it for community relations, also.
“Everybody in the event knows Brennan. A lot of people know Brennan around the community. I think it’s important for us as well as Brennan, but more importantly Brennan.”
With Sunday off, Clay has the chance for a good night’s rest Saturday night — assuming the prospect of winning the Sunny King allows such a competitive guy to sleep.
“I’d rather be first in anything,” Clay said. “I don’t care what I’m playing.”