Some doubt was cast on the Calhoun County Golf Tour points leader’s participation because of uncertainty whether he could make the projected windows of qualifying tee times and Cane Creek Golf Course due to a major orientation meeting for his first job as a teacher with the White Plains schools.
Tournament officials offered two waves of tee times today and Harrell will play in the final group of the day at 3 p.m. The low 30 scores and ties among the 38 players teeing it up today qualify for the championship flight and first dibs on the County Tour points.
There was still a chance Harrell could win the points title if he didn’t play today, but now his fate is clearly back in his hands.
“First off I’d like to play because it’s the County Tournament, even if Player of the Year was involved or not,” he said. “Outside of the Sunny King (Charity Classic), it’s probably the biggest tournament we have.
“It’s OK if I play and I lose. It would hurt a lot more if I didn’t and we never got to find out. It’s definitely a relief I’m able to play.”
He said he “probably wouldn’t have” played at all if the scheduling conflict hadn’t been resolved.
Harrell, Jaylon Ellison and Gary Wigington are the only players with a mathematical chance to win the County Tour points title and Player of the Year award that accompanies it.
With three wins and a playoff second, Harrell leads Ellison by 87.5 points and Wigington by 162.5. First place this week is worth 450 points
Harrell can claim the title by finishing first or second. Even if he completely tanks, he’ll finish with 1,340 points — the same as he would if he didn’t play — meaning Ellison would have to finish better than sixth in the event and Wigington better than third.
“It would mean a lot to me (to win Player of the Year),” Harrell said. “Coming into this year I never won a (County Tour) event. Just to be in contention means a lot to me. I hope I play good this weekend.”
Ellison can win his second Player of the Year title in three years if he wins the County and Harrell finishes third or worse. He also could win it if Wigington wins, he finishes solo second and Harrell finishes solo fifth or worse.
In that scenario, Wigington and Ellison would finish tied for first in points. Both also would have two wins and a T-2, so the next best finish between them would be Ellison’s third at Pine Hill.
“I’m just going to go out and play one shot at a time, try to minimize my mistakes and try to make some putts,” said Ellison, the 2009 County champion. “I’m just thrilled to have an opportunity to win Player of the Year again.”
Wigington can snatch it away if he wins the County for a fifth time, Ellison finishes third or worse and Harrell finishes fifth or worse.
“It’s great to have a chance,” he said. “It’s a faint chance, but it’s a chance and it’s better than it has been, that’s for sure. I’ll just go out and play the best I can and if I’m fortunate enough to win, we’ll see how it falls from there. One thing I do konw is I can’t win it without winning this weekend.”
There is extra incentive. Wigington is bidding to become the first player in 28 years to win the County three years in a row. Eric Hamilton won it four straight years from 1981 to 1984. Four other players have had a chance since, but none since Ott Chandler did it in the first two years of the event’s Cane Creek era (2005-06).
“It’s going to be very difficult,” Wigington said. “The competition every year has gotten stronger and stronger. There are so many good players in this area now to win it one or two years is a pretty good feat.”
While most of the attention will be focused at the top of the points standings, there will be serious jockeying going on down the line.
The top 16 players in the points standings after Sunday qualify for the Calhoun County Match Play Championship later this fall at Cane Creek. Right now, 17 of the top 18 are playing. Doug East currently holds the 16th spot, but Nick Pollard and Brandon Roberts are both only 17.5 points behind. Three other players are within 100 points of the final Match Play spot.
“Not to take anything away from (the top three), but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody else wins the county; that would be my gut feeling,” Ellison said. “Somebody’s due. There are several players out there playing well who are due.
“I’ve seen it happen so many times; you get focused on three players and the next thing you know somebody out of the blue shoots 65-66-70, boom. Don’t be surprised if that happens and it could really shuffle the points around.”
Most County Titles
6 — Chris Banister (1955, 1961, 69-71, 1973)
6 — Eric Hamilton (1981-84, 1994, 1996)
4 — Milton Wigley (1949, 65-67)
4 — Gary Wigington (1999, 2004, 2010-11)
County Champions in Cane Creek Era
2005 — Ott Chandler, 1-under 215 (74-70-71), won by 3
2006 — Ott Chandler, 8-under 208 (67-69-72), won by 5
2007 — Jeremy McGatha, 2-under 214 (71-70-73), won by 2
2008 — Garrett Burgess, 5-under 211 (71-68-72), won by 2
2009 — Jaylon Ellison, 5-under 211 (72-66-73), won by 1
2010 — Gary Wigington, 10-under 206 (66-70-70), playoff
2011 — Gary Wigington, 8-under 208 (66-70-72), won by 4