Upstate Amateur Golf

Branyon needs extra holes to win his sixth title at “The Earl”

by Jed Blackwell, Associate Editor – Publisher

Williamston — One of the most popular amateur tournaments among players was so much fun on Sunday, the leaders just kept playing.

Two rounds weren’t enough to determine a winner in the Earl Wooten Memorial at Saluda Valley Country Club.

Austin Langdale and Josh Branyon finished tied at 135 and headed to a sudden-death playoff.

Branyon sank a long birdie putt on the par-3 12th, the third playoff hole, to take a one-shot victory.

The playoff very nearly wasn’t necessary.

Langdale came up inches short a couple of times down the stretch, with breathing room over Branyon just eluding him.

He very nearly chipped in for birdie at 15 from just off the front of the green, his birdie attempt at 16 died inches short of the cup, right in the throat, and a two-putt birdie at the par-5, 18th, wasn’t enough, as Branyon got up-and-down for a birdie of his own.

It took Josh Branyon a handful of close finishes before he won his first title at “The Earl”, but since that time Branyon has now won sixth championhips in th ournament hosted by Saluda Valley. (GolfClub Photo)

“Almost knocked in on 15,” Langdale said. “On 16, left it short in the heart. That’s a putt you don’t necessarily expect to make, but when you knock it up there on line and it comes up an inch short, you start wishing a little bit more. I had a good look at 17, a two putt birdie on 18, and then Josh gets his up and down and it’s time to go play a little more golf.”

Branyon knew leaving himself a chance at an up-and-down at 18 was crucial

“I knew I couldn’t miss it right,” he said. “I had about 210 and the wind was in our face, and I knew I could get up and down from the bunker (to the left) easy with where the pin was. I hit it over there left a little bit, and it was basically an easy chip. I chipped it up there to about three feet. It was just about not taking myself out of it. I play here a lot, and I know if you miss it right, that’s no good.”

Both players drove inside 100 yards on the first playoff hole, the 10th, but neither could convert a birdie attempt.

Agin, both had a look at eagles on the par-5 11th, as Langdale was in the middle of the green about 20 feet away, while Branyon was less than a foot off the green, 10 feet or so from a pin tucked on the left-front of the green.

Both two-putted for birdie.

Josh Branyon lines up his putt to win “The Earl” in a sudden-death playoff with Austin Langdale in the championship played at Saluda Valley Country Club.

That left the 12th, where Branyon said his long putt was a much simpler matter than Langdale’s shorter birdie try, which had a ton more break.

“It was an easy putt,” Branyon said. “It didn’t even break much. Austin had a lot longer putt than I did. I just knew if I could get it on line and hit it hard enough, it would have a chance. and it went in.”

When Branyon rolled in his bomb it may have added an extra degree of difficulty to Langdale’s putt to tie and force another playoff hole.

“Josh is a good friend, we played yesterday and today together and had a lot of fun, and you don’t exactly expect a guy to run in a 30-foot putt that’s sliding downgrain. I had a putt that was breaking six or seven feet, and after he makes his, you’ve just got to hit it hard enough and see what happens.”

The win was Branyon’s sixth in the event, and he said he always enjoys playing in the tournament.

“It’s real fun,” he said. “The course is always in good shape, and it’s just fun to play in. I just enjoy it.”

Josh Branyon won his sixth championship in “The Earl” Wooten Memorial at Saluda Valley Country Club. Branyon had to top former Clemson golfer Austin Langdale in a 3-hole playoff to claim the win. (GolfClub Photo)

Langdale, who played college golf at Clemson, also has an appreciation for the course in Williamston.

“I grew up playing out here a little bit,” he said. “My grandfather is a member. I don’t get out here with him as much as I used to, but I know a lot of these guys. It’s fun to be out here and see a lot of familiar faces, and it feels good to put some good golf together, too.

Another golfer who appreciated the fun atmosphere of the tournament was Buster Wooten, Earl’s son.

Wooten finished fourth in the championship flight of the Legends division, eight days after making a hole-in-one at Saluda Valley last Saturday. He said his father would have enjoyed his namesake tournament tremendously.

“He would have loved it,” Wooten said. “Jeff Evatt (Saluda Valley pro and manager) is a great guy, sets the tournament up good, and everybody loves to play. This is a pretty good golf course to have a tournament. We had 120 people, which is about all we can handle at one time. Daddy would have been tickled to see this.”

Wooten said he truly appreciates the tribute to his father.

“As a tribute to him, it makes me glad that people want to turn out and play,” he said. “He was a real good guy.”

Earl Wooten has been enshrined in the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, Wooten played in the major league, but is best known for his days as the star player in the “Textile Basketball Tournament” that was a major event on the Upstate sports calendar.

Ben Cox shot 142 to finish as the Senior division champion, four shots ahead of Jeff Hunter. Mike Teasley’s 139 won the Legends division championship flight.

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