There’s just something about the Azalea. Perhaps it’s the time of year. Or maybe it’s that hit of southern hospitality you feel. This year, though -- which marks the 66th playing of the event -- it very well could be the field.
The Azalea Invitational kicks off Thursday at The Country Club of Charleston, bringing with it, yet another field full of highly-ranked mid-amateur, collegiate and junior golfers.
Defending champion Austin Langdale of Clemson will be there, hoping to make it two straight at the prestigious early-spring event calling Webb Simpson, Nathan Smith and D.J. Trahan past winners. Originally a match-play event, the Azalea is now a 72-hole stroke-play tournament with a cut to the low 60 and ties after 54 holes.
Leading the mid-amateur contingency will be reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Mike McCoy. Ranked 10th in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com U.S. Rankings, McCoy also won last year’s Coleman and George C. Thomas invitationals. He’ll be joined by South Carolina-native Todd White, who was among two mid-amateurs selected to last year’s U.S. Walker Cup team.
North Carolina’s Scott Harvey, Stocker Cup champion John Sawin and three-time (and defending) Azalea Senior champion Brady Exber will also be in the field.
The junior field, which has been so successful in recent years, includes a number of players ranked highly in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, including Andy Zhang (No. 3) and Doug Ghim (No. 6).
The event got a boost thanks to scheduling this year as a number of teams in the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference weren’t slated to play in events, leaving much of their rosters to be considered for the Azalea.
Among the collegiate players in this year’s field are: 2013 Dogwood Invitational and Alabama State Champion Michael Johnson of Auburn, Alabama’s Tom Lovelady and Robby Prater. Other college-aged stars include recent Arizona State transfer and 2013 U.S. Open participant Grayson Murray, recent Tennessee graduate Rick Lamb and North Florida’s M.J. Maguire.
The field will also have an international feel to it with members of the Canadian and Brazilian national teams participating.
“We have a strong field,” said tournament director David Humphreys. “The course is in great shape and it will play firm and fast. Just how we like it.”
The event begins Thursday and AmateurGolf.com will have full coverage, including results, recaps and more.