Azalea Invitational Preview
The Country Club of Charleston hosts the 70th Azalea Invitational<br>(CC of Charleston photo)
The Country Club of Charleston hosts the 70th Azalea Invitational
(CC of Charleston photo)

CHARLESTON, SC (March 19, 2018) - The 70th Azalea Invitational starts Thursday, with a field of 108 players set to compete at the Country Club of Charleston.

The Azalea is one of the big amateur events of the spring, with a diverse field made up of college players, mid-amateurs, juniors and seniors.

Participation by the nation's top college players is hit or miss due to the tournament falling in the middle of the college golf season. Last year's champion Chris Petefish, who plays for Georgia Tech, is unable to defend his title this year. In a thriller, Petefish shot a final-round 67 to win by one shot over three players.

Related: Chris Petefish rallies to win Azalea Invitational

Past champions who are in the field include the all-time leader in Azalea championships, the six-time winner Frank Ford III, whose grandfather Frank Ford, Sr. was a four-time winner and the first ever champion in 1946. The Frank C. Ford Azalea Champions' Trophy is presented annually to the winner of the championship.

The 2015 champion and former Walker Cupper Todd White (Spartanburg, SC) returns after finishing 2nd last year, one shot behind Petefish. Another Walker Cupper, four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith (Pittsburgh, PA) won the event in 2005, and John Finnin (Mokena, IL) won in 1983.

The reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale will continue his Masters preparation at the Azalea, and the Golf Channel will be on site during the practice round to film him for a profile that will be aired during Masters week. The firefighter from Brockton, MA has a compelling story, which he shared along with his thoughts on his Masters preparation in a feature interview with AmateurGolf.com two weeks ago.

Related: AmateurGolf.com Feature Interview: Matt Parziale

Another U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and Walker Cupper, Scott Harvey (Kernersville, NC), is in the field after finishing two shots back in 5th place last year. Harvey was a runner-up in the 2013 Azalea.

16-year-old Joseph Pagdin, born in England but living in Orlando, FL, finished in a tie for 2nd last year in his first Azalea Invitational and returns in 2018. Pagdin will be attending the University of Florida after making a verbal commitment as an 8th grader.

Cole Hammer (Houston, TX), a University of Texas commit (he committed when he was 13) who finished tied runner-up with Pagdin and White last year, is in the field again this year. Hammer qualified for the U.S. Open as a 15-year-old.

A couple of highly-ranked Canadians will be in the field. Hugo Bernard, a former Canadian amateur and NCAA Division II champion, will be joined by Joey Savoie, who won the Tailhade Cup in Argentina last year, finished runner-up in last year's Monroe Invitational and picked up a top-10 finish at the Australian Master of the Amateurs earlier this winter.

Four-time Azalea Senior champion Brady Exber of Las Vegas returns to the Country Club of Charleston to compete. Exber, who will turn 62 the week after the tournament, has proven he can compete against younger players, and just last week won the Summerlin Amateur, beating a 17-year-old UNLV commit in a playoff.

The 2018 tournament marks the first year that Bert Atkinson will assume the role of Tournament Chairman, succeeding David Humphreys who held the position for many years. Atkinson is pleased with how the field has come together, noting that in addition to the players mentioned thus far, there are 11 current state champions including the South Carolina champion Gregg Jones of Florence.

The Country Club of Charleston is an old-style Seth Raynor design. The course is short by modern standards, but defends itself with firm, fast elevated greens with tightly-mowed surrounds and its location hard against the marshes adjacent to the Ashley River, with stiff breezes requiring precision approaches.

This will be the first major event hosted by the Country Club of Charleston since the course was damaged by Hurricane Irma last fall. The storm surge flooded several holes and forced the cancellation of the Senior Azalea.

Related: "Waves were breaking on the 4th fairway": Senior Azalea Cancelled Due to Hurricane Irma

Play begins Thursday morning. After 54 holes, a cut will be made and the low 60 and ties will advance to the final round on Sunday.

-- The Post & Courier contributed to this story

ABOUT THE Azalea Invitational

72 hole stroke play with a 54 hole cut on a 1925 Seth Raynor design. Good mix of college players, juniors and mid amateurs. 7 spots available in a qualifier. Impressive list of past champions at this traditional event. Reigning USGA champs often use this tournament as a tune-up for the Masters.

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