He has conquered junior high and is moving on to high school but not before he meets the upperclassmen of the golfing community in Columbia.
Nick Wilson, 14, is the youngest player in the Francis Hagan Match Play Championship that starts Saturday. He will face such Francis Hagan veterans as Tim Rooney, Joe Bellmer and David McDonald.
“I am nervous,” Wilson said. “It is a good tournament because when you get past the qualifying round it isn’t based on scores but holes.”
The tournament at Lake of the Woods Golf Course is open to all ages. It finishes June 20.
Despite the fun, open nature of playing in a summer golf tournament, the Francis Hagan has fierce competition. No one has successfully defended his title the next year, and those who try for the prize money and cup have a long four days ahead.
Six rounds of golf, not including an 18-hole qualifying round that is stroke play, narrow the field from 64 players who will compete with one another and advance based on the number of holes won.
The prize is well worth the efforts. The winner receives $750 in gift certificates and a trophy about 2 feet tall to keep until next year’s tournament. D.J. Chung is the defending champ.
The tournament used to be called the Columbia Match Play Championship, but in 1998 the name was changed in honor of local golfer Francis Hagan, who died of cancer that year. Andrew Baier, co-tournament chairman, remembers Hagan as a quality player and person.
“The fondest memory I remember about his playing ability was soon after he was diagnosed with cancer. He played in the Senior State Games. He had not played golf in about six or seven months, and he came out sick, had not touched a club and shoots 74 or 75 for 18 holes,” Baier said.
“It just showed how good of a player he was, and he was willing to teach people. I just enjoyed playing golf with him, and I thought it’d be an honor to name the tournament after him.”
Bellmer has played in all but one tournament. He won in 1996 and said the competition has grown along with the tournament.
“Columbia is growing, but it has a really solid nucleus of good players that fields interest in competition for the tournament,” Bellmer said.