By Cam Huffman
Jim Hamrick has plenty of excuses for not playing at his best in this week’s Beckley Newspapers Memorial Golf Classic.
The soon-to-be 78-year-old — who, according to tournament director David Hunter, is the oldest player in the field of 154 golfers — recently spent 13 days without power at his Meadow Bridge home. He returned home from his farm in Glenville the Sunday after the storm swept through southern West Virginia, only to find his pickup truck under a large pine tree.
So, in the midst of that, Hamrick spent the next six days at The Greenbrier Classic, working long hours as a volunteer, before returning home to a warm, dark house each evening.
“It’s been pretty hectic,” he admitted.
Pretty hectic? That’s enough to have the average teenager stuck to the couch with his eyes closed, the air conditioner blasting and a big glass of iced tea by his side.
But Hamrick was out playing 18 holes for the second day in a row Sunday at Pipestem Resort State Park, participating in his 19th out of the last 20 BNI tournaments. And he wasn’t about to admit any fatigue.
“Unfortunately, I had two bad days here,” said Hamrick, who posted a 96 Saturday at Grandview and a 95 Sunday at Pipestem. “You could blame it on a lot of things. I’m probably tired. But I don’t like to think I am. Maybe tomorrow will be better.”
Hamrick hopes so, because even at his age, he’s not playing just to put his name on the entry list.
“I was an athlete,” he explained. “And you want to win. You want to play as good as you could possibly play.”
Those who know Hamrick probably aren’t surprised at all by that attitude. Athletics have always been central to his life.
After graduating from Meadow Bridge High School, Hamrick headed to West Virginia University, where he joined the basketball team as a freshman.
He soon realized he wouldn’t see a lot of playing time, and he transferred to Glenville State, where he finished off his college degree.
He returned to Meadow Bridge, where he received his first coaching job, before eventually heading to Rainelle High School, which is now part of Greenbrier West.
He soon migrated to Kanawha County, and he became Herbert Hoover High School’s first football coach in 1963.
Upon his retirement from the school system — where he worked as a coach, math teacher and principal — Hamrick went to work for the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, where he worked for five years.
On top of all that, Hamrick spent 25 years as an official for the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and he directed the state high school track meet for 13 years. He’s still substitute teaching, mostly at Greenbrier West and Meadow Bridge, and he plays regularly on the West Virginia Golf Association’s Senior Series.
Hamrick, who first took up golf when he took a class in college, said he loves playing in those events, where the golfers ages 50-59 play from one set of tees, the 60-69-year-olds play from another and the 70-and-older group plays from an even shorter set.
“That kind of levels the field,” he explained. “Last Friday we played at Woodhaven, and a guy who had just turned 70 had the lowest score of anybody. When you move the tees, it gives everybody a chance.”
Hamrick doesn’t get that opportunity at the BNI — all players tee off from the same spot, regardless of age — but it’s going to take more than that to keep him out of the event.
“I don’t care if they make me play from the blue tees,” he said. “I’ll play in it as long as they’ll let me go.”
And even if the time eventually comes when he can’t swing the club, don’t be surprised if Hamrick is still at the course. Five years ago when he had to miss the tournament because of a colon operation — the only one of the last 20 he’s missed — he was still out riding around on a golf cart, keeping an eye on the action.
“It’s been a great tournament,” he said. “They always treat you good, and it always gets good coverage. I’ve played with one friend pretty consistently down through the years, but then we always play with two different people. It gives you a chance to meet people, and I like to do that.
“These 425-yard par 4s are a little too much for me anymore, but I still enjoy playing.”
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If the Hamrick name sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. Hamrick’s son, Mike, is the athletic director at Marshall University. In fact, both of his sons played sports for the Herd.
Hamrick, who has long been a Mountaineer fan as well, said he hears a lot from both sides, but when it comes down to head-to-head battles he has to go with the men in green.
“There’s no question now, I have to root for them,” he said. “Blood’s thicker than water. So I have to root for Marshall.”
He said he always enjoys the Friends of Coal Bowl, which puts WVU and Marshall head-to-head in football each season, and he’s saddened by the fact that this fall’s game could be the last for at least some time.
“It’s great,” he said of the series. “I’m real disappointed they’re not going to play anymore. I see no reason not to play. I consider West Virginia a small state, but it’s no different than an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Kansas-Kansas State or Virginia Tech-Virginia. They need to play, but I doubt that they will any time soon.”