By Dave Morrison
They truly represent the old guard in the BNI Memorial Tournament, and Mike Mays, Greg McGraw and Jerry Hickman have the trophies to prove it.
Between the three, Mays (6), McGraw (4) and Hickman (3) have won 13 of the previous 30 BNI tournaments.
But even more impressive?
The trio hasn’t won a tournament since 2005, when Mays added his record sixth tournament.
Between 1989 and 1996, that threesome won an impressive seven of the eight BNIs.
Another such run by three local guys is not likely.
Simply put, at one time, they owned the hardware from the area summer golf classic, which kicks off Saturday at Grandview Country Club and Pipestem State Park.
These days, they still play, but admit their time at the top may have passed, giving way to the young guns like Christian Brand and Brandon Reece.
“But you never know,” said Mays, now the director of the First Tee of West Virginia youth golf program. “Sometimes in golf, lady luck is on your side. That’s the great thing about the game.”
And McGraw played in the State Amateur last month and made the cut and played the four days at The Greenbrier.
So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
“It’s more about family and friends for me,” said McGraw, who won his titles in 1987, 1991, 2001 and 2003. “My son, Jeremy, is coming in for the weekend, and my stepson, Landon, will be here and my wife, Shawn. My time has probably come and gone. It will be a new experience. I’ll get to see old friends, hang out with the family. It’s always a good time.”
For Hickman, it’s much the same. He’ll be in the same foursome as usual, with McGraw, Billy Lane and Dennis Vass. Vass won the second BNI in 1982.
“I’m 65 years old. I know my time is passed,” Hickman quipped. “You know, the last two years I’ve tried like crazy to make that championship flight. This year, I’m going in there, and I’m going to have fun. It’s about seeing a bunch of guys I don’t see very much and then getting the old foursome back together. It’s special.”
Mays said a tough field makes it harder for the old guard to get back to the top.
“I think the three-course format still makes it interesting; it’s why people like it,” said Mays, whose titles span from 1984-2005. “For me, Grandview is where I started. It will always be near and dear to my heart. I play a lot at Glade these days, and that course is outstanding in every aspect.
“And then Pipestem, I think it has one of the best layouts in the state.”
All have fond memories of championships.
Hickman recalls that in 1989, when he won his first, he replaced McGraw.
“Greg called me and said he couldn’t play and begged me to take his place,” Hickman said. “I didn’t want to do it, but I did, and I ended up winning the thing. The second time I won it, I had been working the whole night before. I was dead, didn’t think I’d play. I think maybe that made me relax.”
Hickman’s other titles came in 1992 and 1995.
McGraw remembers a high score netting him his final title in 2003.
“I think maybe for me the last one (2003) stands out,” McGraw said. “The final round was at Brier Patch. I birdied No. 18 (the long par 5) to win it. Finished with a 74. These days, you pretty much have to shoot under par to win. But that 74 was special.
“I remember Dennis (Vass) riding up to me on No. 17 and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got a chance to win.’ I said, ‘Dennis, I think I know the situation.”’
Mays said his first was special, all the way back in 1984.
“It was a two-day event back then, and I won it at Grandview,” Mays said. “That made it special — to win at my home course. They are all special in one way or another. For me, that one stands out.”
If any of the guys could rally this year, Hickman likes McGraw’s chances, coming off of making the cut at the State Amateur.
“And, I’ve actually been playing more leading up to the BNI,” McGraw said. “That’s something I haven’t done in the past. I like to think I can make the championship flight. That’s attainable.”
Mays agreed that the championship flight “is a goal.”
“We all have goals, and I think that is a good goal to shoot at,” Mays said. “We’ll see. I think I have some gas left in the tank. I just don’t get to practice like I once did.”
The first two rounds will be at Pipestem and Grandview, with the field changing courses on Saturday and Sunday before the championship at The Resort at Glade Springs’ Cobb Course Monday.