Here’s to 100 years of rich State Am history

Mike Taylor en route to one of his 10 State Am champioships
Mike Taylor en route to one of his 10 State Am champioships

This week, Mississippi’s top amateur golfers will converge at Country Club of Jackson to compete

Cleveland
Cleveland

for the State Amateur Championship, the 100th in the event’s history.

That’s a lot of history. Today, hopefully we will learn some.

At times our State Am has seemed like the Queen City Open. Meridian golfers have won a whopping 25 of the previous 99. That’s far more than golfers from any other town … in fact, that’s 11 more times than golfers from Jackson.

Meridian native Mike Taylor won it 10 times himself. In fact, that’s his nickname: Ten-time, as in Mike “Ten-time” Taylor. If Taylor, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, were from Jackson, Jacksonians would have won 24 State Ams and Meridian only 15. In fact, Taylor long since has moved to Jackson and the Country Club of Jackson (CCJ). But that doesn’t change the fact he is from Meridian, learned his golf at Northwood Country Club and lived in Meridian when he won those 10 championships. No telling how many he would have won had he not moved away to North Carolina for a while and if had not developed back issues in recent years.

And here’s a bit of history young folks may not know: Taylor, 68, is the only champion to have won the tournament both when it was a match play and now that it is a stroke play. “Ten-time” won it five times before it switched to medal play in 1972. He won it that year and then four more times since.

No, Taylor will not play this week. He is recovering from neck surgery. He will hit a ceremonial first drive Thursday morning. I’m betting it goes straight down the middle – with a little draw – and long.

The first State Am was played at what was then called the Jackson Country Club – later Shady Oaks – in 1915. A Mr. W.E. Ware won it.

More history: The winner’s trophy is called the Spec Wilson Trophy, named for Laurel’s Spec Wilson, a self-taught golfer and putting wizard, who won the State Am four times and also won three State Opens. Wilson died in 1967, the year he was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. The State Am winner’s trophy had its name from then on.

Meridian’s H.G. Weddington, Mississippi’s oldest living Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, won the State Am three times. Perhaps more impressively, he played in 56, more than 40 in a row, including his first in 1936. He won it for the first time in 1939, before serving in World War II. Last month, Hunter George Weddington, Mississippi golf’s elder statesman, turned 98.

The Spec Wilson Trophy isn’t the only trophy at stake this week. There’s also the Mike Magee Trophy, and there’s a story there. In the 1987 State Am at the storied Hattiesburg Country Club, Mike Magee of Gulfport shot a first-round 10-under par 61, the lowest round ever shot in the State Am. Magee was killed in an automobile accident two months later, but he lives on through the Mike Magee Memorial Trophy, which goes to the State Am’s first-round medalist each year.

Meridian’s Gene Vinson and Jackson’s Rett Crowder are tied for second behind Ten-time Taylor with six State Am victories apiece. Crowder surely played some the greatest amateur golf Mississippi has ever seen when he lapped the field in winning the 2000 State Am at CCJ with a four-round total of 13-under par.

Mississippi State golf coach Clay Homan, one of the favorites this week, has won the tournament four times. Homan and other veterans face a strong challenge from what surely seems the most talented group of junior golfers in the history of Mississippi golf. Eighteen-year-old Davis Riley of Hattiesburg is playing in another tournament (yeah, that one, the U.S. Open) this week, but 16-year-old CCJ Club Champion Wilson Furr – whom Ten-time Taylor calls “the best junior golfer I’ve ever seen, period” – will compete in the Centennial State Amateur. Furr won the CCJ championship last year at 15, shooting 7-under par for 54 holes. A similar performance over 72 holes would be Rett Crowder-like and difficult to beat.

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State Am Champions who are in the MSHOF: Mike Taylor, H.G. Weddington, Joe Iupe, Jr., Mickey Bellande, Eddie Merrins, Spec Wilson.

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