30 years for former Open champ

Whether history repeats itself later this summer and a member of Parkersburg Country Club happens to win the 80th West Virginia Open on their home course, only time will tell.

Thirty years ago, Jim Fankhauser was able to make that magic materialize as a 26-year-old amateur.

“At the time, I was also on the executive committee of the (West Virginia Golf Association) and because the Open was being played on my home course I was designated as the tournament chairman,” said Fankhauser, who considers himself semi-retired while working part-time at a golf resort in the Tampa Bay (Fla.) area. “My duties for preparing the course and obtaining sponsors for the tournament helped divert my attention to the pressures of playing on my home course in front of all my friends and family.

“I never really thought about winning the Open. I just tried to stay focused and determined that nobody was going to beat me on my home turf that week.”

Defending champion Jonathan Clark of Hurricane will have the proverbial target on his back when the West Virginia Open returns to PCC for the first time in 30 years during the week of June 17-21.

“Obviously, it’s a much different course than what we played in 1983,” Fankhauser said. “I’m glad that PCC is hosting the event, and I’m sure it will be a wonderful tournament. It’s a big sacrifice for a club to give up their course for a tournament, so kudos to the membership for supporting golf in West Virginia by doing so.”

Several years have passed since Fankhauser returned to the Mid-Ohio Valley. His son, Ollie, was a former golf standout at Parkersburg High School and is currently attending West Virginia University with the hopes of going to law school. Ollie Fankhauser touched on how his father made a lasting impression as far as the mental side of the sport, and how that factored in Jim’s championship run 30 years ago.

“It was a matter of staying focused and in the present, and not thinking of the ‘what ifs’ of the outcome,” Jim Fankhauser said. “It’s difficult to do that for a three-day period, but again being around friends and family off the course helped me stay relaxed, and made it feel like just another round of golf at the club versus a golf tournament.”

Having the opportunity to sleep in their own bed paid off for several local golfers that year as Vienna’s Mike Rothwell and Parkersburg’s Matt Cooke finished third and sixth, respectively. Home cooking didn’t hurt either.

“I had several of my friends who were playing in the tournament staying at my home as well,” Fankhauser said. “I can fondly remember the wonderful meals my mother prepared for us each evening, with fresh vegetables and fruits harvested from my father’s garden.”

In the 50th installment of the West Virginia Open, Fankhauser shot rounds of 70, 71 and 71 for a 212 total. His three-stroke victory over runner-up John Ross didn’t exactly come easy.

Following a 2 1/2-hour rain delay, Fankhauser led Ross by one stroke at the turn. The margin increased to three strokes by the 14th hole.

After going 29 consecutive holes without a bogey, Fankhauser three-putted No. 15 and took a double-bogey. Ross, meanwhile, birdied the hole to trim the deficit to one stroke.

Fankhauser recovered by closing out his round with a birdie on No. 17 and a par on No. 18.

“Of course, I’m very proud of being able to win the Open at PCC (and to put my name on the same trophy as Sam Snead and Bill Campbell,” Fankhauser said. “It was some vindication for the near misses at The Greenbrier in the State Am.”

The State Am is the one title that eluded Fankhauser, who finished runner-up at the event on four different occasions.

Fankhauser’s career involves many fond memories -beginning with his college career at Miami (Ohio) University followed by playing in the Junior U.S. Amateur, two U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Mid-Amateurs and two British Amateurs.

“It’s extremely difficult to qualify for these events,” Fankhauser said. “So being able to travel the country and overseas, and to have played for the top prizes in amateur golf with many of those who would eventually become the world’s best players was very gratifying.

“I still watch TV (and the Champions Tour) and tell my wife ‘Hey, I’ve played with that guy.’ It brings back many great memories.”

Contact Kerry Patrick at kpatrick@newsandsentinel.com