Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
Former Virginia Tech standout Johnson Wagner talks to his caddie as they walk up to the 10th green during the third round of The Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Saturday.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Seth Hill texted all his Virginia Tech buddies back home with a message: Be watching — and, more importantly, listening — on the 18th tee.
On cue, as soon as the club struck the ball, the 23-year-old Hillsville resident bellowed as loud as he could: “HOOOOKIEEES!”
You might hear that more than once today.
Tech alum Johnson Wagner takes a 2-shot lead into today’s final round of The Greenbrier Classic — a fact that delighted Hill and scores of other Hokies fans in the gallery.
Hill and his father, Jeff, are longtime Tech supporters who showed up Saturday just wanting to check out some golf. But as Johnson rocketed up the leaderboard, they, along with many others dressed in Hokies’ T-shirts, hats and polos, began to follow him .
“It’s great seeing a bunch of orange and maroon in the crowd,” Wagner said.
It’s also something he never thought he’d see when he arrived at Tech as a recruited walk-on in the late 1990s. Him? A New York state prep product representing the hopes of so many Southwest Virginians at a pro tournament?
“No, never,” Wagner said. “I always dreamed of playing the Tour, but Tech was really the only place that recruited me to play golf. … We were awful for two straight years, and then Brendon [de Jonge] came in my sophomore year and we started getting pretty good that year. Then the last two years, we just took off.”
The Hokies won back-to-back Big East titles in Wagner’s final two seasons (finishing No. 8 nationally his junior year), then added another league crown the year after he left. Although Wagner didn’t win a collegiate tournament until claiming the individual conference championship his senior year, he had a reputation for closing well throughout his time in Blacksburg.
He twice reaped Tech’s “Crunch Time” Award, given to the golfer on the team with the best final-round scoring average. Such steely nerves could serve him well again today, as he tries to capture his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Sealing the deal at the pro level has required an emotional evolution of sorts.
“In Houston when I won in 2008, I was really nervous,” Wagner said. “I don’t know how I managed to close that one out. I was shaking, felt sick all morning.
“It got a little easier at Mayakoba when I won in 2011, [but] still very nervous. At Sony [in 2012], it was a weird feeling. I felt pretty comfortable after the first few holes. Last group on Sunday you’re always going to be nervous, but I’m sure I’ll be OK.”
Wagner began Saturday among a large group at 8-under but quickly distinguished himself as the man to beat. He birdied three of his first five holes on his way to a 6-under 64, which left him two strokes ahead of Jimmy Walker and four clear of the rest of the field.
The success this week has come as a surprise to many who’ve watched Wagner struggle for much of the season, but the 33-year-old Charlotte resident felt a breakthrough might be coming.
“Sometimes when you’re playing bad, you kind of forget who you are and you get down on yourself,” Wagner said. “The last couple weeks, I’ve just been trying to be positive and remember that I’ve won three times out here.
“It was my goal when I was a kid just to play out here, and now I’m a three-time winner and I have nothing to lose. I’ve achieved pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted to in the game — other than maybe a major and the Ryder Cup — but I’m a little more comfortable with myself right now.”
And should that confidence waver at all today? All he’ll need to do is pause and listen.
Vocal support should never be far away.
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes