Chuck Withers has taken some of the suspense out of this weekend's Midland Valley Senior Invitational golf tournament, the season-ending Regions Cup event for the over-50 set.
Withers, of Augusta, clinched the senior player-of-the-year title last week in the W.M. Gregory Classic at North Augusta Country Club.
Most years, the race for senior player-of-the-year honors, which is based on top-10 finishes in the 10 Regions Cup events, comes down to this weekend at Midland Valley Country Club in Graniteville.
Not this year, not with the 52-year-old Withers putting together a three-victory season.
Withers, who averaged 73.8 strokes for 18 rounds in eight starts, is the only senior with multiple victories.
"He had to beat some good players," said Mike Jackson, the winner of the senior division in the W.M. Gregory Classic, where Withers tied for sixth. "There is probably more competition now than ever before."
With 207 points, Withers leads Charles Hartline by 51 points. The best Hartline can hope for is to finish second to Withers in the points race because a victory counts for 50 points.
It's a good thing Withers wrapped up the title last week. He was going to honor a family commitment and not play at Midland Valley this weekend, no matter how the points race stood.
"I was fortunate I got enough points at North Augusta to finish it off," Withers said. "I said during the season that if the player of the year comes, it comes. If it doesn't, it doesn't."
Withers and his wife, Marie, and their 15-year-old son, Chuck, are in Charlotte, N.C., visiting Withers' 82-year-old mother and three of his siblings.
"I take up a lot of time practicing golf, so I've got to give some of it back," Withers said. "When you schedule something with your family, it's hard to break that. When I tell them I'm going, I try to come."
Withers finished fourth in the player-of-the-year race in 2001 with 88 points. He had three top-three finishes, but no victories, which is where golfers build up their points.
"The difference has been a lot of practice and being more focused," Withers said. "And you have to get to know the courses."
Withers unseated Aiken's Michael Benham as the top senior. Benham, 55, had won the player-of-the-year title four years running.
This season, Benham is in third place in the standings with 115 points.
A symbolic changing of the guard in the senior division took place July 28 when Withers beat Benham in the Perry Watson Memorial.
The two were tied going to their final hole, a par-5. Benham knocked his third shot to within tap-in range for a birdie. Withers found a greenside bunker in two, blasted out and faced a 15-footer for birdie. He rolled it in to stay alive, then won it on the first playoff hole.
"He can play under the stress, under the pressure," Jackson said of Withers.
"That putt at Pine Ridge was probably one of the biggest I've made this year," Withers said. "That probably shocked him (Benham) a little. It probably took some of the steam out of him in the playoff."
Withers, who retired after 28 years in the Army as a Command Sgt. Major in 1997 and now does contract work at Fort Gordon, thrives on pressure situations.
That could explain why he was 2-1 in sudden-death playoffs this season. And the one he lost, to Bob Varn in the Augusta City Amateur, went five holes.
"I like it when you bring in that pressure point, when you have to hit a good shot," Withers said. "It's do-or-die and you've got to go for it."
Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.
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