Drew McCullough looks to defend title at Washington Open Invitational

by Todd Milles

Sure, like any NCAA Division I golf standout, Drew McCullough wished his University of Wyoming squad had gone further in last spring’s postseason.

But the No. 2 option turned out okay.

After the Cowboys’ season ended, McCullough flew back to his home in Richland, Wash. right away to start planning his offseason schedule.

The first event was just days away: The Washington Open Invitational at Meridian Valley Country Club.

A first-timer in the event, McCullough rallied with a blistering 7-under-par 65 in the final round to win the state’s most prestigious tournament by one stroke over PGA club professional Shane Prante of Tumwater.

He became the first amateur to win the Washington Open Invitational since Kent’s Josh Immordino in 2006.

McCullough rallied with late fireworks, starting with a chip-in eagle at the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the final two holes to shoot 65, the best score of the day by four strokes, then waited to see if any of the contending professionals would overtake him.

Tacoma’s Chris Griffin, the 2013 Washington Open Invitational winner, said it was one of the more impressive final-round showings under tough playing conditions that he could remember.

McCullough won the 2017 Washington Open Invitational, playing against the region’s best PGA club professionals.

“It was like (shooting) a 58,” Griffin said.

Because he’s an amateur, McCullough could not take home any of the $5,000 winner’s check. But the victory gave him something more: Confidence.

“It gave me the realization I could play, compete and win at that level,” McCullough said.

The hot streak carried over as McCullough finished second in his next two events, the Royal Oaks Invitational and defending his title at the Seattle Amateur. He lost both tournaments in playoffs.

He was also invited to play in two elite amateur championships, the Pacific Coast Amateur, held at Chambers Bay; and the Sahalee Players Championship, in which he was the first-round co-leader.

McCullough is finishing his senior season playing on the University of Wyoming men’s golf team.

McCullough returned to Wyoming for his senior season, and led the Cowboys to a great season, winning three team tournament championships.

Individually, McCullough was Wyoming’s top golfer, posting five top-20 finishes, including a season-best tied-for-third showing at the Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational.

But again, Wyoming fell short of reaching the NCAA regional round by placing fifth at the Mountain West Championships at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course in Bremerton.

And McCullough, who came into last week’s NCAA selection show as on the bubble to advance as an individual, was left out of the field.

But it gives him plenty of time to rest up to defend his Washington Open Invitational crown, with the tournament being held May 21-23, again at Meridian Valley CC.

“You know, I’ve been playing pretty solid,” McCullough said. “I just have to patch a few things up, but I am in a good spot.”

And in a few weeks, McCullough and Reid Hatley will represent Washington at the Mexican Amateur at Club de Golf Mexico in Mexico City.

“I represented Washington at the Pacific Coast Amateur last summer at Chambers Bay,” McCullough said. “But this is a good deal for me to represent the state in an international tournament.”

The day after the Mexican Amateur ends – June 11 – McCullough said he will turn professional, and play in some open tournaments such as the Wyoming Open and Laramie Open before turning his attention to PGA Tour Qualifying School next fall.

Todd Milles worked for The (Tacoma) News Tribune for 23-plus years, serving as the lead golf writer during the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He has covered nearly 20 major championships all over the country. He is currently retooling his golf swing.