Southern Amateur Championship Golf

Eric Ansett putts on the second hole at the 2018 Southern Amateur Championship golf tournament in Bowling Green, K


Eric Ansett, the Fairways. The Fairways, Eric Ansett.

The Spokane native has played golf all over the Inland Northwest, but he hadn’t stepped foot on the Fairways until Tuesday. After an accomplished amateur career, Ansett is making inroads professionally, which is why he’s getting to know the Fairways, site of the 54-hole Lilac City Invitational Friday through Sunday.

“No explanation for it, but everyone I’ve told just can’t believe it,” said Ansett, a graduate of The Oaks Academy who played for Ferris High and at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. “We never had a high school event there and I’ve never played in the Lilac before.”

The timing was perfect for Ansett’s return home, coming off a tie for 34th last week at the Colorado Open and the Ansett family vacation next week at Priest Lake.

“I decided I don’t see my family enough to miss the lake vacation,” said Ansett, who missed out last summer because he was playing in a Mackenzie (Canadian) Tour event.

Ansett joins 2018 champion Vinnie Murphy, Shane Prante, Li Wang, Drew Reinland, Loren Jeglum, Deer Park assistant pro Nick Thurston and Community Colleges of Spokane golf coach Corey Prugh on the list of favorites in the 33-player pro field.

Prante, from Olympia, and Wang, an Eastlake High (Sammamish, Washington) grad who played at Yale, shared second in 2018. Clarkston’s Reinland was fourth. Prugh and Prante are top players annually in the Pacific Northwest PGA section. They’ll tee it up at the Washington Open, a section major, on Monday and Tuesday.

Ansett, 24, was planning on playing the Mackenzie Tour after earning a first-half exemption at qualifying school in March, but the season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Turns out, the qualifying tournament was lucky to finish.

“We beat the buzzer,” said Ansett, who made six of 10 cuts and had a 70.44 scoring average on the Mackenzie Tour in 2019. “Crazy week. It was the same week all the sports (NBA, March Madness, PGA Tour) got postponed. The night before the final round, we weren’t positive we were going to play. I played a really solid final round to sneak in.”

Ansett’s Mackenzie Tour privileges will be honored next season, but he had to change course this year. He played in a few SwingThought Tour events near his home base in Nashville and three Dakotas Tour events, earning a tie for fifth and tie for 13th.

“There’s not a ton of rhyme or reason to what I play in,” Ansett said. “I’ll play in a few Korn Ferry Monday qualifiers if I can drive to those. Some minitours schedule around those. This year has been so weird. I’ve been all over. I drove to South Dakota for two events, 13 hours.”

Ansett practiced hard while COVID-19 closed down the sporting world, so his game is sharp. He estimated he’s played 20-25 tournament rounds with no over-par scores.

“In college, I always thought I’d do all this research and be able to find tournaments where there’d be no good players and it would be easy to make money,” Ansett said. “I quickly learned that is not possible. You have to be ready to play wherever you go. There are good players everywhere.”

That includes the Lilac, which has had its share of birdiefests over the years for pros that successfully navigate the firm track with speedy greens. Sixty amateurs are also scheduled to compete.

The Lilac traditionally includes long drive, putting and chipping contests, a cocktail party and live music, but those have been canceled to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. The event has been trimmed from 72 holes to 54.

“We cut out all the extracurriculars,” Fairways pro and tournament director Dakota White said. “We’ve streamlined it as much as we can. We’re following the policies set up by the state – pins in, no rakes or ball-washers, open-top garbage cans.”

The first-place check, typically $10,000, is expected to be in the $5,000-6,000 range with the smaller pro field and loss of some sponsorship dollars. Net proceeds will go to support the Shriners Hospital for Children–Spokane.

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