Missourian makes the cut at the PCCC

A year ago, while watching Poplar Bluff’s Carr Vernon threaten to make the cut, the high school’s athletic director said that half of the town would turn out for the weekend.

Well, west-bound Highway 60 from southeast Missouri to Springfield might be busy Saturday after Vernon fired a 4-under par 68 in the second round of the PGA Korn Ferry Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper.

That landed Vernon with a 6-under-par – and made the cut Friday —  after missing the cut by one stroke last year at Highland Springs Country Club, where a strong contingent who followed his days as a Poplar Bluff Mule might surround him this weekend.

It’s some story, considering he missed the cut by one stroke at the Wichita Open last month, and lost in playoffs at the Nashville and Kansas City Monday qualifiers.

“I learned the golf course – where to hit it and where not to hit it,” Vernon said Friday of what he learned a  year ago. “And, overall, I just let loose more and tried not to get too tight. Now I have more confidence.”

Vernon certainly exuded confidence in the second round, with an eagle on the par-5 No. 8 – his next-to-last hole – and had six birdies. Those offset four bogeys.

Those came with Scott Whitaker, a member of Highland Springs Country Club, caddying for Vernon, whose dad, Jimmy, caddied last year. Jimmy underwent a knee surgery recently, however.

The No. 8 hole certainly punctuated his day. He used an 8-iron for what became a 162-yard shot, which landed within five feet of the pin. His drive set it up well, too, and that’s a hard shot. The tee box sits up high, but the fairway dips down, with the green out of sight – and a pond that sits in front of it.

His round also included long putts on Nos. 4 and 13 for birdies, and he was even on No. 11, which is a par 5 hole.

That one dog-legs left, with lines of trees running along both sides of the fairway, giving it a narrow feel. Add in sand traps ahead of the green – and a steep, unforgivable drop-off on the other side – and it can become a disaster. It wasn’t for him, with Vernon three-putting.

“I just try to stay focused and try not to get too excited,” Vernon said. “I made some dumb mistakes where you see the bogeys. But I hung in there and played all right.”

Two other Missourians

Fair Grove’s Brock Derrick and Joplin’s Griffen Locke both missed the cut.

Derrick was playing on an unrestricted exemption and carded a 84-80 164. He had nine pars and finished with birdies on two of his final holes, including a nice 10-foot par on No. 9.

“I learned I’ve got to get better at reading a yardage book,” Derrick said. “On those other tours, I rely on a range finder. It’s fast, easy and straight to the point. Having to figure out the numbers, I got better at (during the tournament.”

“And just trying to control my emotions. Getting too pumped up is almost as bad as getting down on myself,” Derrick said.

That said, Derrick was still mostly smiles afterward, especially because when he arrived on Friday he entered through the player entrance – whereas as a kid he was always a spectator.

“I always dreamed of going through the gate,” Derrick said. ‘It does make me sad it’s over. It might be my last day, but it’s not my last golf tournament.”

Meanwhile, Locke Monday-qualified. He finished with a two-day 76-75 151. He had 11 pars and two birdies.

“I learned how to stay calm. We had a lot of people following us. For me, that’s a different thing. We had a lot of family and friends out here,” said Locke, a 2013 Joplin High School graduate. “On the first day, there were a lot of nerves.”

Locke has played several mini-tour events the past couple of months and expressed optimism that he had some momentum coming into the tournament.

“I’ve worked full time, with various jobs, but I’ve worked with my dad the past three or four years doing construction so that I can play in events like this,” Locke said.

Who’s leading

All this came on a day when David Kocher moved to the top of the leaderboard. He’s 15-under par 129 after a 63 and 66. He had seven birdies and only one bogy on Friday. Kocher, 26, played at the University of Maryland and turned pro in 2018.

In his past four tournaments, Kocher has tied for 37th, 42nd, 44th and 69th.

Taylor Montgomery and Kevin Roy (13-under par 131) are tied for second, and Robby Shelton and Kevin Yu are tied for fourth.

One guy to keep an eye on, too, is Austin Eckroat, who is tied for sixth at 11-under par. His cousin is Trevor Vance, the longtime groundskeeper of the Kansas City Royals who was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in May.

Eckroat is a 2021 graduate of Oklahoma State University. He has had three top-18 finishes the past three tournaments, including a runner-up last week in Springfield, Ill.


Jerald Andrews about to ride off into the sunset

Every workday since October 1995, Jerald Andrews’ drive into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame has driven him.

Turning east from the Highway 60-65 interchange in southeast in Springfield and then crossing a bridge, there awaits a steep grade before arriving. Call it a metaphor for his tenure, because he always reached the top.

“It’s still as much of a thrill as the first day I came in. I can recall vividly October 18th, 1995 driving in, crossing the James River, driving up the hill and thinking, ‘Wow. A new beginning. Something really exciting,’” Andrews recalled. “I still find myself being at the gym early in the morning or driving here and thinking about things I’m going to get to do that day. I still get the same excitement.”

And now look. The man who built the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame into an enormous success is about to ride off into the sunset.

In fact, this weekend — with the PGA Korn Ferry Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper — marks the last for Andrews in charge of the Hall of Fame and the PCCC.

Which is why we hope you can join us on October 11th for an evening celebrating his 27-year legacy. That night, the longtime CEO & Executive Director will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and then honored as a Missouri Sports Legend, meaning a specially cast bronze bust will be unveiled and later showcased on the Legends Walkway.

The ceremony is set for the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield, and it’s only fitting. After all, under Andrews’ hawkish and dedicated leadership, the Hall of Fame has become the model hall of fame for all others across the country.

For instance, he saw to it that:

  • 1,208 honorees were recognized, including women, minorities and all sports receiving due recognition. That figure includes 36 Legends, 211 coaches, 322 players, 124 teams/programs, 20 Founder’s Awards and 28 President’s Awards.
  • The calendar expanded to include seven induction ceremonies annually, along with four Celebrity Golf Classics, the Stan Musial Hall of Fame Championship, as well as a Sporting Clays Classic and a Bass Fishing Classic.
  • The museum’s exterior features a Legends Walkway, home to bronze busts of the state’s elite sports figures as well as five larger-than-life statues: Jackie Stiles, Payne Stewart, The Boy & The Man (Stan Musial signing an autograph for a kid), Norm Stewart and Bill Virdon’s catch in 1960 World Series.
  • The Hall of Fame has operated in the black financially since his third year here.
  • Ozarks children’s charities benefitted through the PGA Korn Ferry Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Championship presented by Dr Pepper. The tournament has gifted nearly $18.4 million since 1990, with a bulk of that figure distributed under his leadership. In short, Andrews has expanded fundraising events from just a few to roughly 20 annually. He also expanded its reach, as the tournament grew from one charity to now 50-plus.

All this from a man raised on a dairy farm outside of Bolivar, about 40 miles north of the Hall of Fame.

“The work ethic that was instilled in me from an early age set me up for success,” Andrews said. “I can recall I was about 6 years old, and we had about six water tanks on the farm. And my job was to keep those water tanks full. And I got paid $1 a week.”

Andrews’ drive to be the best at any job certainly fueled success at the Hall of Fame, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit created in 1994 by Springfield hotelier and philanthropist John Q. Hammons.

“When I used to drop my daughters off at school, I’d tell them, ‘Do your best,’” said Andrews, a Bolivar High School graduate and former executive of 20-plus years at Southwest Baptist University. “For our staff, I tell them, ‘We are in Game 7 of the World Series, in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, two outs and we’re down a run.”

When he arrived, the Hall of Fame was losing roughly $12,000 a month. After his first year, the profit-and-loss balance sheet showed a loss of $39,000, but Andrews never had to borrow money. The second year, it was $25,000. The third year, the Hall of Fame made money, a success that has continued annually.

His first Sports Enthusiast Series event was a breakfast featuring former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. It drew 137 people at $25 a ticket, generating $8,000 for the Hall of Fame. Compare that to the recent Baseball & Softball Luncheon, which drew a crowd of 900, and grossed $70,000.

Overall, Andrews has been in the “Making People Happy” business since 1995, and that became even clearer the night he inducted former big-leaguers Darrell Porter and Orlando Cepeda.

The story goes that Porter was editing his induction speech when Cepeda, an inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, leaned over and told him to just wing it.

“Porter said, ‘Look Orlando, you went into Cooperstown. I’m not going into Cooperstown. This is the biggest night of my career,’” Andrews said. “That just really made an impression on me and has since. No matter who we are honoring, we always wanted it to be the neatest thing.”

In the same vein, Andrews understood the enormity of the PCCC, as it benefits charities. That’s why he challenged his own staff by packing the schedule with event after event.

The selling of all sorts of sponsorships has enabled he tournament to gift at least $900,000 almost every year over the past decade, with 2014 and 2021 seeing more than $1 million distributed.

“It’s really been rewarding,” Andrews said. “Although it’s been a struggle at times to help all the charities, I always felt it was important to help as many as possible. Most of these charities are doing work that many of us have no concept of. I have been blessed. My family has been blessed. … When you hear the kids’ stories, it just kind of overwhelms you.”

The PCCC ends July 25, and that marks Andrews’ final day overseeing the Hall of Fame, although he will stay on for six months as a consultant for new President Byron Shive. The next day, Andrews celebrates his 70th birthday.

“I hope we continue to tell the story of Missouri sports,” Andrews said. “And it’s very important to continue the charities we help. I’d like to come back here in 20 years and the place is still thriving.”