The prestigious Azalea Invitational begins Thursday at the historic Country Club of Charleston (S.C.), which will host the U.S. Women’s Amateur later this year. The Azalea, a 72-hole, stroke-play event will conclude Sunday.
Walker Cup candidate Mike Miller, who finished third at the recent Portuguese Amateur, is the highest-ranked player in the event. The Brewster, N.Y., native is No. 6 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com rankings.
Four-time U.S. Mid-Am champ Nathan Smith, who’s weeks away from his fourth Masters appearance, is one of several strong mid-ams in the field. Scott Harvey, Nick Gilliam, Bobby Leopold, Tim Jackson, Patrick Christovich, John Engler, Brady Exber, Kevin Marsh and Walker Cup candidate Todd White also are in the field. White and Smith were the only two mid-amateurs invited to December’s Walker Cup practice session. The USGA has mandated that two mid-ams will be selected to this year’s Walker Cup team.
Leopold advanced to the Round of 16 at both the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Amateurs. Engler, a former PGA Tour player, won the 1997 Azalea while at Clemson. Kevin Marsh is the 2012 California Amateur champion.
The college ranks will be represented by players like Porter Cup champion Richy Werenski of Georgia Tech, as well as ACC champion Benjamin Rusch of Virginia and Clemson’s Thomas Bradshaw, who won the Rice Planters and was second in the North & South Amateur.
Jim Liu, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, leads the junior contingent. The Stanford-bound New York native will be joined by No. 4 Cameron Champ, No. 7 Tae Wan Lee and recent St. Augustine Amateur winner Jack Maguire, who’s 10th in the rankings.
South Carolina freshman Matthew NeSmith won the 2012 Azalea with a 270 total.