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Mark Lawrence Jr. enters State Open with new pro status, same winning mentality
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Mark Lawrence Jr. enters State Open with new pro status, same winning mentality

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Mark Lawrence Jr. knew he wanted to be a professional golfer when he was 5 years old.

When Lawrence tees it up this morning as defending champion in the Truist State Open of Virginia, presented by Virginia Lottery, at Independence Golf Club in Midlothian, he will be playing in his first tournament as a professional.

After losing twice in playoffs (2016, 2019) at Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke, Lawrence won last year’s State Open as an amateur. Since then, he concluded his career at Virginia Tech with an appearance in the NCAA regionals and prepared for the future as a professional.

Lawrence, a three-time All-Metro golfer of the year at Mills Godwin, is trying to treat the amateur and professional mindsets the same.

“In my mind, I want to win. Being a pro or an amateur doesn’t change how I approach it,” said Lawrence, who won the VSGA Amateur for the second time in the summer of 2020 and became the first player since Virginia Golf Hall of Fame member Tom McKnight to win the Amateur and Open in the same year.

Turning pro is a dream realized.

“You may want to be a professional golfer but that might not work. And I’m fortunate I’ll have the opportunity to give it a run. … I feel like I have the ability to play at the highest level,” he said.

Lawrence is one of eight past champions in the field. The other amateur winners are Jack Montague (2019); Evan Beck, who won in 2010 and shares the tournament 72-hole scoring record; and Keith Decker (1996, 2001-02).

Four-time champion Jay Woodson (2012-14, 2016); Rick Schuller (1998); Craig Gunn (1992) and Tim White (1987) are past winning pros.

The State Open had a seven-year run at Independence from 2007 to 2013 with SunTrust Bank as the title sponsor. Woodson was the last winner at 72 holes. The venue shifted to Ballyhack (2014-2020) for seven years, and the championship was reduced to 54 holes.

Truist is the result of the merger of BB&T and SunTrust banks. Its participation is the foundation for the State Open’s return to television, a highlight of several Opens played at Willow Oaks Country Club in the early to mid-2000s.

WTVR (CBS 6) is the flagship station for the statewide broadcast of the Saturday and Sunday rounds to the Richmond, Norfolk, Roanoke, Lynchburg, Charlottesville and Bristol markets. Air time is set for 4-6 p.m. with some wiggle room in case of inclement weather or if there is a playoff that goes past the signoff time.

WTVR co-sports director Lane Casadonte and past State Open champion Robert Wrenn, who was part of the broadcast team at Willow Oaks and owns a share of the 72-hole scoring record, will be behind the microphones.

Independence isn’t the same course it used to be.

“We think that the players who have not seen this golf course since 2013 are in for a pleasant surprise this week,” said Josh Coates, VSGA director of championship and golf operations.

“Although the footprint of the layout has not changed much, the renovations made over the last several years to the bunkering and turf from tee to green will present them a different golf course with the way it will play, especially the putting greens. They are firm, fast and in perfect condition.”

Lawrence, a member at Independence, agrees.

“Birdies are definitely going to be harder to come by the way the conditions are,” he said. “I think this is really going to be a great test of golf. I think it’s going to surprise people. It’s going to be a lot tougher than people think.”

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