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Category Archives: Professional Golf

Sam Dunning: A Man So Full of “Content,” It Wouldn’t Fit in One Cover Story

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I wrote the August 2018 cover story entitled “Hunting for Unicorns” for Golf Course Industry Magazine (GCI) about one of the rarest creatures of all: the disappearing Pro/Super.  One of the Pro/Supers still working today who was kind enough to sit down and be interviewed is Sam Dunning.  Sam has been the Golf Professional and the Superintendent at Cleveland (MS) Country Club for more than 4 decades—yes, you read that right: he’s been the Pro/Super for 41 years!  Sam is a colorful and engaging guy (you’d have to be to stay at one club for that long without getting fired) and notes from his interview spanned pages!  There was simply too much information and not enough room in the magazine for all of his insight, humor, and stories from his time at the helm.  So now that the August issue of GCI Magazine is available online and the printed version is headed to mailboxes as we speak, I present to you my unedited notes from the interview with Sam Dunning.

Enjoy the following and let me know what you think on Twitter by tweeting me @lipouts.

All the best,

Nathan


When did you start at Cleveland CC?  July 11, 1977. I was 25 years old and they said here it is. I came for interview in June. They had over seeded greens and they kept them watered for an event in June and they were immaculate.  I took the job and started in July. I got there and the rye grass had died and there was hardly any grass on the Bermuda greens.  Holy cow! That was my first experience with grass. Unfortunately that was the beginning for me to start learning.

Were you hired to be the pro/super from the start or hired as one or the other and then given the other responsibilities?  I was hired as pro/ superintendent. Cleveland CC was a 9 hole course and actually very few golfers. So, at that time of my career, I spent lot more time on course. We had one other employee and quick couplers for water. Heck we were glad just to have water. We built another 9 holes in 1995 and also an automated irrigation system. I used to go out and push buttons and water whether it needed it or not just because I was so happy that it was automated. Whew, what a pretty sight after moving sprinklers and hoses every hour for 20 years! Now 18 holes and 400 members and I’m finding myself spending most of my time in the pro shop, preparing and running events, lessons, teaching juniors, and more of a consultant on the golf course. Of course when something goes wrong on the course, it’s still Sam’s fault [laughs].  Also, through the years I have found out when the course is perfect, it is because of rain and good weather.  When it’s not as good, it is always the fault of Sam and Avent–our head golf course supervisor and the real worker on the course.

Are/were you a member of both the PGA and the GCSAA? I have been a Class A PGA member of the Gulf States Section [PGA Hall of Fame 2008] for past 41 years.  I’m also a member Mississippi Turfgrass Association.

Why do you think there are so few Pro/Supers and why do you think young people are not choosing to go that route? Actually now, the demands and expectations for each position is overwhelming at times. To meet the expectations of most members at most clubs, you have to specialize in only one area. It is not appealing to youngsters because of the training process and education that is involved in each career. I also think the financial return is probably not very attractive as some other jobs they could pursue. Plus working weekends and holidays can turn people away.  I was so fortunate to learn turf, even though I am still learning, growing up at Canton CC in Canton, Mississippi.  I worked for a legend pro/super, Robbie Webb, during summers and weekends while in high school, and college at Mississippi State. I also worked for Mr. Webb as a PGA assistant professional at Canton CC for the last 3 years before coming to Cleveland CC. I worked on the golf course, in the pro shop, and anywhere else he told me to go. I also learned to cook great hamburgers and mix some really strong drinks working in the clubhouse. The hours were extremely long, but as I look back, it was a great learning experience. Plus I always had someone I could call or rely on when things might get a little shaky.

Biggest challenges of being a Pro/Super today?  Time!!!  Finding the 8th day of the week to catch up. But heck I have been trying to catch up for 41 years. It is very easy to cut yourself too thin and find yourself not doing a good job efficiently at either job. Obviously, I have been truly fortunate to have great staff on board. Avent Payne is phenomenal on the golf course. Also, a very supportive manager, Aaron Lasker, and board of directors, and fantastic membership seem to go a long way in making positive things happen. The time away from family life is a huge challenge. Being at work every weekend and on holidays goes unnoticed at work, but your family sure notices you are never home. Every day I go to work feels like my first day on the job 41 years ago. Those 19 greens are like children. I feed and water them and also many times seem to be punishing them with aerification and verticutting. There is always something to do; but you have to realize that doesn’t mean I always do it.

Biggest advantages/rewards of being a Pro/Super today? Biggest advantage is first, both of us seem to get along okay and we work great together when it’s time to coordinate events with course work. [laughs]  We are always trying to peak course for every event. But seriously, to see the golf course look so awesome and peak for an event, knowing how much work Avent Payne, my chief boss man for 24 years, Willie Scott, who has been with us 19 years, and his crew have done to make it happen. Also, for me to get outside on the course and take notes and push water buttons, just to get away sometimes from problems that occur inside. I could never be an inside man permanently. Way too many phone calls and issues to deal with that occur inside.  It’s good to get out on the course and clear my head.

Do you think the golf industry could be helped if there were more Pro/Supers? Definitely depends on the club situation. Possibly a smaller 18 hole club or definitely a nine hole club could benefit tremendously. But it can be overwhelming at a bigger club and would take a very special person to be able to handle both positions. He or she must have their heart in the job to make things look good. It is not a 40 hour a week job and you have to know what’s going on everywhere. I went to a nice club a couple of months ago and asked the professional what kind of greens they had, meaning which variety of bermuda (Champion, TifEagle, etc.)? He said “I think some kind of bermuda, but I’m not sure.”  That really woke me up.

If we could train young people to be Pro/Supers, which would be easier:  turning a young super into a Pro/Super or turning a young pro into a Pro/Super?  Why?

I definitely think turning a pro into a superintendent would be easier route to go. I’m sure there are cases where superintendent could become pro, but I haven’t heard of that situation. Both require extensive training. To become a PGA professional is a 3 ½ to 5 year process. Plus you must pass a playing ability test. I know there a lot of superintendents who can play well, but I don’t think most of them would want to go through the PGA process. Most supers aren’t trained to teach and most don’t really want to tackle that avenue.

On the other hand, most PGA pros have grown up playing quite well, and some have also worked on the course when they were younger.  It is easier to go through playing requirements early in career when you still have time to play, before the time of not having much opportunity to play once you start taking care of a course. But most pros also don’t have the technical training to do what an agronomist does.  That’s a tough question.

But I also absolutely believe a super should play as much as possible. You can tell so much more how a course is playing than just looking at it every day.  Oh and never get cocky about grass when it’s looking good.  It will turn around and bite you when you get a sense of complacency.

Share with me any stories or anecdotes about your time at Cleveland CC that you think the readers would find interesting. 

Oh my, where would I begin after 41 years?

I do remember in 2006 when we renovated our greens with Champion ultra-dwarf bermuda, I had a member after several days when the sprigs looked somewhat brown (but the roots were green), say to me “Any fool can tell these greens are dead already!” Miraculously, those dead sprigs have grown into fabulous greens.

Back in 1984, we were sprigging some tees and fringes and I had members tell me those upside down sprigs will not grow.  Amazing how those fringes and tees turned out so awesome.

I had been here 8 years and I had a ruling during our club championship that was not favorable to one of my favorite members and he said “Don’t you think you been pro here long enough?”  Then he just walked off.

Also, during a club championship, I had a member whose ball was clearly out of bounds between two stakes that were about 10 yards apart. He said he should be in bounds because if I had painted a line between the stakes to define out of bounds, I usually make the line more toward the houses and therefore he would be in bounds. He argued for a year.  An entire year!  Wow!!

A few years ago, I had a member kept telling me the holes weren’t set properly. He was lipping out every putt. I finally told him, do you realize how much you are raising the edges and also damaging the hole every time to get your ball out of the cup with you putter head instead of your hand? He said “Oh no, I don’t damage hole at all. I’m careful and press the hole with my foot when I finish every time.”

I remember one Christmas, I got a call about 9:00 a.m. “Sam, could you come mow the greens? My family can’t celebrate Christmas in Christmas Day this year and a couple of us would like to play.” The greens didn’t get cut that day.

This would be a very typical day:  I will have three members come in who just played together. One will say “These greens are slow as molasses!”  The very next guy will say “These greens are too fast! Did you spray bikini wax on them?”  The next guy in the group says “These are absolutely the best greens I have ever putted in my life! Good as Augusta National!” Guess who won all the money that day?

As I look back to the early and mid-nineties, my job as Pro/Superintendent, Delta State University Head Golf Coach, the building of an additional 9 holes at Cleveland CC, serving as Gulf States Section PGA President, those days were the most fun, educational, and learning experiences of my life.  And most importantly, I married my beautiful wife Mary Louise then too.

Anything to add?

In closing, after all the bumps in the road and headaches for the last 41 years, the biggest surprise of all came August 18, 2017 at the grand opening of our fabulous and amazing new pro shop.  The club president surprised me by announcing they were naming the golf course at Cleveland Country Club the ‘Samuel T Dunning Golf Course.’  I thought they were crazy, but what a great honor!  And I’m not even dead yet!

[END]

Be sure to check out 8 years worth of humorous stories from the world of golf in my archives at www.lipouts.com and buy my book “LIPOUTS: The Best I Could Do From the First Two Years” on sale now!  The eBook is only $1.99 and the paperback is on sale for $8.00, but only through Moonbay Media using this link >> BUY THE BOOK

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“A Day with Pete Dye” (a reprint from August 2001)

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Today is Pete Dye’s 90th birthday!  An iconic figure not only in the world of golf course architecture, but also of the game of golf itself.  Decades ago, he changed the way many thought about the design of golf courses and drove Tour pros insane (something many suspect he quite enjoyed).  But on his birthday today, I’ve been digging around the archives and pulled this story I wrote in my monthly Lipouts column from back in August of 2001.  It was actually written about spending a day with Mr. Dye and Tim Liddy walking the grounds of one of Pete’s first designs–originally named Marsh Island GC in Ocean Springs, MS.

The course had already been closed for years at the time (a victim of Hurricane Georges) and we were working with a developer to try and breathe new life into the old course.  That project never made it out of the planning phase due to regulatory red tape and now the property is dotted with what’s left of homes after Hurricane Katrina.

A few things I remember vividly about that day:  it was Election Day 2000 and it was pouring rain!  Not just raining cats and dogs–absolute deluges as waves of rain came whipping across the property as a cold front dipping down from the upper Midwest came crashing into the warm air of the Gulf of Mexico.  We were ground zero.

The other thing I remember was what Pete remembered.  By that, I mean we walked (on foot) the entire grown-up golf course through waist high grass at times and the edges of marshes and we had to hustle to keep up with Pete as he recalled a hole here or a dogleg there.  It was a great time!

I also thought it timely to re-print this because Pete’s wife Alice (an accomplished architect and player in her own right and also a Past President of the ASGCA) was just announced as teh recipient of the Donald Ross Award at our annual ASGCA meeting in May of 2017.  As you read the following, please remember that it was written by a 29 year-old me (so it may sound a little “fanboy-ish” at times.  But  if you are a fan of golf, you’ll understand and forgive me for that.  With that said, please enjoy from 15 years ago (when he was a spry 74 year-old youngster), my story “A Day With Pete Dye.”

It was cold. And wet. And miserable. And I couldn’t have been happier. As I watched the cold winter rain drizzle over the tidal marsh in the distance, it almost appeared that the tall upright marsh grass (turned a grayish brown from the winter temperatures) was stretching out to meet the rain as it fell from the sky. This was Election Day 2000 and it was also the day I was to meet the man some call a living legend. You could even argue that he has had the most influence on the game of golf of any architect since Robert Trent Jones. I was going to be one of a handful of people spending the day with the Pete Dye regarding an upcoming project on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Pine Island course (shut down since Hurricane Georges in October of 1998) was one of Dye’s first courses. The course — then named Marsh Island — was built in the late 1960’s for less than what we spend nowadays on eighteen green complexes. The owner felt that having Dye involved with the project again would not only bring notoriety to the Ocean Springs course, but that it was also the right thing to do since he was the original architect—good call.
I don’t really know what I had grown so nervous about as we sat waiting on Mr. Dye to arrive—his plane delayed by the bad weather. I have met a number of “famous” people in my life such as actors, comedians, politicians, and professional athletes, but for some
reason I had never been especially impressed by these others—let alone nervous about meeting them. However, meeting Pete Dye was going to be different. This insurance salesman turned golf course architect icon was self-made and time-tested for longer than I had been alive, with hundreds of golf courses around the globe to his credit.
To be honest, my first impression was that he wasn’t as tall as I had envisioned him being from seeing pictures in magazines. In fact, to the untrained eye Dye might even go unnoticed in a large crowd. No flashy clothes or fancy shoes. Maybe I assumed he would take over the room when he walked in like some well-traveled celebrity. That’s not to say he didn’t have the attention of everyone in the room—he did. But it was more like the respect all of the family gives your Grandfather when he prepares to bless the Thanksgiving dinner. Pete Dye is more of the quiet, thinking type than some might assume of a person with his extensive background.
There we were: eight of us trudging through the weather following Mr. Dye across 18 holes of overgrown rain-soaked fairways, along acres of tidal marsh, and through countless puddles of cold water up to our ankles—all on foot because he likes to walk a course. We spent about three hours walking the property and I got the impression that some would have had a difficult time keeping up with the 70+ year-old Dye if he had not kept stopping to admire the views from the course and out across the tidal marsh. Remarkably, he remembered a great deal about the course he had not seen in thirty years, commenting of certain holes that stood out in his mind.
As sunlight began to fade across the bay, about five or so of us decided to get cleaned up and go out for dinner before Mr. Dye had to catch his late flight home that evening. Just as he had been the entire day, Mr. Dye remained conversational and “down to earth” at the restaurant as he shared stories from years of travel and hundreds of projects around the globe. I tried to keep quiet and listen—at first not even mentioning our Indiana connection (both of us having family roots there). I wanted to hear what he had to talk to about and, after all, I can hear myself talk anytime. I learned from my parents at a very early age to take the time to “listen” to the stories of older generations and not just “hear” what they had to say. So, notwithstanding his impressive resume as an architect, I listened. And I learned. And believe me: you cannot imagine how difficult it is to spend a day with
someone like Mr. Dye and force yourself not to “pick his brain” at every chance you get.
As dinner drew to a close and we all said our goodbyes, we snapped a couple of photos and I ran off into the rain-soaked darkness, climbed into my car, and drove two hours home to my family—appreciating even more the value of time well spent with people worth admiring.
Copyright 2001 — Nathan Crace and Lipouts.com
 

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“The Short Game Doctor”

Before Christmas, I did an interview with BackSpin Magazine for the March issue about growing the game by designing and building short game facilities. They did a great job to keep it informative and fun to read. It just hit news stands and there’s an online version on their web site.

Click here to read “The Short Game Doctor” on BackSpin’s web site.

 

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The Venerable Ken Venturi — Passing of a Legend

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Ken Venturi today at age 82, just 12 days after he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.  I’m glad he was on Feherty last year and I still have that episode recorded (I’m willing to bet we’ll see a re-run of it on Golf Channel–as well we should). As my tribute to Ken Venturi, here’s a e-print of the column I wrote in 2002 about Venturi and what I learned from his time on CBS and as a player.  Thoughts an prayers are with his family.  He will be missed….

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“The Venerable Mr. Venturi”   from June 17, 2002

When I was young—say about 8 or 9 years old—my parents used to tell me to take time to speak with our older neighbors and listen to what they had to say. And not just when they were yelling at me for cutting the corner through their daylilies on my bike after school. Take some time to sit down with them, ask them questions about how things were when they were young and listen to what they had to say. I was assured that I would be amazed not only at how much had changed in the world, but also at how much had NOT changed.  These were the men who had fought our World Wars and the women with more grand and great-grandchildren than they could keep up with at times.

Of course, getting that to sink in for a nine year-old with ball games to play and dogs to play fetch with was surely an unenviable task. Later in life, as these elderly neighbors and friends of my parents began to pass on and I grew more mature, I realized all of the potentially fascinating life stories about their lives that would go untold—at least to me. Procrastination is a nasty habit, especially when it costs you the time that cannot be relived. But to a child, there’s always tomorrow to talk to the older folks.

The 2002 Kemper Insurance Open was the last time Ken Venturi would sit in the CBS tower behind the 18th green calling the shots for the viewers of CBS’s PGA Tour coverage each year.  Although Ken Venturi the man has not passed on, his television legacy has—leaving an indelible mark on more than a few of us. He was one of those announcers you found yourself inexplicably drawn to due to his true emotion and sense of “been there, done that.”

Unfortunately for me, it took a few years for me to realize exactly who he was and that makes his exit more noteworthy to me than perhaps to others. When I first got hooked on golf at about age 10, I would sometimes spend entire afternoons on weekends watching CBS’s golf coverage. Early on, I grew tired of Mr. Venturi’s ramblings and seemingly obvious comments. “This putt is all speed and direction” was one of my favorites. As a pre-teen who knew everything there was to know about the game (except who this Venturi guy was), I knew that all putts were speed and direction. Right? Then again, it’s always been difficult to bridge the generation gap—especially when it requires two bridges over three generations.

As I grew older and began to play competitive golf in junior and senior high school, I still watched as much golf as possible when I wasn’t actually playing golf. For me, the small screen provided an eye on the golfing world and an outlet for my desire to play more. The reason was simple: no one in my family played golf, there was no course in my hometown, and I wasn’t yet old enough to drive. I didn’t mind not getting to play as much as I would have liked and—in hindsight—it probably benefited my career today by spending more time watching golf on television. I got to see some of the best courses from all over the world instead of the same course every week.

So there we were: Ken Venturi and myself going over every shot on every hole week in and week out.  Sure there were weeks when NBC or ABC would grab a share of the market to cover a major or a Skins Game; but the majority of the time was spent with Kenny in the tower on 18—there was no Golf Channel.

Then at about age 14, I had an epiphany by “accidentally” learning who Ken Venturi really was. I couldn’t believe what an idiot I had been! I read a story about him in a magazine that I can’t remember the name of today. It began with the story of his childhood and how he turned to golf to escape the taunts he endured as a result of a speech impediment. Speech impediment? “How could someone with a speech impediment make a career of sports broadcasting?” I thought.  It went on to tell of how he lost the 1956 Masters as an amateur with a final round 80—losing by one stroke! He then turned pro and won no less than 10 times in the next four years on Tour before hitting a dry four-year spell that nearly cost him his game. He said he had to borrow money to play in the 1964 U.S. Open—an Open that is now a part of golf history. The same 1964 Open he won by playing through dehydration and 100 degree heat for a 36-hole final that forever defined Venturi the player.

Now we’ve come to the end of a 35-year long career in the booth that has seen Ken Venturi win the hearts of millions of viewers. Forget the critics. So what if people thought he wasn’t as critical as NBC’s Johnny Miller. Venturi was a straight talker, but a consummate gentleman—a genre that has be slowing slipping away from your television in contemporary times because it’s hard to sell to the younger generation. The viewers are what count and remembering Ken Venturi is what counts to him. Will the Masters really be the same to us without him in the booth? Only time will tell.

The viewers and players alike will surely miss you Mr. Venturi. Enjoy your retirement and the much-deserved time off. Just remember: like putting, retirement is all speed and direction.

 

 

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Why the 2012 PGA Championship and Ryder Cup Will Be More Important to Me

The following was written in Aug 2012 for Mississippi Sports Magazine and is re-printed here at blog.lipouts.com
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Why the 2012 PGA Championship and Ryder Cup Will  Be More Important to Me  |  By: Nathan Crace

In my life, I’ve written a few articles about the Ryder Cup every couple of years.  I have tried to avoid the mundane statistics or “inside baseball” angle and instead tried to focus on the peculiarities of the long-standing rivalry of the matches between America’s best and the best of the Eurozone golfers, the fervor that seems to wind the Euros together tighter than a Camilo Villegas polo, or—speaking of clothing—the poor choice of uniforms the Americans insist on making more often than not.  While I’m on the topic, please tell me that Corey Pavin’s wife is NOT designing the team uniforms this year.  With all due respect, it was bad enough that our guys had to buy rain gear from the souvenir tent in Wales in 2010 because our team’s gear leaked; but to have our rain suits look like the Globetrotter’s basketball warm-up suits from the 1950’s?  Between you and me, I still suspect that’s the real reason our guys said they needed new rain gear—not that they actually leaked. But I digress…

This year the Ryder Cup is special to me not because of who is playing or where the matches are being played, but instead because of where the matches are not being held.  The Americans will host the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago the month after the PGA Championship will have been decided at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island—hard against the Atlantic Ocean (as the name indicates) in South Carolina—where the infamous “War on the Shore” took place twenty-one years ago.

The 1991 matches at Kiawah were contentious for a number of reasons ranging from alleged trash talking between a particular pair of Spaniards and Paul Azinger to Corey Paving showing up in a camo hat in support of our troops in the first Gulf War to Steve Pate’s pre-match limo accident.  The tension came to a head in the last match on Sunday afternoon in a nearly made-for-TV showdown between Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer that featured a questionable bounce off a volunteer’s spinal cord for Irwin’s tee shot on the 17th hole and a missed near gimme for Langer on the 18th that would have halved the matches and retained the cup for the Europeans.

Flash forward to the spring of 1993.  I had the good fortune to play the Ocean Course during spring break that year on a golf road trip with my best friend.  We left Mississippi State in the late afternoon after our last Friday class and drove through the night to Charlotte, North Carolina for a pit stop at his home before continuing the next morning to Myrtle Beach.  We played golf at The Witch (a fun Dan Maples layout), Tidewater (and excellent track between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway), and a couple of other courses I cannot remember (it has been nearly twenty years ago after all) before topping off the trip on the last day with a drive south to Kiawah Island for the icing on the cake.

When we arrived, it had been raining off and on already that day and the ocean looked angry and grey like the North Sea rolling into the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland on an early spring day.  In fact, it rained off and on for about 12 holes during our round; but we couldn’t care less.  We knew the Ryder Cup had just been there just eighteen months earlier and we were ready to tackle the course head-on.  Or so we thought.  I assumed we’d probably never get a chance to play the course again, so we decided to play the course as far back as we could and since the course wasn’t busy we spent a considerable amount of time searching for hidden back tees on many of the holes that probably had not been used since the Ryder Cup.  I would speculate that Pete Dye never intended for all of the holes to be played from the back tees on the same day anyway because the course goes out and back in a clockwise loop to the north and back south along the dunes on the front nine and counterclockwise to the south and back north along the ocean returning home on the back nine—ten holes adjacent to the ocean.  I assume that the extra tees were to allow flexibility to lengthen the downwind holes and shorten the holes playing into the wind on any given day, but I’ve never asked Pete.  (story continues below)

Bear in mind this was before Google Maps and smartphones (we didn’t even have cell phones because it was still the stone age) so we had to walk-off the yardages from the hidden back tees because none of them had yardages that we could find.  To the best of our rain-soaked abilities, we calculated that the course played in excess of 7,800 yards when totaled up from all the way back on every hole: a monster.  The official yardage published for the 2012 PGA Championship is a mere 7,676 yards.  At the time, we also calculated that keeping score would be an exercise in futility so we stopped somewhere on the back nine to protect our respective egos.  Besides, I was too busy taking pictures with a disposable panoramic camera for my collection of photos of favorite golf courses to worry about keeping score.  Yeah, that’s a good excuse….

The highlight of my round came on the par-3 17th hole.  The rain had stopped momentarily but the wind was howling off of the Atlantic from our right to left.  The wind was helping a little (quartering from behind us a bit) and I remember hitting a three-iron (it was all I had short of a 3-wood and that would have landed me back on the mainland if it got up into the gale force wind and headed left).  As I went through my pre-shot routine and set up over the ball, Scott reminded me that this was the same hole where Mark Calcavecchia had choked during the Ryder Cup and shanked the ball into the water hazard—forcing the Cup to come down to the last match.  I smiled, took an extra waggle, and hit a soaring tee shot that seemed to start so far right that it might boomerang back to the southeast and come back toward the tee.  But I was counting on the wind that had my pant legs flapping like a pair of hurricane flags to turn the ball back toward the green…it did.  The ball cleared the hazard by what appeared from the tee to be millimeters and rolled to a stop just inside three feet from the cup.  After holding the obligatory I-just-hit-the-best-shot-of-the-day-scratch-that-the-best-shot-of-my-life follow through pose for what seemed like an hour, I simply turned and said “He’d have killed for that one in the Ryder Cup.”  We both laughed and proceeded to the green where I left what I recall as my only legitimate birdie putt that day about one-half inch short, dead in the jaws of the cup for a smooth tap-in par.  Routine.  That ball now resides in the bottom of the water hazard on 17.

So when this year’s PGA Championship is played at Kiawah Island in August I will have fond memories of that day in the rain nearly twenty years ago.  And when the Ryder Cup is played the following month at Medinah, it will be hard for me to watch without thinking back to the day we played Kiawah eighteen months after the historic Ryder Cup at Kiawah.  However, what will make it most difficult is the fact that the numerous text messages and phone calls my best friend and I typically make during the majors will have to go unmade this time.  Tragically, Scott was killed in a one car accident in Jacksonville the week of the Masters this year, leaving behind a wife and a young son.  After being asked to speak at his funeral service that week, I haven’t written about it because it seems too unreal even to this day.  Even now, four months later, I find it hard to accept.  But Scott and I played a lot of golf together in four years at Mississippi State and even a few times since going our separate ways after college.  We always managed to keep in touch over the years.  He was in my wedding and I was in his and two of the best courses I’ve ever played (Kiawah Island and TPC Sawgrass, both Pete Dye courses) I played with him.  That’s why this year’s Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship will be different for me.  Not because of some rivalry between professional golf’s greats or the story of the “War by the Shore,” but because of a day spent playing golf in the rain on one of the best courses I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, not caring about the score—and doing so in good company.

 

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