We all have our golf stories. Thank you in advance for indulging me as I share one that came a bit full circle this past month at the 2015 Encompass Championship on the PGA’s Champions Tour. The #17 hole at North Shore Country Club in Glenview Illinois for the members, which played as the #8 hole for the Encompass Championship, is the location for this particular story.
Between my Junior and Senior years at the University of Missouri-Columbia (aka The Mizzou Tigers), where I was an All-American on the golf team, I advanced to the biggest event of my competitive career up to that point. I qualified to play in the 1983 USGA Amateur at North Shore Country Club. My 36-hole qualifying scores at North Shore and Skokie Country Club were good enough to advance me into match play. I was fortunate to play my way into the quarterfinals against Clark Burroughs, a stand out player from Ohio State University who later won the NCAA Championship and played on the PGA TOUR for a few years.
All I clearly remember about the match was that I walked straight down the 17th fairway, after what I believed to be a perfect tee shot, and I was one-up in the match. I could not find my ball. After seemingly forever, I ended up finding my ball located down the middle about 30 to 40 yards ahead of where I expected it to be, just over a little rise in the fairway. I was in my wheelhouse. I had a wedge shot into the green, with a one-up lead with and two holes to play. What came next has haunted me ever since. My wedge shot came off thin and a little right and did not clear the front right trap. I failed to get up and down and went to the last hole all square. My tee shot at the 18th ended up barely in the right rough and left me needing to play a lengthy low shot under some limbs from very long grass. I missed the green, made bogey and was headed home. Clark finished with two pars and was the victor of that match.
Though a bit of a sad story from my point of view, the reality is I had just played my best golf ever, finished in the Top 8 in one of our country’s most prestigious Amateur events and had made my family and school proud.
The players at that time who advanced into the semi-finals of the U.S. Amateur received an invite into the 1984 Masters. Yes, I said THE MASTERS in Augusta GA. I was NOT in that group. I had made a bogey with my best club, a wedge in my hand, on the 17th hole of the biggest match of my life. It was and still is painful, especially considering I have also won a PGA TOUR event, the 1989 Chattanooga Classic, which was opposite the World Series of Golf at Firestone and was not awarded a Masters invite then either.
Now, for the fun part. As I shared in last month’s newsletter, my summer playing schedule included competing in the Encompass Championship in Chicago at, yes, North Shore Country Club. I couldn’t wait to get back to the 17th/8th hole and see what would happen this time. When I played the hole, #8 for the tournament this time, it was as long of a hole as I remembered. In practice, I hit a solid drive and had a 7 iron into the green. I am still bewildered at how my tee shot at the ’83 Amateur ended up so far down the fairway. As the tournament began, I made a scrambling save for par day one from the left rough with a 5 iron to the green and another par save with a two putt from 50 feet day two. On the third and final round, I hit a good tee ball and had about 150 left to the pin which was on the right side of the green in nearly the same spot as it was for the ’83 Amateur. I played a solid shot to the green about 20 feet left of the hole and pin high. I asked Jake, my son who was caddying, for a read. We agreed it might turn a little to the right. I made solid contact and the ball rolled center cut with plenty of speed and I had my birdie.
A special smile rose up from down deep inside me and I felt like I had come back to avenge “The Hole” that kept me from playing THE MASTERS! My daughter noticed that smile coming from a place not typical for me during a round. She asked about it later that day. I shared my story much like I have here. It was fun to have my family share in an old memory and walk in an experience from my past. We thoroughly enjoyed the week with the ladies in my life cheering me on while my son encouraged me through my rounds better than any caddy I’ve ever had.
I challenge you to share a memory with a family member or friend. Even the stories with less than stellar endings can stir the hearts of the listeners. I know for me it is easy to hide these events down deep. But, the reality is that both the storyteller and the listener are encouraged through the sharing. Thanks for listening to my story.