Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf

This is where the Champions Tour got its start back in 1978 at Onion Creek CC in Austin, TX. Some of the old timers — Arnold, Billy Casper, Don January, Gene Littler, Sam Snead, Art Wall, Tommy Bolt — about two dozen of them, gathered for some fun and competition with a $400,000 purse thrown at them and it snowballed from there. Sam won $50,000 almost 10% of what he made in his career. Today the first place check was larger than the total purse back then . . . times have definitely changed but the old farts still had some fun this week.

Any pro over 70 tees it up Monday and Tuesday for a 36-hole team event. The course is much shorter, the drives are definitely shorter, the irons aren’t as crisp and the putting stroke jiggles a bit but the fun from competition still excites them. They were grinding over every shot and laughing over every beer after the round. Walking off eighteen the smiles on their faces hid the noticeable wear and tear on their bodies. They were creaking slowly along to the clubhouse but wouldn’t have missed the day for anything.

Arnold didn’t play but he was there surveying the action from his cart, signing everything thrust in front of him and flirting with all the women he passed. Every pro practicing on the putting green stopped and watched him reverently as he slowly drove through the sparse crowd. The fifty year olds were admiring their idol; all had a comment paying tribute to their hero.

My favorite perch during the week is the cart staging area behind the clubhouse. There goes Lee, here comes Gary, Watson just walked by, all coming and going working at their profession still at this ripe old age. I sat there, listened to pros and caddies tell stories from long ago and watched the gallery admire their heroes.

Watching three, maybe four, generations gaze at their idols, point and whisper reverently as they walked by was special. I hope grandpa stirred the youngster next to him and they went to hit balls that evening. There were many kids standing behind the practice tee ropes gleaning swing techniques and more than a few times the legend became human walked to the ropes, chatted awhile, tousled some hair and signed a hat. You should have seen the kid’s eyes. If only they could get rid of the professional autograph hounds, selling their wares on EBAY, the week would be pristine and only for those who truly enjoy golf and its history.

The format and qualifications for the three day event have changed over the years watering down the field allowing quite a few unheralded players into the event but there is still plenty of excitement. You have to go low, nine or ten under, every day for a chance to win and we treaded water every day finishing way back in the pack.

Putts wouldn’t fall and we, our partner Eduardo Romero, didn’t ham and egg it very well. We had a bogey each day which is disastrous in best ball events and struggled with our short game. Although we practiced diligently every day the short game is definitely suffering, it’s becoming a mental thing which isn’t good in golf. Mechanics are fixable, mental obstacles take awhile to resolve. There’s a saying out here, “the less you think in this game the better off you are.” Right now we’re thinking way too hard around the greens, we need to free it up, relax and let the clubface do the work.

I think this is our eighth year at the Savannah Westin Harbor Resort and Spa. We started coming here right after Doug Tewell won at the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2002 and the tournament has grown each year. The links style course has matured, the fans and community have embraced the event and Liberty Mutual goes out of their way entertaining their guests. They also make sure the players, their families and caddies are taken care of.

If was fine dining in the caddie tent this week, Paula Deen’s boys at Uncle Bubba’s restaurant provided a few meals and Prom catering made sure there was a breakfast buffet every morning. A few pros visited the tent and most every caddy was bragging about their pro-am tips. We played Thursday afternoon with the leading team, scored respectively but nasty lightening shortened our round to 16 holes. I thought I’d never see our amateurs again but when the pro-am was officially cancelled our Liberty Mutual partner strolled up brandishing a crisp “hundy”. He thanked me for a good time, the pleasure was all mine.

The Low Country has become a favorite stop for me. Savannah and Hilton Head harbor some great friends and fond memories but this week was a bit hectic and not quite the same. Sandy, Tom Kite’s caddy, found a cheap, quaint row house for us and we enjoyed the home life. There was a quick trip to Hilton Head for dinner and cocktails at Aunt Chiladas, a concert in Forsythe Park by Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band after Friday night Fellowship and of course the annual Thirsty Thursday evening at Grayson Park watching the Class A Sand Gnats while enjoying the scenery. It was the usual activities just not shared with as many friends and not for as long a time.

The PGA Tour was on Hilton Head because of a scheduling snafu disrupting the laid back atmosphere usually found this week. There was too much going on and just not enough time for everyone. We escaped Sunday afternoon for a relaxing drive to Mobile, AL. Somewhere around Tallahassee our plans were disrupted by a phone call from Korea. Jimin left a brief message and said she wasn’t playing Mobile. Our easy two day drive turned into a frantic search for a job, hotel room in Mobile and late night arrival. I’ll fill you in on details next week.

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