The Regions Charity Classic played at Ross Bridge Resort and Spa used to be the Bruno’s Memorial Classic at Greystone Country Club and back then it was the strongest field with the largest galleries on the Champions Tour. These days the field is weak, the fans gather around the four or five holes surrounding the resort hotel and rarely venture out on the course, and there isn’t the buzz around Birmingham like there used to be. There were a lot of “remember when” stories about Greystone floating around the practice tee; everyone would love to go back.

The Ross Bridge course designed by Robert Trent Jones isn’t a bad track it’s just more conducive for mountain goats than spectators and fifty year old golfers. It’s a great collection of holes, the greens were in perfect condition, the fairways hard and fast, but the layout is so difficult to walk the tour officials allow the bags to stay on the carts at all times and everyone can ride from the greens to the next tee box. Usually there are quite a few players walking but not this week everyone was in a cart.

It was pouring rain when I arrived early Monday afternoon so I settled into my usual abode, The Oak Mountain Lodge. The lodge has seen its better day but I’m a creature of habit and been staying here since 1993. Twenty minutes to the course and around the corner from my favorite watering hole, Ragtime Café, it’s perfect for me. I stumbled into Ragtime my first trip to Birmingham, made a bunch of golfing and drinking buddies, but times have changed. There were no late nights; no Saturday afternoon scrambles with Gentleman Jack, only a couple of cold ones and a pizza to go. Everyone has gone their separate ways and grown up with their families, I couldn’t even get anyone tickets to the tournament, they were all too busy.

I walked thirteen holes Monday evening before dark crossing paths with Bernhard Langer’s caddy, Gary Hallberg and his son, plus Bobby Clampett. They all mentioned the enormous size of the greens, averaging about 10,000 square feet. The generous fairways and large greens make for low scoring and boy did they go low. Dan Forsman, with his regular caddy Greg “Piddler” Martin on the bag instead of his son, shot a course record 62 Saturday followed with a 66 on Sunday winning the tournament easily. It was a notch for the tour caddies over the “lucky sperm club”.

“Piddler” and Dan had been together for twenty plus years prior to this year when Dan’s son abruptly took over the caddie duties. It left Greg high and dry without a regular bag. The first week back in the saddle and a win was one of the feel good stories this week. The other was Ken Green.

Ken teed it up with one leg in his first medal play tournament. It’s been less than a year since his terrible accident and his only goal was not to finish last. He didn’t and wearing green knickers with a green prosthesis he roamed the course acknowledging the crowd for their support. We walked off the eighteenth green Friday feeling sorry for ourselves after a 74, looked across the water and watched Ken putt out on the fifth green. He was all smiles after the bogey and the crowd would have hugged him if they could; it definitely added a little perspective to our plight.

I’ve had a lot of good memories in Birmingham but this week won’t make that list. Jim worked hard with his instructor, Rick Christie, and his buddy “Helmster” was there for moral support, but it was a struggle. The driver isn’t behaving on the course. It looks fine on the practice tee carrying about 280 with a nice little fade but on the course it keeps finding the trees. We spent at least three hours on the range Saturday afternoon and left Overtime Bar and Grill early that evening with high hopes for Sunday’s round.

Jim laced a nice high fade around the corner of the difficult tenth hole Sunday morning and I thought we were off to a 65. His punch seven iron never left the flag stick; it was going to be a great day. Somewhere during a round the mind plays tricks with you and one bad shot takes over. Disconnecting from any bad shot and remembering the good ones is a golfer’s only defense. We let it get the best of us and struggled all day. Right now were in one of those golfing funks that happen to everyone out here.

It was nice; all week long various players would stop by the range offering Jim advice. Tim Simpson offered words of wisdom early in the week and Jeff Sluman stopped Saturday afternoon sharing stories about his struggle with the driver. There’s a camaraderie out here you don’t see on television. Gary Hallberg and Peter Jacobsen, who really don’t know Jim, took time to help. It’s a nice feeling knowing you’ve got some guys in your corner. We’ll get through the funk and tear it up the next few weeks.

A week at home with family, friends, and his instructor and we’ll be ready for the PGA next week in Denver.

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