Local Ties Keep Interest High in Golf
For those of us who no longer play golf, this has nevertheless been an interesting few weeks.
When your own golf game has become nothing more than a memory, you have to look for something else to maintain your interest in the game you used to love to play.
For us golf lovers in the Sandhills, there’s been the emergence of Webb Simpson as one of the top players on the PGA Tour.
Simpson is a Raleigh native who played golf for Wake Forest and lives in Charlotte. His parents are members of the Country Club of North Carolina, and everyone there remembers the thrilling performance he put on in winning the Southern Amateur Championship with an up-and-down par on the final hole on that course shortly before turning professional.
It’s easy to like Kelly Mitchum, a nice young man who, like Simpson, puts his Christian faith and family above everything else.
Mitchum is a Southern Pines native who was a multiple All-American player at N.C. State and has been one of the lead instructors in the Pinehurst Resort Golf Academy for years.
This past week was guaranteed to find a place on his personal highlight reel as he participated in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s infamous Ocean Course.
Mitchum is no stranger to the land where the “Big Boys” play, of course. In fact, this is his fourth appearance in the PGA Championship. He’s also played in several PGA Tour events in the Carolinas and in one U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills a few years ago.
In my humble opinion, the only thing that has kept Mitchum from making it on the PGA Tour is that he doesn’t boom his drives over 300 yards. He’s not a big guy, and his game is all about accuracy and getting up and down. He’s fun to watch play and has an indomitable spirit.
The four days of Pete Dye-induced torture that are the PGA Championship on the Ocean Course ends today, and as I’m writing this on deadline Thursday, I only know that he opened with a 76.
If he made the cut on a golf course with some nightmare holes and length approaching 7,600 yards, it’s a personal triumph. If he didn’t, it was still a great experience and one he and his fans can treasure. Contrary to what some believe, winning isn’t everything in golf.
On the amateur level, 21-year-old Michael McGowan is making his fourth appearance in the U.S. Amateur this week at another famous course, Cherry Hills, in Denver.
Michael’s father, Pat, was the 1978 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, and played in two Amateur Championships before turning pro. His grandmother is the legendary Peggy Kirk Bell, and his mother, Bonnie, is featured on this page in the Sandhills Women in Golf series.
Michael has the talent and experience to be competitive in the Amateur. He actually made it to the match play portion of the event when he was 15. But this is golf, and one never knows what the golf gods are planning.
If you like underdog stories, you could do worse than follow the exploits of William McGirt, the kid from Fairmont who I watched grow up and even shared a round with once.
McGirt grew up playing Flagtree Golf Club in Fairmont and PineCrest Country Club in Lumberton. He was an early protégé of former Pinehurst Resort professional Lew Ferguson, now the director of golf at Sapona Country Club, and has surprised many with his tenacity on the Tour.
McGirt, who tied for second in the Canadian Open last week for the best finish in his two-year career, made the field at Kiawah as an alternate. Despite the check for almost a half-million bucks, he was $11 short of qualifying for the PGA Championship.
My round with McGirt? Oh, yeah, it was memorable. We were playing in a two-man captain’s choice at Flagtree, and McGirt and his partner eagled the first hole, a par-5, with a putt of about 10 feet. On the second hole, a par-4, McGirt holed his second shot from the fairway for another eagle.
My partner, the late Dr. Putt, and I were very respectful for the remainder of the round.
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