Fantasy Camp at Kiawah Island

By Mercer BaggsNovember 21, 2004, 5:00 pm
2004 UBS CupKIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Willie did something unusual one summer Saturday afternoon back in 83.
Facing a right-handed Gene Garber, the switch-hitting outfielder decided to stand from the right side of home plate.
It was a little peculiar, but worth a shot. He needed a long ball and had no pop from the opposite side. And lo-and-behold, he pulled a Garber fastball right over the right flank of the Kwileckis house. One bounce off of the roof of Aunt Pennys and Uncle Gerards bedroom and over the fence. Home-run. Game over. Cardinals win.
Willie Magee wasnt my favorite player for the St. Louis Cardinals ' that was Ozzie Smith, but it was his turn in the order ' and Ozzie had singled in front of him with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down a run, to provide the winning opportunity.
Back as a kid in Georgia, my cousins and I would draw up complete line-ups of our favorite baseball teams and play a regulation game. I got a chance to be Ozzie and Willie and Tommy Herr. I even tried to trade for Bob Horner ' because I needed more power in my line-up, but my cousin wouldnt take the Ken Oberkfell trade.
Fantasy is a part of being a kid. For most of us, we never actually get a chance to realize these juvenile dreams. We never get a chance to turn a double play with The Wizard, score on an assist from Magic Johnson, or catch a touchdown pass from Danny Wuerffel (I know, Im not a kid anymore, but I can still dream ' and dont make fun of Danny).
But some very fortunate ones do ' those whose athletic talents extend beyond Dart Golf.
I used to play a foursome match in my backyard with the Whiffle ball, Jay Haas reminisced. And I played Gary and Arnold and Jack, and I won every single time. I announced my own matches and everything.
This week, Haas not only got a chance to play against Gary Player, he did so while teaming with Arnold Palmer.
Fantasy, meet Reality.
The UBS Cup is kind of like a fantasy camp for those over the age of 40. Just ask Mark McNulty.
When I was 9 years old, recalled the Zimbabwean, (Player and Palmer) came and played an exhibition at Royal Salisbury. I was pulled out of school and had no idea what I was going for, and there they were. It was a very exciting time for me.
McNulty was in the same enviable position as Haas this week. For two days, his partner was Player; his opponent was Palmer.
When youre 5, 6, 7 years old, youre putting and thinking, Im Arnold Palmer here holing a 6-footer to win the Masters. Forty years down the line, youre suddenly in a position of being able to play a match like today with them, against them. I think its something every boy, childhood boy dreams about, and its fantastic to be able to have a dream fulfilled.
Every international team competition gets an unwelcome liken to the Ryder Cup. Fortunately, this is a low-key event which offers very little comparison ' other than the fact that it features several players who have participated in the crucible of Samuel Ryders Cup. That is Cain; this is Able ' no bloodshed here.
No, no, its not the Ryder Cup, said recent Hall of Fame inductee Tom Kite.
Its never going to catch on like the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup, but its a pretty nice version of that for guys that are over 40.
Nice is the adjective most associated by competitors with this event.
Its nice to be able to play alongside your heroes, nice to be able to reunite with old friends, nice to be able to reform old partnerships, nice to be able to rejuvenate those competitive juices.
Now that Im to a point where Im not about to make the Ryder Cup team, said Kite. A tournament like this, it gives us a great opportunity to continue to compete.
The UBS Cup just completed its fourth year of existence. And as long as there is a sponsor willing to ante up the $3 million purse, and Palmer and Player are there to encourage participation, the event is likely to continue to age.
Eventually, the two legends will have to bow out. Maybe they will become ceremonial, non-competing captains. Maybe theyll just relinquish total control and watch the tournament from home.
There would be no true replacements ' they just dont make em like that anymore. But hopefully, with or without them, this competition will continue.
At this time of the year, when all that is left is for Fred Couples and his silly-season squirrels to stockpile Monopoly money like nuts for the winter, its nice to have an event like this.
Not just for the players, but for the fans.
A lot of the spectators on TV, I would guess, would be between the age of 40 and 70, and thats the age group you have out here, said Bernhard Langer. They have been following these players for 20 to 40 years and they can really relate to them.
Sometimes, a 40- or 60-year-old, its hard to relate to Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or somebody in their 20s who hits the ball 310 (yards) and a wedge 150.
The UBS Cup is what the Champions Tour wants to be on a consistent basis. There is golfing royalty mixed in with a cluster of recognizable names, and top-notch competition to boot ' all in a relaxed and fan-friendly atmosphere.
Upon the conclusion of the event, players from both sides chatted up one another and drank a few beers. There were no long faces for the losers, no champagne baths for the winners. Just some laughs, some smiles, some handshakes, and a bunch of 'See ya down the road's.'
'I would like to see this atmosphere become contagious to all sports, not just golf,' Palmer said, before slapping Player on the arm and wishing him safe travels.
Its a nice blend of nostalgia, camaraderie and birdies ' and a bit of fantasy come reality.
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