Finding Chris Hunt

By Michael FechterMay 23, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
Theres a reason why storybook endings are called storybook endings: They almost never happen in real life.
When I first began this year-long series of columns, I had a beginning ' that of a 45-year-old man yearning to recapture his glory days on the links -- and a plan as to how this would all end. It was the 50 interceding columns that were a bit hazy.
I wanted to reconnect with Chris Hunt, my final-round playing partner of the 1980 Al Esposito Junior Invitational, and a golf legend around Charleston, S.C. In my mind, the only way to end this journey would be by replaying that final round with Chris.
When we first met at The Al, Chris was 13, weighed 100 pounds and had already won the Vance Simmons and the Azalea Junior. I was who stood between Chris and the 'Charleston Triple Crown' of Junior Golf.
No matter how much I refer to Chris as my nemesis at The Al, to the gallery of 150 and the two TV news film crews that day, I was the hated outsider who came to steal glory from the hometown golf prodigy. Worse, I was a college student, and Chris was barely out of middle school.
Chris survived the humiliation of losing to me by two strokes and took it out on future Junior golfers. He went on to a scholarship at Georgia, and his legend only grew. Small crowds would gather to watch him hit a bucket on the range when Chris was home for the holidays.
Years later I saw Chris at the muni and he was smacking the ball 300, with incredible touch. Watching him, I was jealous in the same way I got when I left the stage after working my ass off, and Jeff Foxworthy would have the crowd without hardly a word. OK, not jealous; it was awe.
Moments after my victory at The Al, Chris told a news reporter that he wanted to break all of Jack Nicklauss records. If not for an injury, he would have had that shot. Instead, Chris became the most popular bartender in Charleston, a job that left him free to play the game that he loved, and to meet and marry Tamara, a woman beautiful on so many levels.
A few hours earlier, I left the muni, the place where I should have met Chris, on the range, or perhaps on the course while I was looking for my ball, a fairway or two over from the hole I was playing. We would have talked about old times, and how fun it would be to play that final round over again.
Instead, I was headed toward Room 441, where Chris was recovering from a stroke. Only, when I got to the room, it was empty. The entire floor seemed unoccupied, except for a lovely woman tending to a thin man of perhaps 50 or 55 in a wheelchair.
And I thought, That can't be Chris?
It was.
I introduced myself to Chriss wife, Tamara, by telling her, 'I'm an old friend of Chris's. We played golf together when we were kids. I haven't seen him much in years...but I came as soon as I heard.'
Tamara asked if I would like to talk to Chris.
I looked briefly into Chris's eyes. His eyes were glazed. I could see that his entire right side was paralyzed. I saw no hint of recognition, which either meant that Chris no longer held a grudge for my ruining his Charleston Junior Triple Crown at The Al or, more likely, he was exhausted.
'Hey Chris, I'm Michael Fechter. It's been a long time,' I said, trying to be upbeat. 'You beat me in golf so much I have to take years off between seeing you.'
Chris tried to speak, which just led to frustration.
Tamara, Chris and I faked our way through a conversation about their 6-year-old daughter, her school and puppy and whatever other little topics came up. I told Tamara and two nurses that had joined us that Chris was a 'great champion and loved by everybody, especially when he would beat whatever snot nosed punk from out of town came to a local tournament'. One of the nurses said she didn't know that Chris had been so good. I told her 'Oh, Chris was the best. The most popular. The most handsome. The most confident. And I hated him for it.'
Thankfully, Tamara and the nurses laughed. Thankfully, they laughed a lot at whatever other nonsense I was spewing as I tried to grasp the severity, the absolute devastation of this stroke.
My guess was that at 6-foot-2, Chris now weighed perhaps 130 pounds. A couple of weeks earlier, my friend and reluctant swing coach, Brian Ferguson, said that Chris might need a liver transplant and that his weight and strength were down. 'Chris can probably still outdrive you, Brian said, because he's still hitting it 180.'
I won The Al by shooting 1 over for three days. A record at the time. In the years to come, Chris won this tournament with scores as much as 17 under. Tiger Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots. Chris won The Al by a lot more. He went on to star at the University of Georgia and thoroughly recovered from his loss at The Al to some guy who had a lucky three days.
Chris sighed, content for a moment, as Tamara stroked his hair, which I took as time best left for them.
'Youve always had such beautiful hair.' Tamara said to Chris, gently, as I walked away. 'Even now, such beautiful hair.'
In my golf mind, Chris Hunt, my 'nemesis' is 14 and matching me shot for shot on the back nine, not 41 and fighting to stay alive.
Every round of golf takes twists that you would never expect standing on the first tee. Life takes even more bizarre, confounding twists.
Why can't even simple stories be simple?
And what I wouldnt give for this story to end by playing just one more round of golf with Chris.
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
Email your thoughts to Michael Fecheter
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  • Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 6:12 am

    Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:

    Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)

    What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.

    Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

    Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.

    Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.

    Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …

    Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.

    Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 4:30 am

    Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.

    Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

    “I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”

    Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

    The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.

    Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.

    “Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.

    Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.

    “Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”

    South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

    By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

    South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

    Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

    Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

    Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

    So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

    Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

    The fourball results:

    LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

    LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

    LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

    KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

    LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

    LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

    NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.


    Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

    By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

    In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

    Made Cut

    The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

    Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

    “I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

    Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

    Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

    This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

    Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

    Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

    The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

    Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

    Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

    The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.

    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

    First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

    “You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

    A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

    “The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

    For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

    Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

    “I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

    Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

    “Oh, yeah,” he told “Way by.”

    Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

    Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.

    Missed Cut

    Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

    Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

    “That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

    Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

    While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.