Never Too Old

By Michael FechterOctober 28, 2008, 4:00 pm
Great victories do not have to be celebrated by millions. Sometimes it can be the silent victory of one. Although, the greatest victory is the one shared by two, which makes my friends win in the Charleston City Senior Amateur ' a triumph shared and understood by his twentysomething son, Mark ' perhaps the greatest victory since Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters.
 
Warren Peper is no seasoned touring amateur. Warren is not Buddy Marucci. Warren is our local Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man on local TV. Warren has been the most popular sportscaster for 20-odd years and the lead anchor for the past four or five at WCBD. As Pep said, 'I can't take myself too seriously. I put on make-up and read aloud.' So not only is Pep our local Walter Cronkite; he also easily channels Rodney Dangerfield.
 
OK, you may not think that winning the Charleston City Senior is a big deal, but it is when you look at Warren's background in golf. He did not even pick up a club until late in college, when he tagged along with buddies and used their sticks when they were far enough away from the clubhouse. As Warren said, growing up, golf seemed like a game of 'privilege and opportunity' and it had 'no appeal' as he became a local high school and college basketball star. But when he saw his 'cool' buddies enjoying the game at local municipals, Warren was hooked.
 
I remember Warren from when I was 18 years old and playing for the College of Charleston golf team. Warren was already a successful sportscaster and as we practiced on a local range, my only thought about Warren was 'Wow, he is such a nice guy; it's a shame that he's such an awful golfer.' At the time, I thought that shooting 83 was a disease and Warren was badly afflicted. Such is the arrogance of youth.
 
So, last fall when I saw that Warren had shot 68 in the last round to win some local tourney and then saw that he had won the City Mixed Championship with an 18-year-old girl, Ellie O'Brien, I wondered what in the world had happened to our universe? If Warren Peper was now a tournament winning champion then truly anything was possible. I half expected Fidel Castro to rise from his deathbed and win the New York City Marathon.
 
And if Warren Peper could become a champion then certainly I could rise from the ashes of my golf game and get at least as good as Warren is now.
 
Then, as the final cherry on top, I read in the local paper that Warren had won the City Senior by again shooting 68 on the final day to come from nine strokes back to beat 'golfing royalty' Bubba Hightower, our local John Daly, and Tommy Ford, our local Bobby Jones.
 
Was Armageddon upon us? Or had the planets mysteriously aligned? I had to get the story from Pep and he graciously met with us after his 7 p.m. show at the WCBD conference room.
 
First, I was straight with Warren. I told him that while I always admired him, I thought his golf game was pitiful all those years ago. Pep readily agreed with a laugh. And so I queried, 'What happened to make you a champion?' 'And how can I do the same,' I silently wondered.
 
These are the basics of my time with Senior Peper:
 
At age 50, about six years ago, after a lifetime of playing pick up and league basketball Warren decided that he 'hadn't hurt anybody and nobody had hurt him' and it was time to give up competitive basketball. He decided to devote himself to golf and was looking for a place to play with his college-age sons, Mark and Brad, figuring that 'golf is a sport that we could always play together.' Discovering the Saturday Morning Blitz at the Charleston Muni, Warren and his boys found a home where Warren says he has had the 'best times' of his life. Yes, golf will do that for a family.
 
But how did Warren get better?
 
Well, it turns out that Warren did not get a coach. He did not tinker with clubs. He did not sell his soul to Satan. Warren just played.
 
As Warren said, 'One of the beauties of having a job from 2 p.m.-midnight is that I have my mornings free and I filled it with golf.' Warren was on the course four days a week and when you do that for years, you can get pretty good. I remember that. To get good at golf, you have to play golf.
 
And to get good at tournament golf, you have to want to 'hit the shots when it matters the most,' as Warren told me. You have to want the pressure, relish the pressure, want the ball in your hands as the clock ticks down, and you have to want to win.
 
And when you figure that Warren does have great hand-eye coordination from his basketball days, is highly competitive from his basic nature, has good flexibility from genetics and exercise, then I did see that there was no reason for Warren to not become the scratch golfer that he is today. Even if I could not see it through the cloud and arrogance of my youth.
 
As Warren told me all about the 68 that he shot to win the City Senior, I realized that Warren and I shared something minor to everyone in the world except us: We both were former hacks, whose greatest victories were both at the Charleston Muni.
 
On that fateful final round, Warren tossed in six birdies with a single double-bogey and 'gagged two 5-footers in on both 17 and 18' to win by one shot. Warren Peper beating Bubba Hightower and Tommy Ford was the equivalent of Jack Fleck beating Ben Hogan. Only this time, the TV and print people were interviewing Warren about his grand victory instead of Warren interviewing Phil Mickelson. How sweet that had to be for Warren.
 
After giving his acceptance speech in front of friends, TV cameras and gracious losers on that day, Warren told me that he fell back on the many Masters he had covered as he remembered to thank 'the greenskeepers; the guys I played with; the assistant pro, Jim, who suggested I move the ball back a couple of inches.' And as I made this speech I realized this 'meant a lot to me.'
 
Then my pal, Mr. Peper, took his trophy and headed to the local Mount Pleasant Christmas parade where he was riding and waving from the WCBD float.
 
And that's just 'the way it is' as Walter Cronkite would say. When you have 82 victories like Sam Snead the meaning for each one is not the same as when you are Warren Peper or me and you have one single victory. That victory is as sweet as a grape that somehow never leaves your mouth.
 
After the round, at the suggestion of his wife, Warren made a call to his son, Mark. As they went over every shot on a course they had enjoyed hundreds of times together, Mark said, 'No matter what, no matter if you never play again, you'll always be the City Senior champion. That's something that they can never take away.'
 
Every Masters and U.S. Open champion know this and now, Warren Peper knows it too. Nothing could make me happier, because Warren has got this feeling. And better yet, he got to share it with his sons.
 
Email your thoughts to Michael Fechter
 
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.
 
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  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.