Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum were back home at the Tanglewood Golf and Country Club last week, finishing up a quick round before starting a clinic for local fans. As they walked up 17'or maybe it was 18, Slocum wasnt quite sure ' Weekley came across a dead snake on the fairway. Ever the prankster, he picked up the carcass. Slocum knew somebody was in for a surprise.
Sure enough, that snake made an appearance during the clinic.
He said to my dad, `Hey Jack, can you get me a good golf ball. He reaches his hand in there and theres the dead snake, Slocum said, laughing. Boos mind, it just works funny. He looks at something and sees it completely different than I do.
Little Milton, Fla., is on the map in a big way this week. The city with fewer than 8,500 people'and the unfortunate former name of Scratch Ankle'has three homeboys in the 94-player Masters field. Imagine that. Weekley, Slocum and Bubba Watson all grew up in the same tiny Florida panhandle town and now here they are, each playing in his first Masters.
Its about as opposite of ritzy as you can get, Slocum said, referring to Tanglewood, where all three played as kids. I dont even know how to describe it. Its such an anomaly for three guys from the same college to get on the tour, let alone from the same high school. How does that happen?
Lots of luck.
And lots and lots of talent.
Slocum came by the game naturally. His father, Jack, was a longtime golf pro, and the family moved to Milton when Heath was 13 after Jack got the job at Tanglewood. Shortly after they arrived, Heath Slocum heard rumors there was another kid his age who could really play, and a lifelong friendship began.
Heath is just like a son, said Tom Weekley, Boos father.
Slocum and Weekley were in the same class at Milton High School, and played on the golf team together. When they werent golfing, they could usually still be found hunting, fishing or playing pranks. Weekley was as gregarious then as he is now'this, remember, is the guy whose thick Southern drawl and homespun naivete fascinated the locals at the British Open last year'and was the undisputed ring leader.
Pretty much. Though I might have egged him on, said Slocum, who is as low-key as his buddy is colorful. He brings a little more personality to me.
Watson is five years younger than Slocum and Weekley, so he wasnt nearly as tight with the older two growing up. But because he played at Tanglewood, too, the older boys knew all about the young kid with the big swing.
Its also kind of hard to overlook a kid who wore knickers'like his idol, Payne Stewart.
Good boys, all three, said Stacie Stutzman, the food and beverage manager at Tanglewood. Good Southern boys.
While Slocum and Watson both turned pro after playing golf in college' Slocum at South Alabama, Watson at Faulkner State and Georgia'Weekley worked at a chemical plant before he decided to see if he, too, could make a living on the course. All three spent time on the Nationwide Tour and, one by one, worked their way up to the majors.
Slocum was the first to make it, winning three Nationwide events in 2001. Hes been on the tour ever since, has won twice and earned his first trip to the Masters by finishing 30th on the money list last year.
Next came Weekley. After kicking around on the minitours for a few years, he got through Q-school at the end of the 2001 season. Jack Slocum was his caddie, just as he was for his son and Watson. His first stay on the PGA Tour was brief after he made just five cuts in 2002. Weekley spent the next four years on the Nationwide Tour, finally getting back to the big leagues after finishing seventh on the money list in 2006.
When he returned last year, he was a smashing success'on and off the course. He had five top-10 finishes, including a win at the Verizon Heritage, and his folksy ways made him a fan favorite. (Think John Daly, without the drama.)
Its caveman golf: Hit it, find it, hit it again, Weekley said, quite possibly the first person to describe Augusta National in such terms. I just try to play it as I see it.
Watson caught up to his older friends in 2005, earning his PGA Tour card after finishing 21st on the Nationwide money list. Hes still looking for his first victory, but his tie for fifth at the U.S. Open gave him exemptions for this years Open and the Masters.
Growing up from the same hometown were always pushing each other, Watson said. The Masters is going to be another one where were all pushing each other.
No matter how rich and famous they get, the three remain Milton boys at heart. Weekley and Watson still live in the area, and Weekley and Slocum were back at Tanglewood last week for the TPC'that would be the Three Pros Championship. Several members from Tanglewood and Stonebrook Golf Club, another club in the area, are here in Augusta, making the 7 1/2 -hour trip to watch the three in person.
We sent them off good. Tried to anyway, Stutzman said. Boo, Heath and Bubba say it all for Milton. Good boys, and a lot of talent.