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Sutton Lights His Candle on Both Ends

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Hal Sutton can read the calendar. He was born April 28, 1958. This is late April 2001. That would make him 43 Saturday. And the calendar says that 44, possibly 45, is the longest anybody wins with consistency out here on the regular tour.
 

He won seven times in his first five years as a professional. He won six times his last four years, the last time last week at the Shell Houston Open. But he won just once in the middle 12 years. Oh, how he wishes he could have rewritten fate those lean dozen years.
 
'I'm darn sure getting older. There's no question about that,' said Sutton. He has perennial facial stubble now. Nagging injuries occur with greater frequency. He's a little heavier. He is playing a sport where a supple, youthful body is an advantage, but thankfully not a necessity.
 
'If there is a sport that, maybe, an older guy compete in, it is golf,' said Sutton. 'And you know those three little girls you saw run out on the green - they have a way of making me feel younger than I really am.'
 
That would be his youngsters - Samantha, age 4, and twins Sara and Sadie, age 2. Hal became a father late in life. The girls came along when Sutton was teetering on a brink. That was the time he could have shut down the golf and became simply a great father. But he wasn't ready to read the old press clippings yet, not until he had shown that he was as good a golfer as he appeared in 1983 when he won the PGA in his second year on this traveling rodeo.
 
'I didn't want to go out of the game the way I was being forced out,' Sutton said. In 1992 he made just eight cuts in 29 appearances and there was less than $40,000 to be divvied up. His family had wealth so that wasn't a problem. But the pride that had been a Hal Sutton trademark for so long was just about gone.
 
He had won the '83 Players Championship, so he had a 10-year exemption. That kept him out of the Tour Qualifying tournament in '92. In '93, though, he had a repeat of the year before, finishing 161st on the money list. He had to do something drastic now to avoid a trip to Q-School, and so Sutton used his once-a-lifetime freebie, his top-50 career earnings pass. Given the mulligan, he finished 29th the following year and hasn't come close since.
 
'I just didn't feel I was that kind of player,' said Sutton. 'I wanted to prove to myself that I could play the way I felt I was capable of playing.
 
'And then I married Ashley (his fourth wife), and we had the three little girls. You know, I just wanted them to see their daddy play golf, not just read about it that he'd won a golf tournament once before.'
 
Life really isn't too complicated, Sutton was saying, in spite of some of the messes he made of it. You are dealt a certain hand and you play it. 'I learned my lesson about thinking ahead,' he said, recalling those days just out of college when golf seemed so easy.
 
'I'm just trying to put the right foot in front of the left foot and pull the right club on the shot at hand, deal with whatever I have to deal with after that. I deal with the things I can control and leave the things I can't control up to somebody else.'
 

Sutton will always be best known for the way in which he handled himself in the 2000 Players Championship, for the way he stood toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods until the final hole and won. Tiger has since gotten his revenge, not just on Sutton, but everybody. But Sutton thinks playing Woods has been an incredible experience, one that will leave its mark for a lifetime.
 
'How many good things can we say about professional golf right now?' he asked.
 
'I was thinking the other day, the guys that are my age (the 40s), we've got the privilege of having played with Jack Nicklaus when he was great, and playing with Tiger when he's great. I mean, we've played with two of the superstars of the game. It's fun to be part of golf right now and to get in Tiger's way occasionally.
 
'He's a great player. He proves every week that he is the best player in the game. And he handles most of the things that he does with a lot of class. We're lucky to have him in our sport.'
 
Golf, it might be added, is also lucky to have Hal Sutton. Just wait until Saturday when he turns 43.
 
'I'm going to learn something else next week,' he said, remarking that he is a much different golfer than he was as a young man.
 
'We all say that we're grown at age 24, and then at 34 we realize we weren't even close to grown.