As I had learned during the course of the seven hours of our live coverage over the last three days, Brandts is the voice in our heads we all want to have, as his council is reasoned and tempered with experience that clearly knows how to rise above the fray. It was precisely what I needed at the moment, not so much because my mental faculties were distracted (any more than usual), as it was that the writer within me was already searching for a common frame of reference to explain the events I had seen here. Searching for something to justify the fact that my perception of the Champions Tour had undergone a metamorphic shift.
Within seconds I would charge onto the 18th green at Quail West and interview Bobby Wadkins, the new champion of the Ace Group Classic, to gather his concluding thoughts before the close of our broadcast window. The action would also bring to a close my first experience as the interviewer for the GOLF CHANNEL's coverage, a role I would fill due to David Marrs ascension into the 18th-hole tower to host the coverage on this particular week.
As you may recall, the set where the interviews take place on the Champions Tour is somewhat unique, actually, totally unique, as it is a couch. Yep, on this week, it was a big, black, puffy, comfortable couch, surrounded by acres of fully in-bloom flowers. When you interview someone, the most you can hope for is that they are comfortable and there can be little doubt that this objective was accomplished. It also tends to relay an image of relaxation, of two friends chatting over the nuances of a round recently concluded.
My calling is to solicit the players comments on matters pertaining to their performance, the golf course and its conditions, and the competition. As Frank Nobilo guided me in our first meeting, his job is to tell the viewers what the players are thinking, and my job is to ask the questions the viewer wants to know the answer to. Alas, job defined, I set off to perform my simple task that was made all the more so by Brandt, David, Frank and all the other incredibly talented on-air and production staff that links this unit as a family.
I hoped that my efforts would also benefit from the fact that interviewing people is my favorite thing to do. I do not know exactly why, but I love to hear peoples stories. Not just famous people, but everyones. I cant look at a strangers face and not wonder about the novel of life experiences that lurks under the surface, waiting, sometimes begging, to be revealed. I like to think of this affliction as an asset, yet sometimes it is to my wifes chagrin, as she would once-in-a-while like to get our meal served in a reasonable amount of time, instead of me having to learn the life story and aspirations of every waiter or waitress that crosses our path. For what it is worth, I find that most people like to talk, more than they like to listen, and I feel fortunate to posses a natural curiosity as to what they have to say.
Prior to heading down to Naples for the tournament, I spent some time studying the roster of players in the Ace Group Classic. It was, to say the least, impressive, as major champions including Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Fuzzy Zoeller, Mark OMeara, and Nick Price were featured in a field that also included the likes of Jay Haas, Loren Roberts and Andy Bean among others. I fully expected the event to be a nostalgic walk down memory lane. A misty eyed journey down my own lifes passages, defined by their major championships and the milestones they represented to me, as the emotions of I remember where I was when flooded over.
Coming face to face with many of these same legends on the couch over the weekend, did nothing to diminish my awe; however, other forces were starting to wedge into my garden party. On the first day of the competition, an 11-year Champions Tour veteran named John Bland posted an early score of 67, 5 under par. Within the next few hours, the full-field scores would be posted with Wadkins, who fired an 8-under par 64, holding a one-stroke lead over OMeara, Allen Doyle and Gil Morgan, and a host of golfers within a couple strokes of the lead.
Whoa, what is going on here? Isnt this supposed to be about a back-slapping tour down memory lane? Isnt this about rekindling old friendships and giving the devoted fans a glimpse of their golfing heroes?
When did this become a cut-throat competition? Well, as I have quickly learned, it always has been. Take for example how the final moments played themselves out.
Doyle and Wadkins marched down the par-5 final hole knotted at 14 under par. Playing in their group was OMeara at 12 under par. Doyle managed to place his third shot some 30 feet short of the cup. Wadkins third required a short pitch that he chose to play in low and with as much spin as he could muster from the rough. His shot settled some 14 feet from the hole. Doyle would leave his birdie putt on the lip and settle for a par. Wadkins, who would benefit from a read off the last few feet of Doyles putt, would have to negotiate a difficult, right-to-left breaker to secure a birdie and the victory. As noted above, he accomplished the task.
Just prior to the putts by Doyle and Wadkins, OMeara, at two behind, faced a third shot of approximately 60 yards. At the time, I was standing about 5 feet off the putting surface, ready to charge in and complete my task. The thought entered my mind that if OMeara could dunk his third shot for eagle and hope that the best the other two could manage were pars, he would tie for the lead and secure a place in a playoff. OMearas entry onto the Champions Tour in his first tournament was not without some rusty spots (he shot an 82 in the final round of the prior weeks tournament ' his debut on the circuit), so it would have been completely understandable if he had played a safe shot, below the pin, in order to secure a birdie and a respectable finish (and sizable paycheck).
Now, I have not asked Mark what his intent was at this point, and I can only speculate; however, it seemed to me that he summoned up the courage of the champion that he is, and I will be darned, he missed dunking the ball into the hole by less than three inches. As would be expected from such a brave effort, his ball released a considerable distance past the hole and he would miss his birdie putt coming back, but I was very impressed, none-the-less. This was no lay-up-and-wave-to-the-gallery effort; this was a blatant effort to give him a shot to win (and nearly accomplished). He would settle for a share of fifth place.
Back to Wadkins, his 14-foot putt was not easy. It had to rise up a slight ridge before dropping down to the left. Having a tournament riding on his efforts could not have made it any easier. Here was a golfer that was 0-for-712 in victories on the PGA TOUR facing a tester for yet another win out here. Wadkins first won back in 2001, his first year on the Champions Tour, then twice last year (including a Champions Tour major, the Ford Seniors Players Championship), so while he may have been a late bloomer to the victory column, putts like the one he was facing for the win are trying, even for the most fervent of champions. Wadkins made it look easy as his perfectly-struck putt cut the hole in half. Hand shakes and waves all-around and Wadkins made his way to his bag to putt away his putter.
And there I stood with microphone in hand and listening to Brandts countdown in my ear. Bobby, well be on the air in about 15 seconds, I informed the victor. As we were waiting, I decided to test my new theory that this tour was in actuality all about winning, and I asked Bobby what he had shot that day (we were not on the air yet), I have no idea, he replied. I just know I made a lot of birdies to give myself a chance. For the record, he shot a 68, but what was really impressive were the seven birdies he made in the last ten holes to secure his victory. No walk in the park here; Wadkins went for the throat.
A few years ago when the Champions Tour name was announced to replace the original name, the Senior Tour,' my initial reaction was that a better name would have been the Legends Tour, befitting the status of the tours members. I now realize that the name they chose is perfect. The Champions Tour is not about what has happened. It is about fierce competition right now.
In golf, we all benefit from the chance to watch the best golfers in the world compete on the PGA TOUR, but if you are like me and have an insatiable love for watching fierce competition and exceptional golf, then settle in on the couch and enjoy the Champions Tour.
Copyright 2007 Matthew E. Adams Fairways of Life
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Editor's Note: Matt Adams is a reporter for The Golf Channel, equipment expert, twenty-year veteran of the golf industry and speaker. In addition, he is a New York Times and USAToday bestselling coauthor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of Fairways of Life, Wisdom and Inspiration from the Greatest Game. Fairways of Life uses golf as a metaphor for life and features a Foreword by Arnold Palmer. To sign up for Adams Golf Wisdom email quotes or for more information, go to www.FairwaysofLife.com.