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.
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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.