Sunday, February 19, 2012


The Champions Golf Tour-Naples, 2012

The Champions Tour extends its annual invitation to golf professionals who just happen to have a little gray at their temples, or who are fifty years old. Several years ago, it was decided that the world’s best golfers needed a venue to continue to play the game they love.
This year, the Champions Tour celebrates its twenty-fifth straight year in Naples, Florida, a good drive and a seven iron from our place in Fort Myers. The venue was TwinEagles, and it will take place there for the next three years. There are spectacular homes surrounding the course, with some available “from the 200s up to two million big ones”.
Gary Player won the first tournament in Naples in 1988, followed by Gene Littler and Lee Trevino. Last year, Bernhard Langer led the field from wire to wire. He posted scores of 64-66-66 to win the event now know as the Ace Group Classic.
In the booklet supplied to all tournament visitors, the powers-that-be suggested that Kenny Perry might be included in a group of “notable contenders” for this year’s tournament. Good guess! On Sunday afternoon, Perry played magnificently to win the tournament. He completed the final round in two under par, and finished five strokes ahead of Langer, at twenty under par!
Another five shots back, at ten under, was Rod Spittle. Spittle is a bit of an enigma on the tour, and his name is not exactly household. We decided to follow Spittle for the entire day. He and Jim Rutledge were the only Canadians in the tournament.
The PGA website indicated that Spittle was from St. Catharine’s. (Please remove the apostrophe, folks.) Before he teed off, it was announced that he was from Niagara Falls. After the tournament, I asked him for clarification. “I was born in St. Catharines, but I am actually from Chippewa!” He then asked me if I knew the area. I told him I had taught in Niagara Falls for a year, many years ago. “What school?” he asked, perhaps as a test. I passed with flying colours when I replied, “Maple Street Senior Public School.” I later learned that Spittle’s first job was putting bumper stickers on cars at Marineland!
Playing conditions throughout the day were difficult, to say the least. A nasty thirty to thirty-five mile an hour breeze washed across the course. Not always in the same direction, not always at the same altitude. Other than that, a perfect day for golf!
Spittle played the front nine in one under par, and had three birds and one bogey on the last nine holes. All things considered, a splendid round. When I asked for a quick comment he replied, “I am really pleased with the way I played today”. He scored 69, and with previous rounds of 66 and 71, he finished tied for ninth with Jeff Sluman and Russ Cochran.
At six feet, five inches, Spittle towered over his playing partners: Jim Carter, and P.H. Horgan III. And yet, throughout the round, they drove within five to ten yards of each other. Spittle was able to power a great sand shot on the ninth hole, then sunk a putt into a gale wind to salvage his par.
Most of us who followed the group were indebted to Horgan’s caddie-Victor Velasquez. On every hole, without fail, Victor would grab an extra couple bottles of water for the parched members of the gallery. Most appreciated by yours truly on at least two occasions. Caddies rode golf carts the entire round while the players walked. Just not in Victor’s case. He walked, with the clubs, while Horgan rode the cart!
Several well-known players fell by the wayside during the three-round tournament: Ben Crenshaw, Fred Funk, Jim Colbert, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, and Brad Faxon, to name a few. All results are available at the PGA web site.
Spittle took time to sign autographs for his admirers following the tournament. It likely was not something he could have predicted fifteen years ago, as he sold corporate life insurance, and whacked the ball on the weekends, just for fun. In 2005, he made $ 992 on the tour. Last year, he pocketed $ 731 000. And don’t forget, it’s just a game!

James Hurst
February 19, 2012.

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