Monday, February 20, 2017
AProud Canadian in South West Florida
Butch Wilhelm with Rod Spittle
Occasionally, I like to focus on a fine athletic achievement. If it so happens that a Canadian is involved, all the better. We have been accused of not being a terribly proud people. That may be true, but certainly not in this case.
For many years, I have followed the golf exploits of Rod Spittle. Rod grew up in the Niagara area, Chippewa to be exact. They have announced that he is from St. Catherines and Niagara Falls. No matter. He was fortunate enough to attend Ohio State on a golf scholarship. Once he graduated, he chose to stay in the United States to sell a little insurance and play a little golf.
Around the time of his fiftieth birthday, he toyed with the idea of trying to make the grade for the PGA Seniors Tour, for those over 50. Despite some initial setbacks, he has achieved success on the tour, finishing well and even winning one event. When he arrived at Naples, Florida this week, he had no guarantee that they would even let him play. He was the “Fifth Alternate” on the list of players who would be allowed to play, if others dropped out.
We ran into Rod, and his caddy Butch Wilhelm, on the practice range on the day before the tournament. One after another, he was cracking drives 250 yards down the middle of the fairway. He mentioned that his wife Ann had traveled with him from their winter home near Dunedin. Apparently, she was back at the hotel packing the bags to head to Dunedin because Rod had not been informed that there was a place for him.
So, on the first day of the tournament, Rod hung around, just in case. Ten minutes before the start, he was informed that he was in the field. “You know, we can't make this up! I was the first alternate last week, same thing, so I was around for three days. And then I got the call.”
He birdied the first hole, and finished four under for the first round. As he prepared for the second round, I chatted with Butch near the range. I mentioned that a friend of mine from Belleville had been in touch with me, and wanted me to ask about Rod's putter grip. It is called a “P2”, and comes from a local golf guy named Steve Auger. Butch pulled the club, and we talked about it. The putter head cover was adorned with Canadian flags.
The "P2 Grip", available from Steve Auger at Black Bear
or at the Loyalist Golf Centre.
“Rod met Steve at the PGA show recently, and loves the grip. Mind you, he did make a slight adjustment to it. He reversed the grip, bottom up.” Rod's wife Ann confirmed that bit of information. He scored rounds of 68, 68, and 69 to finish in a tie for third with Jerry Kelly and Jeff Sluman. He pocketed $ 96 000 for his efforts.
Miguel Angel Jiminez
Fred Couples finished first, 16 under par. Miguel Angel Jiminez from Malaga, Spain was second, at 13 under par. The victory for Couples was his 12th on the PGA Tour Champions, the first since 2014. The win vaulted him to the top of the Schwab Cub Standings, ahead of Bernhard Langer. Spittle also made significant gains in the standings.
Langer won the tournament last year. In fact he has won the tournament three times in the last six years, but never in successive years. That is a word of caution to all players in case he plays next year!
Playing conditions were perfect all week long. The start for the final round was delayed slightly, due to an early morning fog. Most players felt that the course at Twin Eagles was in superb condition. Attendance was up significantly, due, in part, to the presence of John Daly.
Rod and the boys move on to Tucson to play this coming week. He has earned an exemption into that tournament. When asked whether or not he might take a little confidence from his play this week, Rod replied, “Without a doubt. I'm healthy and rested and practiced up and ready to go This is a great way to get started.”
And so, the “gentle giant” from the Niagara area made us all a little proud, this past weekend. The television announcers were really impressed with his game. They referred to it as the “feel good” story of the week.
You can also check Rod's progress at PGA.com, or on the golf channel.
February 20, 2017.