Slant Pattern at the Invited Celebrity Classic

When I was a kid, we shared a duplex with my uncle Jon. Jon was a golf nut. I'm not sure what is handicap was, but I do remember one day after playing 7-8 holes at our local muni, he groused that his card was all pars. "I should have some birdies in there!"

He saw to it that I would become a golf nut, too. He made me custom wooden "kid" golf clubs, and we would hit balls (well, he would more or less be chipping and lobbing), around the cul-de-sac and in the backyards of friendly tenants where we lived.

He also rarely missed any week's PGA Tour broadcast, and I would often watch with him. I remember the 1985 season, when I was 9, better than the other seasons before or after. Looking through the results from that year, I remember watching several of these tournaments with him, particularly the majors.

Jon died of heart disease in 1991, still just in his early 40s. I am now 47, and most of those golfers touring in 1985 are too old for even the PGA Tour Champions (the euphemistic name for the Seniors Tour) today.

A handful, though, are still playing. So I was thrilled when PGA Tour Champions came not just to my city, but to my neighborhood, with a celebrity pro-am last year: the Invited Celebrity Classic. I attended both this year and last year.

Last year, the guy I most wanted to see play, and did see, was Sandy Lyle. He won the 1985 British Open, and I remember.

This year, I was keen to see another 1985 PGA tour winner, Scott Verplank. He won the 1985 Western Open (actually in Illinois, so I guess the colonial definition of "Western" applies) as an amateur. Since 1957, he is one of only two people to win a PGA tour event as an amateur since 1957 (the other is Phil Mickelson in 1991).

I guess Illinois is a good place for surprising competitors at PGA Tour events. I also remember the 2004 John Deere Classic, in suburban Chicago, where one player, a British tour rookie named John E. Morgan, was memorably funny and charming throughout, impossible not to root for. He made it to a playoff, but lost to the Aussie Mark Hensby. After that, Morgan's career completely cratered. If this seems like a non-sequitur, wait for it.

Ultimately, I did not see Verplank play because I placed my focus elsewhere. Specifically, I bet a dollar on a bunch of long-shots and Monday qualifiers with the hope of a big payday, and followed them around instead. Or, I parked on this hole or that one, and watched groups play through.

As you may have gathered, celebs play in this tournament alongside the pros. This being the Dallas area, most people were there to see Tony Romo and Emmitt Smith. I made a point of seeing Joe Carter, Alphonso Ribeiro, and Jack Sock.

All three of those guys were nice, and I got selfies with Ribeiro and Sock. Sock was by far the nicest. What I found surprising was, even in the designated autograph area, a lot of the golfers and celebs are (while nice to the fans and strangers) mostly engaged with their families and known friends.

That's not particularly surprising in and of itself, but I guess I'm surprised so many family members attend these events. When I was walking the course, I was mostly following groups without a lot of local interest, and I can't tell you how many of my fellow walkers were wearing lanyards that said PLAYER FAMILY, but it was a lot.

I also have to say that when it comes to enjoying the action, golf ranks last in sports I've watched in person. Yes, you can get closer to the players than you can in any other sport, which is nice, but, I think you need a little bit of speed in a sporting event to find thrill in the gameplay as a spectator. Maybe. Or maybe it's just me. Another big minus: if you aren't standing or sitting well above the hole — and for many holes, that's not possible — you can't see the hole, and therefore how close a putt is. You just have to see whether the ball sinks out of view or not.

Last year, sitting nicely well above the green was very possible on the 18th hole. This year? Well, the good news is that unlike last year, general grounds tickets were free. The tradeoff was that they built up all these temporary stands around the 18th green, leaving precious little space for ground walkers (none on high ground), and tickets to the stands were either straight up private (read: corporate suites) or prohibitively expensive.

Still, it was a blast, and I hope this tournament stays around. One of the long shots I bet on, Charlie Wi, led throughout most of Sunday, by as many as three strokes. Still, he couldn't quite hold on and entered a 2-man playoff, which took four holes to complete.

The winner was not Wi, but ... Mark Hensby. His aforementioned 2004 win over John E. Morgan and this one are his only wins on U.S. soil in that time frame. He seems nice. Too bad he has to be the bane of my existence.

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