As a championship golfer, I always look forward to watching the four major tournaments on TV.
Recently it was the British Open, now just called “The Open.” To see Jordan Spieth, who will be 24 years old soon, play in championship form through stormy and windy days and two beautiful days to win the British Open Title was exciting.
It brought back memories of competition and tournaments in my younger days of learning the game. As a teenager the countless hours of practice hitting balls off the corner of the course and then playing by myself and dreaming that someday hitting a tee shot or sinking a putt would win the Masters or U.S. Open.
I am sure that Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and all of the greats experienced the same thing as a young golfer. I don’t know how many of you watched the great film “Bagger Vance.” Will Smith played Bagger Vance, a caddy for amateur golfer named Junuh played by Matt Damon. The movie opens with an elderly Jack Lemmon pulling his golf cart up a fairway after he hit his tee shot. He hesitated briefly before hitting his second shot and was visualizing his childhood days of following Junuh’s rounds of competitive golf.
In this story Junuh was becoming an amateur champion and the City of Savannah, Georgia promoted a three-day competition between himself and PGA Pro Bobby Jones.
After watching this film four times I’m convinced that Bagger Vance was a guiding angel sent to educate and guide Junuh in his match.
Junuh played well but had a couple of missed shots. Bagger Vance convinced him to to visualize the shot and “Feel The Shot.” At a crucial time Bagger turned to Junuh and said in the dimming light, I’ve done my job and now it’s up to you and disappeared into nothingness.
Wow, what a shock. Junuh hit a bad tee shot into the trees and it looked like an unplayable tie but Jack Lemmon as a boy approached Junuh and said “See that small opening and you can hit it thought there and on the green. He said “feel the shot” and you can do it.
In the fading light Junuh addressed the ball, the opening became brighter and he hit a dramatic shot to the green. After three days playing in a tough match, Junuh needed to sink the 15-foot putt to tie the two golfing greats. With the vintage 1920s cars with their lights on around the green, Junuh thought, “See the line, feel the putt.” Before he hit his putt a greenish line showed up in his vision from the ball to the hole. He stroked it on that line and the ball clunked into the cup. The movie closed with Jack Lemmon continuing his round of golf.
As I watched this it brought back such a similar experience with me. It occurred in 1956 in June in Bakersfield for the California Junior College Championship.
We had to play 36 holes in one day in 100-degree temperatures. We played Bakersfield Country Club in the morning and a tighter course, Stockdale Country Club, in the afternoon. I was first man on the fine San Mateo Junior College Team coached by a great coach, Ray Balsley. I remember distinctly the 18th hole at Stockdale, a 190-yard par 3, slightly uphill to a green with a sand bunker in front and one on the right side protecting a pin placement in that corner.
I was individually one under par at that point. Coach Balsley told me earlier that we were in the hunt for the title and to keep the positive concentration.
I was first to hit on 18. I did not want any part of those bunkers and yet get it close for no worse than a par. I looked, I thought, I pictured my shot. I knew if I hit a slight fade over the bunker in front with a high shot that I could hold the shot on the green.
I took a couple up practice swings and felt the club path for a high 3 iron with a slight fade. As always I wanted to feel my right elbow close to my right hip on impact and extend the arms and hands through the shot and finish high to keep the controlled fade. I knew how to do it, I had done it hundreds of times...keep a nice deliberate tempo to the swing.
I addressed that ball and felt the line and felt the shot, the hit, the finish, and then the results. The ball cleared the front bunker and was on line and ended up below the pin. My playing partners all putted out so it was my turn to putt. I knew that I would like to sink it for a birdie but it was important that I make par 3. I stroked the putt true but it stopped short by about 6 inches. I tapped it in and looked up and coach Balsley and my four teammates came running down to the green. Coach gave me a big hug and said your 71 today gave us the title by one shot. My teammates also played well and I was proud to be a part of that team and to have a great mentor like Ray Balsley.
I went on to be successful playing for Humboldt State and was undefeated in match play competition. I played two years at Humboldt after two years at San Mateo and continued to play in amateur tournaments. For my four years at Humboldt I won the 72 hold — four different courses of Humboldt County Championships four times, each year over my dear friend, Ed Kovacovich, who was the top amateur in Humboldt County previously.
Ed owned Mulkey & Kovacovich Tire Company in Eureka and was a great inspiration to me as well as Ed Goodwin, a prominent attorney in Eureka, who had faith in me and wanted to sponsor me on the PGA Pro Tour in June 1961. I passed that up because my wife and I had Char, 2, Danny, 1, and newborn Lynn.
Remember Folks, “Feel The Shot.”
Chuck Blackburn is a former Del Norte County supervisor and lives in Fort Dick.