Mark O’Meara

Brings ma­jor know-how to 2017 Shaw Char­ity Clas­sic

Calgary Sun - - SPORTS -

If this turned out to be a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity, a young and ap­par­ently wise-beyond-his-years Mark O’Meara wasn’t go­ing to let a bunch of bo­geys spoil the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I played in the Mas­ters in 1980 as the U.S. Am­a­teur cham­pion. I was paired with Fuzzy Zoeller, who had won the Mas­ters in 1979, and that was my very first ma­jor cham­pi­onship,” said a rem­i­nisc­ing O’Meara, who has booked a ticket to Cal­gary later this month to once again tee it up in the Shaw Char­ity Clas­sic at Canyon Mead­ows.

“I didn’t play very well. I strug­gled. I think I shot 81-80 or some­thing like that. Even though I was the U.S. Am­a­teur cham­pion at the time, I wasn’t that good, to be hon­est with you, com­pared to these kids to­day. I re­mem­ber driv­ing down Mag­no­lia Lane on Fri­day when I was leav­ing the Mas­ters, it was just my dad and I in the car, and he looked over and he goes, ‘Are you OK, Mark?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what’s wrong dad?’ He said, ‘Oh, I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t have the best week.’

“And I said, ‘Dad, a cou­ple of things No. 1, I’m an am­a­teur. I’m not that good. And No. 2, no mat­ter what hap­pens in my life, whether I make it as a pro­fes­sional golfer or I don’t, at least I got to play in the Mas­ters one time.’

“And then 18 years later, at 41 years of age, there I stood on the 18th green in the fi­nal group with a putt to try to win the Mas­ters, and some­how it went in. Next thing you know, I got the Green Jacket. Pretty cool.” Pretty cool, in­deed. There has been a lot of chat­ter this week about the fact that Ernie Els and Phil Mick­el­son are shar­ing a spe­cial mile­stone — both log­ging their 100th ma­jor ap­pear­ance at the PGA Cham­pi­onship at Quail Hol­low.

Only a dozen oth­ers have achieved that feat.

O’Meara, who also tri­umphed at the 1998 Bri­tish Open and is now a main­stay on the PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons cir­cuit and de­serv­ingly en­shrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame, is among them.

Also on that list? Jack Nick­laus, Gary Player, Tom Wat­son, Arnold Palmer, Ray­mond Floyd, Sam Snead, Ben Cren­shaw, Gene Sarazen, Tom Kite, Bern­hard Langer and Nick Faldo. Im­pres­sive com­pany. “And it’s just as spe­cial to­day as it was when I played my very first ma­jor cham­pi­onship,” said the 60-year-old O’Meara, who played the Mas­ters and Bri­tish Open again this year but missed the cut in both.

Shaw Char­ity Clas­sic or­ga­niz­ers con­tin­ued to bol­ster their field Fri­day with eight more ad­di­tions for the Sept. 1-3 show­down, a list that is head­lined by O’Meara and fel­low ma­jor win­ners Craig Stadler (1982 Mas­ters), Bob Tway (1986 PGA Cham­pi­onship) and Jeff Sluman (1988 PGA Cham­pi­onship).

Billy An­drade, Woody Austin, Jay Haas and Billy May­fair have also con­firmed their at­ten­dance for the fifth-an­niver­sary in­stal­ment of the se­nior shootout at Canyon Mead­ows.

They join a star-stud­ded cast that al­ready in­cluded Faldo, Fred Cou­ples, Miguel An­gel Jimenez, Colin Mont­gomerie, Jose Maria Olaz­a­bal and Vi­jay Singh.

Dat­ing back to that ini­tial drive down Mag­no­lia Lane in 1980, O’Meara has to­talled 102 starts in the PGA Tour’s four ma­jors, high­lighted by his vic­to­ries at both Au­gusta Na­tional and Royal Birk­dale in 1998.

“That was just a dream year. That was kind of the ic­ing on the cake for me in my ca­reer,” said O’Meara, whose stel­lar re­sume in­cludes 16 tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tions on the PGA Tour and a Player of the Year nod in 1998.

“No mat­ter what hap­pened af­ter that, I’d gone way above what I ever thought I was go­ing to achieve as a pro­fes­sional golfer.”

What’s amaz­ing is that nearly two decades af­ter that self-de­scribed ‘dream year,’ he’s still work­ing his dream job.

“I’ve played 37 years as a pro­fes­sional golfer now and at 60 years of age, there is no other sport that re­ally en­ables you to have that op­por­tu­nity,” O’Meara said. “You have to look at the longevity of some­one who plays the game of golf and has their ups and downs and has their mo­ments of great triumph and a lot of de­feats. I mean, you lose a lot in the game of golf, un­for­tu­nately. But that’s what makes it so spe­cial — the fact that you can keep try­ing, keep try­ing to get bet­ter, no mat­ter what age you are.

“That’s some­thing that I know I feel for­tu­nate about. I look at my ca­reer, as a young guy start­ing out back in 1980 with my Volk­swa­gen Rab­bit and pretty much no money. And here we are in 2017 and I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out how to get bet­ter, how to play bet­ter. That’s what is so cool about golf.” @WesGil­bert­son

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