You first reached national prominence when you won the 1985 U.S. Junior Amateur. Who did you beat in the final?
I played Greg Lesser, who ended up on the PGA Tour, and we had a heck of a match.
I got up early but he flipped me and he was dormie on the 17th tee. The match looked dire but I managed to make a 17-foot birdie putt on 17 to take the match to 18, and then a par was enough to take the match into a playoff.
Well, I was trying to be really smart so I said to the official: “I need to use the bathroom. How much time can I have?” They said I could have 15 minutes, so I went into the locker room while Greg went to the first tee. I was 17 years old and I was trying to sweat him. I marched out after my 15 minutes and immediately blasted my drive about 80 yards into the right trees! My theory didn’t work but Greg also found trouble and I ended up winning.
What a great moment for a 17-year-old!
Until that point, I had a really good record in the Carolinas but I had not contended at a tournament of national prominence. I still think the U.S. Junior Amateur is the top junior tournament. There is something about being a USGA champion that really goes with you for life. You don’t realize it when you’re 17, but you do when you are 54. I am honored to have my name on that trophy.
You didn’t win on the PGA Tour but you did shoot 61 once.
Yes, at the 1996 Byron Nelson Classic. I played the third round with Davis Love and Donnie Hammond and it was the one and only time in my life that I played golf with Davis. He shot 71 so I beat him by 10. Believe me, I have never let him forget that.
What stands out from that day?
It was actually a pretty tough day—windy—but I was definitely, truly in the zone. It was a par-70 and I was nine under with three to play.
My good friend Glen Day, who’s from Little Rock, saw me with Davis and Donnie and a bunch a TV cameras and came over to give me and Donnie a hard time about getting our butts whipped by Davis. Then Glen looked at the score sign and said: “Holy cow, you’re nine under par today!”
I said: “Glen, go away. That’s your hole over there, this is my hole.” Davis and Donnie were chuckling away. Glen says: “You’re nine under and this is a par 70! You’ve got three holes left to play. You’re going to shoot 59 today!” I shouted, “Shut up, Glen! Leave me alone!”
Glen started walking away and I swear to you, you can’t make this up, he looked back and shouted: “Hey, are they still giving a million dollars to anybody who shoots 59?”
I completely fell out of the zone—locked up—I made three pars and shot 61. I still tied the course record and it was a lot of fun.
Did you get the chance to meet tournament host Byron Nelson?
Mr. Nelson was on the first tee on that Sunday morning. He thanked me for playing in his event and told me how good my round was on the Saturday. He looked at me sort of funny and he said: “You know, I thought about it last night, how I never shot a 61 in my entire life.” I was like, “Wow, that’s really cool.”
Then he glanced at me, smiled a little bit and said, “You know, I did shoot 60 a lot though.”
What happened on Sunday?
I was paired with Phil Mickelson but I shot 73 or 74 to drop right back, while Phil won. That was the first and last time I was in the final group on a Sunday on the PGA Tour. It is something I will never forget. I don’t have a big check or a trophy to show for my time on the PGA Tour, but I have a couple of good stories and that’s fine by me.
You are returning to your roots with your new position as Exec. Vice President at McLemore Club.
Exactly. I was born in Tennessee, maybe 30 miles from McLemore as the crow flies, and I have been up on Lookout Mountain my whole life. The area is very special to me. That part of the world, the way the mountains sit, the friendliness of the people, the weather—it is an anchor point in my life.
The Highlands Course at McLemore is receiving widespread praise…
It is, but until you step foot on the property you can’t really appreciate how dramatic it is. That 18th hole absolutely takes your breath away. It looks like an impossible location for a golf hole but I don’t want that hole to overshadow the other 17 we have because we’ve got one heck of a good golf course. It is a challenging course and has a number of holes you could call its signature hole.
What is new at McLemore in 2022?
We have a half-acre putting green that is growing in right now, that has the best view of any putting green I have ever seen. We have a short course that really is a lot of fun to play and that is right on the edge of the mountain as well. Hopefully we will open the doors later this year on our world-class teaching and training center, that will have the latest technology for teaching and fitting. We will also have a really cool golf bar, all with an amazing view.
A lot of work has got McLemore to this point, and what we are building will stand the test of time and folks are going to enjoy McLemore for generations.