Clay Horning, golf writer, sort of
Surrounded by the Westwood Invitational yet again a full-circle experience
I’m not sure what the rest of my life holds for me professionally.
I know I want it to hold something, perhaps for a long time and perhaps many somethings.
I’ve secretly wanted the chance to be a play-by-play guy, a journey I’m sure would have begin with the high schools and not as the play-by-play guy, but the analyst.
I’ve covered football forever and have the expertise to lend my voice there. Yet, if I got to choose, it would be baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey first.
Nor do I plan to quit writing, though it’s even about the writing, if you can believe it.
It’s about having a voice.
Getting to be the one that tells the story; first telling it true and second telling it well; putting you in the middle of it as a witness to drama you’d not previously known occurred … that kind of thing.
I still read great sportswriting and the way I like to look at it, I’ll always have some more in me.
If I could pick my writing ticket, beyond right here, where you’re reading this, it might be at the golf course.
How many subscribers could one get with the promise to cover every state championship, story and notepad each day, the Oklahoma Golf Association puts on each summer?
There’s more than you think and 35 years ago the Oklahoman and two Tulsa papers might have covered some of those events every day, even traveled to cover them, holing up in a hotel for most of a week to cover them.
Good chance, I’d get no takers.
Alas, those days appear gone.
I thought about being a golf guy the first time in 2009, when the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club played host to the U.S. Amateur Public Links, back when the USGA still ran the tournament and its winner still got an invite to the Masters.
As The Norman Transcript’s sports editor at the time, we covered it like a blanket, writing several stories every day, and in the middle of all that I thought, man, I’m good at this.
I know the game, I can tell a story, I can find the drama and bring it to life.
If you really love my writing, I delivered this column from the championship match that summer, definitely a top 20 percent effort.
I think about it again now because another Westwood Invitational has come and gone and, once again, though no longer at the Transcript full time, I still found myself working for it at Norman’s lone municipal golf course, Westwood Park, writing a Sunday column, which also appeared here, and the story from Monday’s final round.
It was kind of exhilarating.
The Championship Flight, filled with many current and ex-college golfers, many of them former standout high school golfers from Norman and beyond, and lifers in the game; like, you may not know who the best two or three players are at the course you play all the time, but whoever they are, they might have been at Westwood Park for for the 47th running of the event.
It came down to Luke Phillips, a former champion, who shot 61-68 the first two rounds, and Parker Payne, a 16-year-old, who attends Noble High School, who shot 64-67 the first two rounds.
Phillips, a 30-something accountant, who weighs about 150 pounds, kills the ball nonetheless and is one of three players to share the tourney’s 54-hole record of 18-under-par 192.
Payne, a lefty, frequently swings out of his cap, and already has won and finished runner-up at the two Class 5A state tourneys he’s competed in for the Bears.
Phillips led by two on the first tee and by six coming off the 12th green after Payne salvaged bogey despite hitting his tee shot out of bounds left.
What nobody knew was Payne, who’d already one-putted Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12, would not two-putt again, nor need any putts chipping in for eagle at No. 16, cutting the deficit to a single stroke.
Or that he’d pull even with a circus up-and-down at the 17th, before both parred the 18th, Phillips shooting 71 and Payne 69, thereby forcing a playoff.
Both birdied No. 1.
Phillips birdied No. 2 to win it.
It was great fun and part of it was nobody in the final group brought an entourage, leaving the typical parade of 15 to 20 carts following it to be only two, mine and the one with two guys who didn’t know the players, only that they were the last group and wanted to see some good golf.
Yet, once the playoff became required, Phillips and Payne finally got their gallery, which they deserved.
I began the story like this:
Luke Phillips claimed the Championship Flight of the Westwood Invitational a second time Monday afternoon, but not before Parker Payne, a rising junior at Noble High School, put on an absolute show.
Apparently, there are short games and then there’s the 16-year-old Payne’s short game.
“By my count, it was 10 putts in the last 11 holes,” Phillips said.
I mean, it may not be Herbert Warren Wind, but I think it’s good stuff.
The other thing about it is I have a history in that tournament.
I’ve covered it more than I’ve played it, but I’ve played and it covered it more times than I’ve played it and not covered it.
A few years, way back, I was even in Championship Flight. I never contended, but I mostly didn’t embarrass myself.
My best finish, I believe, was 72-68-74, the 68 a 36-32 that included a bogey on the 17th, and the crazy thing was it was mostly about putting, because for a few years, I could really roll it. Some years after that, I actually hit 17 greens, but shot 75, 5-over thanks to seven three-putts. Another final round, I think I shot 84 and I know I hated myself.
Will I ever play it again?
I don’t know if I’m capable of getting myself up for an early tee time any more and the body’s getting creaky. I still play the game well, but not as often as I used to.
Maybe if I worked at it.
Or maybe I’m just a golf writer.
A good one, though infrequent.
What I know is I dug being out there again, where more people know my name than I know theirs, but it’s cool and I still know a lot of theirs.
You can check out the 48th annual rendition of it next year.
It’s a hoot.