Happy Thirsty Thursday boys and girls. The Masters is upon us. It means four days of Uncle Verne whispering from a lonely tower in the woods; four days of David Feherty mocking poor club selections by Sergio Garcia; four days of Angel Cabrera chain smoking on the tee box (Oh wait, he quit smoking? Seriously?); and only three days until Jim Nantz and one awkward interview at Butler Cabin. So in the spirit of Masters Weekend, what better than discussion of golf, Hokies, and beer.
I learned the game of golf from my grandfather. Though he worked a full-time job right up until his death, I really only have memories of him talking about golf or playing golf. He was the type of man who played in the evenings after work and both days of the weekend. It was his greatest hobby, and despite his incredible love for baseball, it was hardly a competition between the two.
He had this infectious love for the game that made it impossible for you not to become engaged. He would tell me stories about the game's legends — Snead, Player, Nicklaus, and Palmer. His adoration of Arnold Palmer mirrored that of Mickey Mantle. Much like Mantle, my grandfather painted this picture of how rooting for Arnold was as patriotic as apple pie. Palmer changed the game of golf forever, illustrating how a man with humble roots could break through the aristocratic sport. Born in East Orange, NJ to Irish immigrant parents, my grandfather viewed Palmer as this transcendent figure (as did many other Americans), who made the game of golf more accessible to the working class.
A golf course is a wonderful place. It is as though the second you hit off the first tee, you enter into this other world, leaving behind your job, your bills, or any other stressors in your life. Maybe you're out there alone; maybe you're playing with your buddies; or maybe you've hooked up with a few other complete strangers. Regardless, you get to spend the next 4 hours away from it all: bullshitting and smoking cigars, having an adult beverage or two, and getting frustrated when you muff the 100 yard pitch that you swear to the rest of your foursome you've knocked dead 1,000 times. My grandfather opened my eyes to all of that.
Whoever said golf was a laid back sport is full of shit. Or at least I think so. Maybe I'm just too competitive with myself, as I'm always trying to improve my drive (non-existent) or my flop shot (can't hit it like Phil). Maybe it is just my Irish temper. I probably got that from my grandfather as well. I'm convinced he bought his last set of clubs with graphite shafts because it would keep him from wrapping them around a tree in frustration. I can't even count the number of times I witnessed that as an impressionable young lad.
I played with those graphite-shafted clubs up until last year. I finally realized it was time to get my own set, but I did so begrudgingly. The shafts had his name on it, and it was always nice to be reminded of him when I pulled a club out of my bag. I still carry his putter and 60-degree wedge and I have no plans to replace them anytime soon. I mean, a putter is a putter, right?
Aside from the Palmer stories (countless), the putter throws, and the plethora of cuss words, my favorite memory of golfing with my grandfather was when he would pull over to an open field off the 13th hole and let me drive the cart for 20 minutes. During that time, he would simultaneously tell stories about great moments in golf history while screaming for his life as I would whip the cart around with my foot flat on the floor. Being the raconteur that he was, he would paint these beautiful mental images of magical shots and comebacks (of which, 90% always seemed to occur at Augusta). He would talk about Jack's surprise victory in '86, the twilight of his career; [insert year] Greg Norman choked; Larry Mize's chip on 11 to win a playoff in 1987; Gene Sarazan's ridiculous 4-wood on 15 that more closely resembled one of those Jordan-vs-Bird McDonalds commercials; or the time Gary Player shot a 30 on the back-nine to erase a 7-shot deficit and win in 1978. I will always remember the stories.
My friends and I have made a tradition (probably like a lot of others) out of this weekend. We try and get a round in on Friday, then get together at each others' houses on Saturday and Sunday to drink some of our favorite beverages and enjoy the two final rounds. I owe some of that to like-minded friends, and more to the quality time I spent with my grandfather before he passed. Some of you may find golf boring, while others may love every facet of the game. Regardless, the Masters is truly a spectacle, and there are few things I look forward to more as the winter months come to a close.
In honor of Hokie Brendon de Jonge's Master's debut this week, let's take a look at six Hokie golfers who have made an impact collegiately and professionally.
Johnson Wagner: One of two Hokies fully-exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2014 season, Wagner starred at Tech from 1998-2002. During his time in the orange and maroon, Wagner was a Third Team All-American (2002), was a back-to-back winner of the Metropolitan Amateur (2001-2002), the 2002 Big East Champion and is currently ranked #11 all-time at Tech in scoring average (73.96). Professionally, Wagner has 7 wins all-time, including three on the PGA Tour, and is coming off a year in which he had four Top 25 finishes. Wagner's highest finish in a major was tied for 35th at the Masters in 2008.
Fun Fact: Wagner's first name is actually Montford. Is that a golf name, or what?
Drew Weaver: Weaver made an indelible mark on Virginia Tech athletics during his career, not only competing but winning on an international level. Weaver made noise in 2007 by defeating Australian Tim Stewart to capture the British Amateur, earning invites to the 2007 British Open and the 2008 Masters. To top it off, Weaver was a member of Team USA and contributed to their 2009 Walker Cup victory, which is essentially the amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup. Weaver ranks 5th all-time in scoring average at Tech (73.08) and was a Third Team All-American in 2009. With 3 professional wins to his credit, Weaver is currently competing on the eGolf Professional Tour and is currently ranked No. 17 on the Money List.
Tim Collins:Arguably the greatest golfer in Virginia Tech history, Collins was the first Tech golfer to be awarded a full golf scholarship and set the standard for future Hokies. A two-time All-American (Third Team, 1965; Second Team, 1967), Collins had two Top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships, including a 5th Place finish in 1967 that remains the best individual performance by a Hokie at the NCAAs. Collins' performance earned the Hokies their highest ever team result, finishing sixth overall. In addition to the national success, Collins and teammate Neff McClary led the Hokie Hackers to three straight Virginia Intercollegiate Championships (1965-67). The late Collins went on to have a phenomenal 21-year professional career, including multiple Top-10 finishes during his 3-year PGA Tour run. He went on to play in the Carolinas PGA section, winning four Player of the Year titles (3 consecutive) and five Carolinas PGA major titles.
Brian Sharp: Current associate head coach Brian Sharp was a standout golfer for the Hokies from 1991-95. A two-time captain, Sharp earned the distinction of being the only four-time all-conference selection and four-time first-team all-state honoree in Tech history. He helped the Hokies win three events in 1994, including the Metro Conference Championship, as well as a 19th Place finish at the NCAA Championships. The 1995 Metro Conference Individual Champion, Sharp graduated as the top ranked Hokie all-time in scoring average, and currently ranks 13th all-time at Tech (74.15). After an 8-year professional career, Sharp returned to Blacksburg as an assistant coach under head man Jay Hardwick. Sharp won the 2009 Jan Strickland Award, which is presented to the top assistant coach in the nation (Divisions I-III and NAIA).
Jay Hardwick: I am the creator of this list, and I'll be damned if head coach Jay Hardwick isn't on it. Currently in his 31st season at the helm, Hardwick has led Tech golfers to 35 tournament victories, including 6 during the 2000-01 season (tops in the nation). He is the only coach in NCAA history to win league titles in four different conferences with the same program. His teams have advanced to 6 NCAA Finals, including an 8th Place finish in 2001. A winner of numerous regional and national awards, Hardwick has been named the conference Coach of the Year seven times. A graduate of Tech, Hardwick has earned an impressive number of individual golf accolades, both professionally and collegiately. Collegiately, he went 64-9 in match play, and won three straight Virginia Intercollegiate Championships. As a pro, Hardwick has won multiple regional tournaments, including the 2009 State Senior Open of Virginia. In short: the dude can ball.
Brendon de Jonge: A native of Zimbabwe, de Jonge was a solid collegiate golfer for the Hokies, but has really come on of late as a professional. After claiming two individual amateur titles, de Jonge came to Blacksburg and became a two-time 2nd Team All-American (2002 & 2003), ranks 2nd all-time in Tech history in scoring average (72.60), and teamed with Johnson Wagner to lead three of the most successful Hokie golf teams ever (2001-03). Professionally, de Jonge spent a number of years on the Nationwide Tour before earning Player of the Year honors in 2008. Currently the 80th ranked golfer in the world, de Jonge was a member of the 2013 International Team at the President's Cup, teaming with "The Big Easy Ernie Els to defeat Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar in match play. He has consistently improved his game year-to-year, and finished up the 2013 campaign ranked 1st in the world in total birdies and Par-5 scoring. Keep an eye out for de Jonge this weekend as he looks to represent #HokieNation at Augusta.
I suppose the right thing to do would be make some predictions. My money is on guys like Jason Day (consistently good at Augusta), Keegan Bradley Ssteady Eddie), Dustin Johnson (so hot right now) and Brandt Snedeker (his visor game is out of control). Their games are good fits for Augusta — strong off the tee with the ability to get up-and-down.
What's On Tap?
Golf is always better with a cold beverage in hand...unless you are actually golfing, in which I recommend temporarily putting down the brew and using both hands. My recommendation for this weekend is a six-pack (or two) of Slyfox's Phoenix Pale Ale. As the name implies, it is a pale ale brewed with Cascade and Centennial hops, so it has the hoppiness of an IPA without the weight. You know, for those of you watching your figure. Prost!