Thanks, dad: trip of a lifetime to THE PLAYERS in 1989
March 12, 2019
By Stewart Moore, PGATOUR.COM
- March 12, 2019
- Tom Kite won THE PLAYERS Championship in 1989. (Getty Images)
After spending most of my childhood playing all the team sports, in 1987, after moving from Atlanta to Charlotte, I fell in love with golf thanks to a neighborhood friend who had already succumbed to the bug. To say I was hooked would be an understatement, and 32 years later, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest guys alive to spend a life in arguably the world’s greatest game.
THE PLAYERS Championship has become a bucket-list event for sports fans around the world, with people traveling from all over to take in the excitement and drama of the fifth major on golf’s most exciting stage – THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass
In March of 1989, at age 12, I was one of those sports fans, as my dad wrangled PLAYERS tickets for us through a business partner in Jacksonville. As a PGA TOUR employee, I sometimes take tournament experiences for granted. As a golf-crazed sixth grader, I was over the moon.
My dad was not a golfer. He played college football and loved to sail and race boats on the open seas, but the patience and optimism required by golf eluded him throughout his life, and I inherited those same traits. We were a sight to behold on the course – two half-empty glasses of water wondering why bad breaks only found us.
Yet as spectators, as we all do, we view the best players in the world as borderline deities with an incredible ability to make the golf ball listen. We leave our own pessimistic views of our own struggles with the game at the gate when entering the vast realm of a PGA TOUR event.
TPC Sawgrass is and always has been an incredible playground for dreamers. I remember the old pyramid-style clubhouse, the size and scale of the course, the fan-friendly grass “bleachers,” and of course the first view of 17. Imagine being a 5’5” kid and going to a packed golf tournament where you could literally see everything because of how the course was built. Brilliant.
Entering the 1989 PLAYERS Championship, Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Jones were Nos. 1 and 2 on the PGA TOUR money list, respectively, with two wins each. Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange and Nick Faldo represented the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking. No Twitter, Instagram or trending videos, and all five were larger-than-life icons.
What a time to be alive.
The first three rounds of the 1989 event played out in tremendous form, with Chip Beck atop the leaderboard at 9-under par, Tom Kite one shot back, and a slew of stars within striking distance. Names like Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus entered the final round within four shots of the lead. But Sunday at the Stadium Course turned out to be more survival than anything, with strong winds and firm greens allowing just one player to break 70 and leaving the field with a scoring average of 74.405 – the highest final-round average on the PGA TOUR that season.
Beck, a Fayetteville, North Carolina, native who delivered a standout career at the University of Georgia, won twice in 1988 and entered 1989 as one of the game’s true rising stars, with three top-five finishes in his first six starts of the year.
Out of the gate on Sunday, Beck struggled – mightily. While the back nine of the Stadium Course receives much of the glory, the front nine delivers most of the frustration, and he kept that reputation from Pete Dye’s masterpiece intact with bogeys on Nos. 1, 3 and 4 catapulting him out of the lead, and a double-bogey on the par-5 ninth leaving him in tears – literally.
“I got off to such a bad start shooting 41 on the front nine, and gosh, everything I did went wrong starting out,” said Beck from his Chicago home last week. “I remember being down about it because I was playing well, and I felt like crying on the turn. I said, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I had tears in my eyes I felt so bad.”
For Kite, the front nine was much more docile, with birdies on Nos. 2 and 6 offsetting a bogey on the tough par-4 fifth to allow him to turn in 35, 9-under for the week and two shots clear of the field with nine holes to play.
To his credit, Beck rallied quickly after drying out the tears, with birdies on 10, 11 and 12 to race back to 7-under-par for the tournament, squarely in the mix.
“I made an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 10, and that was huge for me. That was really big to pick myself up from that front nine,” he said.
Kite matched Beck’s birdie on 10 to reach 10-under par, further distancing himself from the field as an 11-time PGA TOUR winner who, at that time, wore the scarlet letter of “best player yet to win a major.”
When Kite bogeyed the demanding par-4 14th, his lead was down to two shots with four holes to play on a course which had built a name and aura around the final three holes in just eight years of tournament existence.
Walking with my dad down the right side of the 15th hole on that blustery Sunday, mere feet from the pond fronting the back tee box, Kite greeted me along the rope line and asked if I could make a putt. Stunned, I recall muttering, “Yeah, I think so.”
Jokingly, amidst the tension of final-round play in one of the year’s biggest events, Kite then asked his caddie if he should bring me in to make some putts for him. Thankfully, he then walked off into the fairway to get back to work, as I would have four-putted the last four greens.
At the PGA TOUR, it’s often said that our events have miles of front-row seats, and that was overwhelmingly true for me.
On the par-5 16th, eyeing an opportunity to play the aggressor as opposed to the defender, Kite (my new best friend) shunned all reputations from a career of assumed conservative play and went for the green in two.
“I thought I could get a 3-iron there but thought maybe I should take a 5-wood and grip down on it a little bit and launch it up in the air and try to hold that green,” he said. “Unfortunately, what happened is I did just that. It went straight up in the air and came down as soft as it could in a hard, left-to-right wind and it hit really hard and ran almost through, almost into the water. It ended staying up, which was a really good break.”
By his own admission, Kite failed to take advantage of the good break, walking away with a disappointing par to remain two up heading to the island green par-3 17th, where memories of a prior quote to curious media members began to haunt him.
“I had made the comment years ago when the course first opened, I said, ‘One of these days, somebody is going to come in here with a two-, three- or four-shot lead, hit two or three balls in the water and lose the tournament.’ So, it’s like, oh God, did I just set myself up for disaster to happen?”
With a classic back-right hole location on a lower tier closer to disaster than delight, Kite played safely to the middle of the green and managed to two-putt while watching closely as Beck narrowly missed a 10-foot birdie try of his own to close the gap to one.
On the par-4 18th – a hole most pros will tell you is the most demanding on the entire course – both players found the fairway with a good look at a back-left hole location. With winds swirling around the relatively-protected fairway, Kite found the front left portion of the green while Beck stuck an approach to 18 feet, pin high on the back tier.
“I hit a nice shot in, it caught the ridge and rolled down to the front of the green. Chip played this beautiful shot in there 15 to 18 feet right of the hole,” said Kite, reminiscing 30 years later. “I remember walking up there thinking, ‘Man, I’ve really got a tough putt here up two tiers. But if I take care of business, there’s nothing he can do.’”
Kite, wearing his classic Ben Hogan visor and wielding an Acushnet Bullseye putter, rolled his lengthy birdie try up two tiers to a comfortable 3 feet from the hole. To his credit, Beck drained his 72nd-hole birdie putt to post 8-under 280 for the week but wound up one-shot shy when Kite calmly rolled in the 3-footer for the biggest victory of his career at that point.
“It was hard. It was really, really a hard day. One of the things I’ve always taken pride in is when you look at the tournaments I’ve won, victories I had and courses on which I played well, they’re generally the hard courses that frustrate people,” Kite said. “I won at Butler National, I won at Doral, I won at La Costa, I won at Pebble Beach, I won at THE PLAYERS Championship – a lot of really, really hard golf courses.”
As amazing as Kite’s perseverance was amidst the conditions, Beck’s never-say-die attitude was admirable and a part of his persona and game that defined a career which produced 18 runner-up finishes and 14 third-place efforts to offset just four victories.
“It was a rough day for me, but I was glad to come through at the very end,” Beck said last week in his cordial Southern drawl. “To me it’s one of the best big turnarounds of my whole career, especially in a tournament like that. I just wish I hadn’t fallen apart so completely on the front nine, but I tried to block that out.”
The week marked my earliest memories of a PGA TOUR event and set in motion a lifetime journey through junior golf, college golf, into the rigors of mini-tours and eventually to the TOUR as an employee.
I walked away with a visor featuring the old “TPC” logo and several autographs from the players, including Kite. I can’t think of another sport where endless autographs for kids are the daily norm.
I kept that visor in my room for years and my mom recently dug it out of a closet in the house and gave it back to me, autographs still intact with an odd green ink via the pen I must have selected in 1989.
Today, that visor means a lot to me. My father, Hartwell “Topper” Moore, who brought me to THE PLAYERS twice at such a young and enthusiastic age, passed away unexpectedly on November 16 of last year. He was incredibly proud of the life and career I’ve built with the game of golf at the foundation of who I am and where I’m going, and much of that can be traced back to a Long Island sailor making time for his son to become a golf addict in fifth grade.
I’ve thanked my parents countless times for the sacrifices they made so that I could play a game I loved, and if I could thank him one more time, I would certainly thank my dad for bringing me to Ponte Vedra Beach to experience THE PLAYERS Championship 30 years ago this month. It’s amazing to think how full circle this life has come.
Thank you, dad.