There is no doubt that we have become a sports crazed world. Fans around the world are glued to the television all hours of the day and night as the World Cup is being played in Russia. The enthusiasm of soccer fans seems to have no limit.
The Super Bowl has become the single biggest one day sporting event in the world. Advertisers pay millions for just 30 seconds of viewers’ time in hopes of consumers will make some connection with their products.
Here in the Deep South, it is hard to exceed the excitement of college football as school after school builds bigger stadiums, paying millions for coaches in the hopes of that elusive championship or win over their rival teams.
Here in Georgia, the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta captures the attention of the world for one week as golfers focus on the right to wear the Green Jacket that symbolizes reaching the pinnacle of professional golf.
There is another type of sporting event right here in our back yard that is also known around the world. The Future Masters Golf Tournament held in Dothan, Alabama for the past 69 years is ranked as one of the top junior tournaments in the world.
The alumni of the Future Masters are in the history books of the major PGA Tournament winners. Hubert Green went on to win the Masters and be inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame. Shaun Micheel became the 2003 PGA champion the same year that Ben Curtis won the U.S. Open Championship.
Former Future Masters winners Stewart Cink and Lucas Glover also went on to win the U.S. Open, while Tervor Immelman who traveled to the Future Masters from South Africa later donned the Green Jacket when he won the Masters in 2008. The list of junior players who later became professional champions on the PGA tour is long and growing.
This past week a new chapter was added to the Future Masters’ long and storied history. Two local Dothan golfers, both 17, wound up in a playoff for the Blue Jacket. One of them was my nephew, Thomas Ponder. The other was his longtime friend, Hal Dove.
Hal led the tournament for the entire three days until Thomas tied it up on the 18th hole the final day with a 20 foot putt for birdie. Hal won on the second hole of the playoff as dark rain clouds hovered nearby.
This was not just an afternoon of high school golf. It was a stunning display of athletic skill, natural talent and nerves of steel. Hal fought to keep the lead. Thomas never quit, though he was down two strokes with one hole left to play.
At the end of a great final day of golf, you could not help but think that it was a shame that only one golfer could win. But do not feel sorry for Thomas. He won the Future Masters last year by two strokes.
Hal plays for the current Alabama Class 3 High School State Champions, Houston Academy. Thomas plays for Providence Christian, which was the state champion last year.
Thomas was the low medalist in the state championship where he edged Hal by one stroke, sinking a birdie putt the last hole.
Both Hal and Thomas have one more year in high school. Thomas will then be attending the University of Alabama on a golf scholarship. Hal will be doing the same at arch rival Auburn University.
At the end of a long, hot day of intense golf that exhausted the most rabid of fans, Hal and Thomas hugged each other. Their post tournament comments to the press were both complimentary of the other.
Despite Jack Nickalus’ grandson and Gary Player’s son playing in this tournament, the cameras were all focused on two young men, Hal Dove and Thomas Ponder. They showed what it takes to win and just as importantly, how to lose with grace.
In a time of million dollar purses and spoiled professional athletes, Saturday afternoon gave glimpse of something greater. Opponents giving it their all, leaving nothing on the course. Friends giving no quarter. Talent rising to the top. And most of all, sportsmanship being exhibited between two competitive friends.
They are both champions and all that watched had the opportunity to see the true definition of sportsmanship. Great job, guys. We are all proud of you both.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]