Future Masters … the sport of champions

Published 8:47 am Tuesday, June 26, 2012

For 63 years, there has been a junior golf tournament in our area bringing attention to talented young golfers throughout the United States and the world. The Press Thornton Future Masters Tournament has been held at the Dothan Country Club since 1950. Today it is regarded as one of the top junior tournaments in the world.

Even for a person that doesn’t fanatically follow golf, there are many former players at the Future Masters that are well known in the PGA tournaments, the pinnacle of professional golf play.

Hubert Green was a neighbor of my parents at Bay Point, but was certainly better known as the winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Tournament, as well as 21 other tournament victories. However, his first taste of victory was when he came in 2nd in the 10-and-under category at the Future Masters in 1958.

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In a sort of double championship, in1987 Shaun Micheel won the Future Masters Championship, while at the same time Ben Curtis won the 10-and-under title. Sixteen years later, Micheel won the PGA Championship while Curtis was named the U.S. Open champion.

In a rare repeat championship, Stewart Cink won the Future Masters in both 1990 and 1991. These wins preceded his winning of the British Open in 2009.

Brian Gay, who played in the 1991 Future Masters, was the eventual winner of the 2009 PGA Championship.

Yet another winner of the 2009 major golf championships was a Future Masters winner. Lucas Glover won the 11-12 division in the 1992 Future Masters before winning the 2009 U.S. Open.

Trevor Immelman, from South Africa, played in the Future Masters in 1994, before winning the real thing in Augusta in 2008.

The list of winners on the PGA Tour that got part of their early start in golfing in the Future Masters goes quite beyond those mentioned. It is a veritable who’s who of golfers that transformed their youthful talent into significant wins on the pressure packed PGA Tour.

I hope that you will indulge me a bit as I talk about the 2012 Future Masters Golf Tournament being held in Dothan, even as you read this article. The Dothan Country Club holds a special place in my memory. My great-grandfather was a charter member in the club in the 1920s. It was where Mary Lou and I held our wedding reception.

But, most importantly, it is where my nephew, Thomas Ponder, won the 2011 Future Masters in the 10-and-under category.

Notwithstanding his exciting triumph last year, it was only this year that I got to follow him through an entire round of golf. He has moved into the 11-12 year old category, being one of the youngest players in that group.

I watched him walk up to the first hole and quickly, quietly and confidently swing his first tee shot. Straight down the middle it flew; the longest drive in his foursome. How often I twitched and twisted when playing the first hole, only to watch my young nephew swing with confidence and calm.

Up and down the course, Mary Lou and I followed Thomas. Unlike me, his ball was not somehow magnetically attracted to the water. The trees were no obstacle to him. Even his two trips to the sand during the course of the day held no penalty as he confidently made his way back into a playable position.

I continued to marvel at his calm, cool demeanor as he consistently outdrove those playing with him. The clubs and his cart were larger than Thomas’s slight frame, but his drives off the tee were worthy of anyone I have ever played with.

He gave no hint of the pressure of being a returning champion, even though his picture had been on the front page of The Dothan Eagle that morning. His interviews with the various news media were worthy of an old politician, much less a kid still in elementary school.

On the 18th hole, Thomas coolly hit a long putt into the hole for a birdie, bringing his score to even par for eighteen holes. His fist pump was the most outward emotion he had shown all day. Let it be known that his score of even par was an achievement that his uncle never made.

After the first day, Thomas was tied for the lead. After the second day, he was tied for seventh. Not a bad outing for one of the youngest in his field. Making the cut, he will tee off Tuesday for the championship in his age bracket.

Unfortunately, the time constraints of a non-daily paper make it impossible to give the outcome of my nephew’s attempt to repeat as a champion. From my perspective, it doesn’t really matter. I could not be more proud of him whether he wins or loses.

Watching Thomas play, I was just amazed at his calm demeanor. He never seemed angry or frustrated. He methodically played the course, never seeming intimidated by a shot.

I also listened to him talk and banter with his new friends in his foursome. It was then that I knew he was still a kid. Good for him.

His parents do a masterful job in balancing his talent for golf with his need to be an 11-year-old boy.

Thomas may or may not win this year’s Future Masters Golf Tournament. It doesn’t matter in my book. He is already a winner.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@ponderenterprises.net