LITTLE ROCK — That Saturday night in July, the 20-year-old had a pinch-me moment, wondering aloud if defending champion Barry Hamilton had conceded the 4-inch putt on the 20th hole of their match.
On the nearby dining room table was the 64-player bracket, filled out completely, a souvenir confiscated by the father of the champion, and a large ornate silver trophy on a wooden base with the names of the ASGA Match Player winners from 1967 through 1984.
“Petey King” would soon be added.
The Arkansas Gazette was still in business and we made the trek to Little Rock to get an early copy of the Sunday edition, published assurance that he had won his first state championship.
In 1986-1987, he and John Daly split the four available state titles. In 1988, he won them both, the first sweep since Stan Lee in 1971.
Personally involved, this column is more difficult than a Razorback football game or The Masters or the Arkansas Derby. There are only so many ways to say proud father.
I remember the 4-foot left -o-right birdie putt our son made on the 19th hole to extend the match with Hamilton, but all I can remember about the Texas game that year was that the Longhorns did not score a TD and won.
I remember Petey losing a two-shot lead and then his soaring 4-iron that set up a birdie on the 71st hole of the 1986 stroke play championship at Maumelle, but I can’t recall a single highlight from the 41-0 season-ending victory that earned Arkansas a spot in the Orange Bowl.
I remember the up-and-down birdie on the seventh at Texarkana, Daly’s ensuing three-putt par, and Daly not winning a hole in their quarterfinal match in 1987, but no details of the Razorbacks’ overtime victory over Arkansas State University in the NIT.
I remember the one-putt par after a tee shot in a hazard in the Match Play final and the 6-iron from a bunker on the 72nd hole for a one-stroke victory in the Stroke in 1988, but I couldn’t recall that locally owned and trained Proper Reality won that Arkansas Derby.
As the caddie, my advice was minimal, mostly an encouraging “nice stroke” when a well-struck putt avoided the hole. Once in a great while he would ask my club to a particular green and then subtract two clubs for his shot.
There was a moment when he missed an opportunity to reduce Hamilton’s two-up lead and I offered the consolation that he had earned a spot on the Arkansas Cup team by reaching the Match Play finals.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I want to win.”
His attitude was the same at the rag-tag nine-hole course in North Little Rock where there might be 20 players or more, young and old, who put in $1 each, drew for partners, and competed for golf balls.
Now 47, he teaches the game, his clubs are in his garage, and he doesn’t play a half-dozen rounds a year. When he does, his skill is a reminder that there is a huge talent gap between good players and guys who think they can play.
He is appreciative of his induction into the ASGA Hall of Fame next week, but says the honor is second fiddle to his 10-year-old’s soccer games and his 12-year-old’s dance competitions.
That, too, will make a parent proud.
Taking after his dad, he won’t speak long at the banquet. Hopefully, he will mention Jim Elder, Paul Eells, Jimmy Jones, Ron Robinson, Tommy Polk, Sam Bracy, Rick Jones, Dale Swindle, and others he was paired with when barely a teenager. Up close, he watched them compete hard for meager stakes in a game they loved.
Lessons learned on those Saturday mornings did not involve the golf swing.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.