Friday, October 3, 2008

Battle of Tide's SEC Golf Champions Ends in a Tie

Oct. 3, 2008
TUSCALOOSA - It was an accomplishment 42 years in the making, a victory unparalleled for another 29 years.
This season marks the 30th anniversary of the University of Alabama's first Southeastern Conference men's golf championship. It was the first conference title for the Crimson Tide since the league started holding championships in golf in 1937. Only one other Tide team has matched that feat, and that moment came 29 years later when Jay Seawell's 2008 Alabama team won SEC Championship in April. It was one of a school record six team tournament championships Alabama won last season.
On Saturday at halftime of the University of Alabama's football game against Kentucky, the 2008 team will be at midfield of Bryant-Denny Stadium where they will be honored for their success. On Friday afternoon the 2008 team was together again, out on the golf course at Ol' Colony Club in Tuscaloosa playing an exhibition match against Alabama's 1979 champions and the freshmen on Alabama's 2008-09 team.
Fittingly, perhaps, the battle of the champions ended in a tie. And it went down to the wire on the 18th hole. The final grouping included the 1979 team's Steve Hudson, 2008 Ping All-American and SEC Champion and Golfer of the Year Michael Thompson, and Tide freshman Bud Cauley, a member of the USA's 2008 Junior National Team. Hudson birdied 18 to tie the 2008 team. But perhaps hinting that the best was still to come with Alabama golf, the freshmen were the ones who ran away with the match, winning by nine strokes.
"It was incredible," said 1979 team member Bob Mathers, now a pilot who lives in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. "We spent four years watching Steve Hudson come through in clutch situations and he comes through again in another clutch situation. So I thought it was real fitting. But the thing that was so tremendous about this was to reconnect. We could be these guys' fathers. Granted, they give us 50 yards off of every tee shot. They gave us a pretty good advantage but just being able to go out there and have that friendly competition between Alabama guys, that was tremendous. To see the freshmen, the guys coming up and to see the 2008 team, I told these guys all day, I'm so impressed with their attitude and their demeanor on the golf course. And we are all so competitive. Still. Just by nature you wouldn't come to play at Alabama if you were not competitive. Every shot is important, and Steve making that shot on that last hole, knowing he had to make it to tie, it was such a fitting end to such a great day."
The final team scores were, from the 1979 team, Steve Hudson 71, Bob Mathers 71, Cecil Ingram 74, Kevin Canada 82 and Barry Harwell 76 for 292. For the 2008 team it was Michael Thompson 71, Matthew Swan 74, Mark Harrell 74, Joseph Sykora 74 and Matt Hughes 73 for 292. And for the freshmen, Hunter Hamrick shot 64, Bud Cauley 77, Hunter Slatton 75, Phillip Weaver 70 and Spencer Cole 74 for 283.
Four of the five golfers who played in the 1979 SEC Championship tournament in Birmingham were in Tuscaloosa. Missing was Gary Trivisonno who now resides in Aurora, Ohio. Mathers played in his spot. Trivisonno, winner of the Ohio Senior Open in September, is still actively playing golf and is competing at a national event this weekend. And missing as well was their coach, Conrad Rehling who died in 2007. Tab Hudson and Dr, Allen Yielding served as the 1979 team's coaches.
Kevin Canada is now in the investment business and lives in Birmingham. When Seawell invited him and his teammates to come back to Tuscaloosa for the bragging rights exhibition match, he jumped at the idea.
"I thought it was a great idea, the opportunity to play with these guys from the 2008 team and to play again with our guys from 1979 in this format is just a whole lot of fun for all of us," said Canada. "This is the first time we've all played together since 1979. We've talked about getting together during SEC Championships, and Conrad Rehling wanted to get us together for a reunion, but it just never happened. So for Jay to put this together is something really special."
Among those who came out to watch the exhibition match was former University of Alabama football player and former Director of Athletics, Cecil "Hootie" Ingram. He came to watch his son, Cecil, Jr., play. Cecil, Jr. played in The Masters Tournament as an amateur while he was an Alabama golfer and his play in the SEC tournament was key in Alabama's win.
"Allen Yielding met me up on the 18th fairway," remembers Ingram who was a U.S. Amateur semifinalist in 1979 and is now in real estate development and business in Birmingham. "He was our captain the year before. He stood up there and he said, `Do you want to know how we stand?' And I said, `Yes.' He said we're either tied or we're 1-up and the guys behind us were not going to count. So I pulled out a 6-iron and I hit up there at the flag and it kind of hopped up there behind it. Then Trivisonno came over to me when I got on the green and said, `Just knock the putt in.' And I knocked the putt in, and we ended up beating Florida. Things just fell into place."
Golf was a large part of their lives then and continues to be today. Barry Harwell is head men's golf coach at Clayton State. Trivosonno is winning on the senior tours. And Birmingham's Steve Hudson says he left the sport for a time to establish himself in business and has picked it up again.
"I played professionally for six years (after college). I was 29 and had to get a real job," said Hudson whose brother "Tab" also played golf at Alabama. "I quit playing for probably five years and then I started playing back a little bit, but I was still working real hard on building my practice (a financial advising firm). About six or seven years ago, I started back playing in some of the tournaments, so I've just really enjoyed that. You meet so many wonderful people playing golf. You're rekindling old friendships and making new friends, so it's been fun."
Harwell knows all about the importance of team chemistry as a golf coach, and he says he experienced the result of great chemistry when he was a golfer at Alabama. He says even though it's been 30 years, he and his Tide teammates still remain in touch and great friends. And being the only Alabama golf team to have won a league title in 70 years was also a great source of pride. But so, too, is the success of the 2008 Tide team. Alabama's former golfers are avid Tide golf fans.
"It gave us a little identity," said Harwell, "although there is no comparison to their (2008) team. The players, as far as the quality of golf, they're much better than we were at that time. We had a pretty decent season our senior year. We just happened to win the conference but I think they had that intent the whole way. And that's what they strive to do every year. Jay has brought the program to a different level. And that's good. It's great to see it."
All five of the men who played in and won the 2008 SEC tournament were back on Friday. The three seniors among that group, Michael Thompson, Mark Harrell and Joseph Sykora have all graduated with their degrees and are all in the beginning stages of their professional playing careers. Thompson and Harrell both played in PGA events as UA golfers, Thompson at the 2008 Masters and U.S. Open just weeks after he graduated and Harrell in the 2007 U.S. Open. The 2008 champions also included current Tide seniors Matthew Swan and Matt Hughes.
"It's the same for us as it is for the '79 team," said Thompson who, since graduation from Alabama in May has played in the U.S. Open, a PGA Tour event, turned pro in July, played in two Nationwide events, played in four Hooters Tour events and has an exemption next week for the PGA Tour event in San Antonio. "It's the same for us as with them, guys coming back and just picking it up like they never lost a beat. I hope that's the way it's going to be for me in 10 or 20 years, whatever. It's definitely a close bond we all have. Our success is something we accomplished together. It wasn't just one guy. It was all of us as a team, so that's very special, and then we get to have days like this where we celebrate that experience. It's just as much fun for us to get back and play together after just a couple of months apart as it is for them to get together after 30 years."
You can view's Photo Gallery of the event


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