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Chris Gay: It’s easy to pull for Vaughn Taylor

Posted: July 16, 2017 - 12:15am
Vaughn Taylor and son Locklyn wait before the 2016 Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club. Taylor is expected to be involved this week in the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek Golf Club.
Vaughn Taylor and son Locklyn wait before the 2016 Par 3 Contest at Augusta National Golf Club. Taylor is expected to be involved this week in the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek Golf Club.

Jordan Spieth. Vaughn Taylor.

My children don't watch a lot of golf on television, but they know I keep up with the sport. For me, golf is one of my big three sports, along with baseball and football.

It only makes sense. Growing up in the Augusta area, I've been fortunate to attend the Masters Tournament many times and then cover the tournament since 1998. In previous years, I covered Augusta College/State/University and USC Aiken. I was fortunate to be there when Dane Burkhart and Scott Brown led the Pacers to two of their three consecutive Division II national championships. I was fortunate to cover the Jaguars when they shocked the world twice, winning Division I national titles in Ooltewah, Tenn., and Stillwater, Okla.

I've also had the great fortune of meeting and interviewing many of the top golfers from the area the past two decades. That brings me back to Spieth and Taylor.

If I'm watching golf on TV with the children, they automatically recognize Spieth, Taylor and a few others. I pull for all our golfers with local ties to do well, but I admit I pull a little harder for Vaughn. Maybe it's a Hephzibah High School thing. (I graduated two years ahead of him, though I didn't really know him then.) Maybe it's an Augusta College/State/University thing. (I covered him for the school newspaper when he played for the Jaguars in the mid-to-late 1990s.) Vaughn has been a great representative for the school, donating money and time. He's been a great ambassador for Augusta as well, despite the fact he finished a few credits short of graduating because he started his professional career.

It's been a great run for our local working-class hero, a guy who entered college with little fanfare. He wasn't one of the top-ranked junior golfers. He wasn't one of the highly-touted college golfers. Instead, Vaughn kept practicing and improving until he ascended through the ranks of the Hooters Tour and the Nationwide Tour to the pinnacle of golf, the PGA Tour.

On golf's highest level, he's won three tournaments, played on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and earned more than $14 million in career money. Very few golfers have come close to doing what Vaughn's done. And he still has plenty of golf left ahead of him.

While I want to see Vaughn succeed, I pull for all our local golfers from various backgrounds playing on the different tours. I want to see Charles Howell III play well, win again and make it back to the Masters. The last time I talked to Charles in 2012, he and I laughed when an old guy walked in between us as I was trying to get a video interview. A married father of two, Howell has always been a nice guy. But it seemed when I last interviewed him he had matured even more since he became one of the PGA Tour's young guns many years ago. Few people will appreciate a win and a return trip to Augusta as much as he will - and Charles will win again.

We are blessed to have so many talented golfers from our area. There's Brown, another golfer who has worked for everything he has gotten. In recent years, the former Pacer has been knocking on the door of his first Masters appearance. Maybe Charles and Scott will both play in the first major of 2018 in nine months.

We also have Kevin Kisner, who has become one of the top golfers on the PGA Tour. He's another great guy who's easy to pull for. Currently, he's fifth in the Presidents Cup points standings for the United States. The top 10 on the list at the conclusion of the Dell Technologies Championship in early September will advance to the prestigious match play event - there's also two captain's picks. It'll be a lot of fun watching Kisner and his Bulldog mentality compete in match play.

We have another golfer who has made an impact in the area in Patrick Reed. The former Jaguar is fun to watch, especially in the Ryder Cup. Captain America needs to play in this event for the next two decades.

We also have Wesley Bryan, who moved to Augusta. The former South Carolina golfer has a spot in the 2018 Masters after winning the RBC Heritage in April. I only know Wesley from his days when he was a standout junior golfer playing top-notch events at Palmetto Golf Club. From what I've heard, he seems like a good guy.

That's not all our local professional golfers. Former Augusta University great Henrik Norlander narrowly missed getting his PGA Tour card back when he lost the RSM Classic in a playoff last fall. Scott Parel is now playing on the Champions Tour, along with former Masters champion Larry Mize. And there's several golfers on lower levels.

There's so many professional golfers from our area, it's hard to keep up with. One I look forward to seeing this week is Vaughn, who is expected to be at the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek Golf Club.

It would have been easy for Vaughn to just let the tournament organizers to use his name seven years ago.He could've have just shown up at the end of the tournament for a few minutes, handed out the trophies and left. That's not Vaughn.

He's attended the Monday pro-am, greeted everyone and taken pictures with the participants. Last year, he held two clinics during the tournament. This year, he will continue to be involved. Maybe that's one reason I pull for Vaughn to succeed. He's not just a fantastic golfer. He's a regular guy, one who hasn't forgotten where he's come from. It's hard not to pull for someone like that.

 

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