Lanny Wadkins can remember the panic that set in like it was yesterday.
At the 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble Beach, he had finished his final round of 2-under 70 and was hoping for a playoff the next day.
“Well I’m about halfway through a beer and they tell me, ‘if there’s a playoff it happens right now,’” Wadkins said last week by telephone from Dallas. “So I had to get focused in a hurry.”
Wadkins, a former Wake Forest star, was living in Bermuda Run during that time. He did get into a playoff with Gene Littler, who struggled to a 76 in the final round, and Wadkins won on the third playoff hole.
“That was actually the first major decided by a sudden death playoff,” Wadkins said. “And I remember that Jack (Nicklaus) was lurking and he missed a putt that would have put him in the playoff. And I was thinking that I didn’t want to be in a playoff with him the next day because that would have been right in his wheelhouse.”
For Wadkins, who was elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009, it was his only major championship, but it’s something he’s very proud of. He had fought through injuries and gallbladder surgery in 1975 and ’76 but was ready to go for that year’s PGA Championship.
“On the last day I just wanted to have a good enough finish to be in the top eight to qualify for the Masters the next year,” Wadkins said. “So maybe that helped me by not putting so much expectation on winning.”
He also recalled what an official with the PGA of America standing with Littler and Wadkins said right before the playoff began on the first tee.
“The official tells Gene and I that whoever wins gets an automatic spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team,” Wadkins said. “So there was a lot at stake, obviously.”
Wadkins won $45,000, and said during the celebration, he nearly lost the check.
“It almost got thrown into a fireplace that night at the place we were renting,” he said with a laugh.
Wadkins, 67, is an analyst with the Golf Channel for the Champions Tour and says seeing this week’s PGA Championship back in North Carolina is great.
The PGA Championship will be held at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. It’s the third time the tournament will be played in North Carolina and the first time since the 1974 PGA was at Tanglewood Park.
“I talked with Julius Mason of the PGA (of America) and he said they will likely set all kinds of attendance records there in Charlotte,” Wadkins said. “It’s a no-brainer to have a big tournament like that in North Carolina so it’s going to be quite a show.”
Wadkins says the storylines are many — such as Rory McIlroy trying to get back on track and win another major.
“I like what Rory did in that last round of the British Open,” Wadkins said.
Wadkins also said that because the PGA Tour plays a regular-season tournament (The Wells Fargo Championship) at Quail Hollow that the winner could come from somebody who has played well there. McIlroy is a two-time winner of the Wells Fargo Championship and is the all-time scoring leader in tournament history at 69.86 in 14 rounds. The three golfers right behind McIlroy in scoring average at Quail Hollow are Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk, who are all playing in the tournament when it begins on Thursday.
“Even though I know they have done some work on the course and changed it up some I still like a player who has a good history there,” Wadkins said.
Jordan Spieth, who has a chance to win the career Grand Slam, played at the Wells Fargo one time in 2013, and he tied for 32nd.
“Jordan is kind of on a roll right now so you have to consider him,” Wadkins said. “If he putts like he did at the British Open I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the winner.”
Playing with the pros
Becca Connolly, who will be a sophomore at Reynolds High School, will get a chance to play with the pros Aug. 13 at the Wyndham Championship.
Connolly, who plays on the Reynolds girls golf team, will play on a team in the Kevin Harvick Pro-Am at Sedgefield Country Club. As part of the ACE program of the First Tee of the Triad, Connolly will play nine holes, then caddie for nine holes with a fellow participant from the First Tee of the Triad.
“I could not be more excited about this great opportunity that I have been given through The First Tee program,” Connolly said. “Just being able to play Sedgefield will be amazing, let alone with a pro. Playing with people that are better than I am seems to help me.”
Connolly will be missing practice that day for the Reynolds golf team, but the experience she will gain can be valuable.
“There is a lot that I am able to learn about their swing, attitude, and course management,” she said about getting to watch the PGA Tour pros up close. “I am super excited about all of this.”
Around the green
Noah Connor, a rising junior at Rockingham County High School, won the Webb Simpson Challenge tournament late last month at Mid-Pines and Southern Pines Golf Club. Connor shot rounds of 72-70. Mariano Leyva of Lewisville was second shooting 72-70. Simpson’s tournament is for high school boys, and it draws golfers from all over the country. This was the seventh year of the tournament….
Coach Dianne Dailey of Wake Forest has added two transfers to this year’s team. Mai Dechathipat played two seasons at Auburn, and Siyun Liu, who was on the all-freshman team in the Big Ten for Illinois, have joined the Deacons. Liu, who is from Shanghai, China, led Illinois with a 74.08 stroke average. During her two seasons at Auburn, Dechathipat played in 16 tournaments and averaged 77.98. “We are very excited to have both Siyun and Mai joining our program this fall,” Dailey said. “Both are good people, good students and good golfers that will be tremendous additions to our program.”…
Brandon Einstein of Clemmons, playing on his home course at Bermuda Run Country Club, tied for second at the 13th Dogwood State Junior last week. Einstein shot 71-67-74 to finish one shot behind winner Fulton Smith of Pinehurst. Einstein had the lead going into the final round but Smith shot 68 to win by one over Einstein and Jackson Van Paris of Pinehurst….