Love For the Game

By Brenda Shafer  

Photography by Med Dement

It’s therapy for some, competition for others, and a way to build friendships for all. It’s where bonds are formed between brothers and unspoken conversations happen between father and son. Golf teaches life lessons about dedication, hard work, and patience. At times, it’s an incredibly frustrating game, but it’s also a rewarding game for those who put in the work. And these guys have put in the work.

Meet the 2016 Club Champions from several of our area’s elite golf clubs. They reveal their best golfing advice, how often they work on their swing, and who influences them the most. It turns out they all have one thing in common–their love for the game.

LFTG.Johnson


 

“I just really love playing golf.”

Steve Johnson


Lookout Mountain Golf Club


Meet Steve Johnson, Lookout Mountain Club Champion, whose love for golf keeps him playing at the top of his game.

When did you start playing golf?
I was 12 or 13; my dad and friends played.

How often do you play?
Once or twice a week.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
I went to Scotland about 15 years ago to play in the British Amateur. My dad came over for the tournament, and then we stayed about a week and played different courses.

What’s your favorite course?
The National Golf Links of America in Long Island, New York, is my favorite. I’ve played a bunch of courses, but that one is my favorite.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
My love for the game drives me. I have had a few teachers over the years, so it has not been just one person who has helped. Really, it’s the game itself. I just really love playing golf and being with good guys, and that is the reason I keep playing. I’m somewhat competitive, and I love the game and the places you get to play it. So, that is what drives me.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
The best time I had watching golf was watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in Austin, Texas, with about five guys, four of which had never played golf before, and we had a three hour drive to make on Sunday at 5 p.m. However, we couldn’t leave until it was over – they were all that mesmerized by it. It was pretty cool. It was awesome to watch.

What’s the best round you have ever played?
I’ve shot 64 a few times.

Do you prefer your long or short game?
I’m not the best at it, but I prefer short game shots around the green. It’s more of a challenge. You can be more creative. Like I said, I’m not great at it, but I get more enjoyment out of hitting a great bunker shot than hitting it out of the fairway. Or hitting a really cool pitch shot from around the green. I like using a lot of different clubs for different types of shots. I like to be creative.

 

GenTech.RR.17.web.browwood

LFTG.Spitalny


“Every day, you have the opportunity to better yourself or better your previous best.”

Phil Spitalny


Chattanooga Golf & Country Club


Phil Spitalny might drive a ways to work, but he only lives a mile from the golf course. “That’s the better way to do it,” he says.

When did you start playing golf?
My Dad was a golfer, so I had a club in my hand when I was two or three years old. I started playing seriously the summers between college, and that’s when I got a passion for it. It’s just the best game. I played sports growing up, but as an adult, there are fewer avenues with which to keep your competitive juices flowing. So golf is a great outlet. It’s therapeutic and the most fun game. It’s been an incredible way for me to socialize with friends and meet new people. It’s my favorite way to spend three and a half hours of free time. It takes a lot of work to be good, and it’s the most frustrating game there is – kind of what I like about it. Every day, you have the opportunity to better yourself or better your previous best.

How often do you play?
In the warmer months, I play Saturday or Sunday. After work, I either play nine holes or practice for an hour, two or three times a week. I love getting out there after work, getting rid of work stress and practicing for the weekend. I don’t really go to the gym, so that is my work out.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
We were on a golf trip last summer when our group of 16 guys ended up playing at the same time on the same hole. Playing golf in Ireland with my dad is a great memory too.

What’s the best golfing advice you have ever received?
Make an aggressive swing to a conservative target. Not sure if it originated with Jack Nicklaus, but he subscribed to it.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
My father. He’s a good golfer and we’ve had a lot of good battles on the course.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
Tiger Woods for obvious reasons and Ben Hogan – his work ethic has really made an impression on me.

What’s the strongest part of your game?
Provisional tee shots.

What goes through your head before trying to make a challenging shot, and how do you clear your mind?
Ideally, you don’t try to hit shots you haven’t practiced before. So, it’s really about picking a target and committing. I try to have a pre-shot routine that stays the same for every shot. Go through your routine, lean on it, and try not to get too out of sync, whether you’re casually hitting it or it’s the last shot in the tournament.

FE.Web.2

LFTG.Phillips


 

“I chipped in on 18 to win. It was pretty intense, with the green surrounded by people.”

Taylor Phillips


Cleveland Country Club


Taylor Phillips has been playing at the Cleveland Country Club since he was six years old. When faced with any challenging shot, he doesn’t allow any negativity to cloud his thinking.

When did you start playing golf?
I’ve been a part of the club my whole life. My dad was a golfer, and I became a junior golfer and just kept playing. The community here is great and made it easy for me to play on my own as a junior golfer.

How often do you play?
I try to get out there a couple times a week. At minimum once a week, at max, three to four times, but that is rare with my job as a realtor.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
This year has been one to remember. My best memory is probably a tie between this club championship and playing at Arnold Palmer’s club, Bay Hill, this past fall. Playing there was pretty cool because it’s, of course, Palmer’s club, and it’s where Tiger has won the invitational eight times. And then at the championship, I chipped in on 18 to win. It was pretty intense, with the green surrounded by people. It was definitely a surreal experience.

What’s the best golfing advice you have ever received?
Pick the smallest target and clear your mind.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
My dad. We play together as often as we can.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
Tiger Woods. He has that ‘aim to kill’ mindset. I like how he has shaped the game and how dominant he is. He has always been my guy.

Do you prefer your long or short game, and what’s your favorite club to use?
I prefer long game, and my favorite club is my driver.

What goes through your head before trying to make a challenging shot, and how do you clear your mind?
I have one objective in mind: getting it close to the hole. I don’t think about my swing. I don’t think about anything. I just hit it. I don’t allow any negative thoughts to go through my mind. It’s all positive. I tell myself that I can do it.

ChattanoogaState.web

LFTG.Bramme


 

“It’s physically driven but mentally therapeutic.”

Richard Brame


The Honors Course


Richard Brame, The Honors Course Senior Champion, began playing golf at age 17 with his dad, brothers, uncles, and cousins. He parallels the precision of a golf putt to the exactness of a woodworker’s cut, beautifully illustrating the dedication needed to be a golf champion.

How often do you play?
Two to three times per week.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
Playing with my brothers. I have an older and younger brother who both love golf, just as I do. We get together probably three to four times a year and play.

What’s your favorite course?
The Honors Course. I’ve played most of the top 20 courses in the country, and for me, The Honors Course is number one. I just think from pure enjoyment, the whole experience, the caddy program,  and course design, The Honors Course is certainly one of the best courses in the country.

What’s the best golfing advice you have ever received?
How to use big muscles for chipping. The most conventional chipping advice is to use arms, wrists, and hands. You need good hand-eye coordination, which most golfers typically have. However, I don’t particularly have great hand-eye coordination. So Charles Plott, a sports psychologist, recognized that in me and taught me to chip using my back and leg muscles. By using a rocking motion with those big muscles, I got rid of the chip yips I had for years.

Do you prefer your long or short game?
Short. I enjoy putting the most because you get the most feedback from it. You can see the difference, even a hair of a difference, like you would see in woodworking or gardening. That is partly why golf is so popular – you are doing something physical, and it’s satisfying to see the feedback. It’s physically driven but mentally therapeutic because you see the result so clearly.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
Arnold Palmer. I had the privilege of being around him several times at Bay Hill in Orlando, and everything people say about him is true. He was always gracious and truly cared about the fans.

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
Two. #16 at The Honors Course and #16 at Lookout Mountain Golf Club.

MarshalMize.web

LFTG.Travis


 

“The competition has made me better.”

 
Chris Travis


Black Creek Club


Chris Travis only began playing after he graduated from college to fill the gap left by his college basketball career. He became consumed with golf and practiced every day – it paid off, as this is his second championship.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
Four years ago, I had my first hole in one at Black Creek on #7. We went crazy and celebrated because I hadn’t been playing for too long, and it was a really long hole. Then, four holes later on #11, I got another one. It is still crazy to think back, that it actually happened. Nobody ever believes it. I have to pull up the articles in the newspaper to prove it.

What’s the best golfing advice you have ever received?
Probably the same advice I give my five-year-old son. When I first started, I was told by a golf pro to just hit it hard. Learn how to hit it hard and far, then you can figure out how to hit it straight later. I tell my five-year-old that because he loves golfing and that is all he thinks about now. He just hits it hard, and then we figure out the rest of it later.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
Probably the guys that I play with all the time at Black Creek. I wasn’t great when I got here seven years ago, but the competition has made me better.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
Tiger Woods. He was at the top of his game when I started watching golf. He isn’t my favorite because he is one of the best, but because you know something is going to be interesting if he is playing in a tournament. He is going to hit some crazy shot, or even on the flip side, he might do something bad and you want to see that too.

Do you prefer your long or short game, and what’s your favorite club to use?
I prefer short. I use a six-year-old Callaway 58-degree wedge all the time, from a 100 yards in. I use it for everything. It’s old and worn down, but I can’t get rid of it.

What goes through your head before trying to make a challenging shot, and how do you clear your mind?
At Black Creek, we are known for playing music. I like to have a good time on the course. I’m never really that serious, so before a shot, I just make myself focus for five seconds. You know, a golf round is just a number of few seconds strung together to make up a couple minutes. So, if I can just focus five seconds for every shot, then I can typically hit a decent round.

BlackCreek.RR.17web

LFTG.McGarry


“It’s home.”


Jimmy McGarry


Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club


For Jimmy McGarry, golf has always been a family affair and represents coming home. Whether he plays a good or bad round, he always has a good time.

When did you start playing golf?
I was around 13 or 14; we moved to Signal Mountain the year before and joined the club. My grandfather, father, and stepfather got me into playing.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
This year has been great, but I would say in 1991, up at Pittsburgh Field Club. It was the day of my grandfather’s funeral. My dad Bill McGarry and I played the morning before the funeral, with the caddy my grandfather played with, and at the course where my grandfather had been a member. I’ve had a lot of great memories, but that one sticks in my mind. Just my dad and I out there by ourselves. It is always in my mind.

What’s your favorite course?
I’ve played a few PGA courses, but my favorite is up here on Signal Mountain. I was in the Nashville area for a while, and I would come home and play with my stepfather as a guest. The first thing I did when I moved back here was join. I love the course. I love the people. It’s home.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
My stepfather, Pat Patterson. He provided me the opportunity to play the game, starting in junior high. His passion and love for the game have inspired me to keep going. I wouldn’t be here without him, without his encouragement and support and helping with every aspect of the game. He loves the game, and it carried over to me.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
Arnold Palmer. He and my grandfather Bill McGarry were friends and partial business associates. He gave my grandfather a lifetime membership to Bay Hill when he retired. I got to go down there and play with my grandfather and Palmer. They would jab at each other like friends do, and he invited us to his condo after the round. Years later, I ran into him another time, and he still remembered my dad and me and talked to me about my grandfather. He took time out of his day for us, and he cared for the fans.

What’s the best round you have ever played?
I shot a 64 a couple months ago on Signal Mountain. I had nine birdies and a double. This year really has been a good one.

Berry&HuntCS2015.web

LFTG.Vazquez


“It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulty of the shot, but make that your first thought and not your last thought before you swing.”

Bobby Vazquez


Windstone Golf Club


Bobby Vazquez’s military career has taken him all over the world, allowing him to play many different golf courses in various climates. His unique experiences are showcased when a gust of wind that should unnerve most golfers only makes his swing more accurate.

When did you start playing golf?
I was about 12; my dad got me into it.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
Taking my son out on the golf course. When I first had a kid, it was tough to get out there. I had a bunch of buddies who already had kids, and they said to just bring him out with his booster seat. So, I took him with his booster seat and strapped him into the golf cart with all the other kids, and we all would take turns watching the kids. He was probably 10-11 months old.

What’s your favorite course?
Mamala Bay in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s the best golf course in the military. I used to play it a couple times a month when I lived there. It was neat because it was on the water and connected to the air force base and the Honolulu International Airport. One of the taxiways was right behind a hole, so you could be trying to putt while a 747 is taxing out.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
My wife, for allowing me to play so often.

What’s the best golfing advice you have ever received?
That’s tough because you get so much advice and most of it isn’t good. As far as tournament golf, only attempt shots you know you can hit. A lot of times you get in a tournament and try something for the first time that you haven’t had success with, and then you’re hitting bad shots and there goes your round. Another piece of advice would be, it’s okay to acknowledge the difficulty of the shot, but make that your first thought and not your last thought before you swing.

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
I’ve had two. Silver Wings Golf Course, in Fort Rucker, Alabama; and Bentwood Country Club in St. Angelo, Texas. Both were in the month of May, so every May I get excited, but I haven’t had one in a while. The last was in 2003, so I’m in a 13-year drought. I always look forward to May, just in case it happens again.

CapitalSquare.web

LFTG.Dodd


 

“Be patient. Patience is your friend.”

Cres Dodd
Council Fire Golf Club

Cres Dodd, Council Fire Club Champion, refused to attend anymore pro tournaments after his first one. He couldn’t stand being on the sidelines. “I don’t go to courses and not play,” he says.

When did you start playing golf?
I was 10. I would go to the course with my father on Saturday mornings. All of us kids would just run around on the golf course, getting into trouble while our dads played. I played in some junior tournaments when I was around 10 or 11, but stopped in high school. I got back into it after my first year of college. I wasn’t any good then though.

How often do you play? One to two days a week, except in the winter.

What’s your best memory while playing golf?
My first hole-in-one. It was in a little tournament in Scottsboro, Alabama, at Goose Pond Colony Golf Course on #8. I was 26 years old.

What’s the best golfing advice you have ever received?
Be patient. Patience is your friend.

Who has had the greatest influence on your game?
Allen Doyle, he was king of the Champions Tour for several years. He was a big part of my getting better. Another place that has influenced me is the Choo Choo Golf Academy and Range. I’m grateful to Todd Moreland for building it and to Thomas Smith, who coaches me. The Choo Choo Academy has been a great asset to area golfers and was instrumental in getting me to the next level.

Who is your favorite pro-golfing legend and why?
Arnold Palmer. He is just a gentleman.

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?
I’ve had three, but my favorite one was against Allen Doyle. We were playing at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City.

What goes through your head before trying to make a challenging shot, and how do you clear your mind? I picture whatever shot I want to hit. That is the only thing I need to be thinking about. When I draw back, I picture how I want to it to look.