Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SHO and Tell: Meet the Mustache Guy

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HUMBLE, Texas—When the Shell Houston Open begins Thursday with the opening round, golf fans will roam The Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club and watch their favorite PGA Tour stars. They’ll get up-close and personal looks at household names like Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler.

One player who fans might not know by name—but will by sight—is Johnson Wagner.

People call him the “Mustache Guy.”

Since last fall, the 2008 SHO champion has sported a bushy mustache that would make Burt Reynolds and Magnum P.I. proud.

On lark last November, Wagner, who grew up in Amarillo and lives in Charlotte, N.C., stopped shaving. Despite his wife Katie’s complaints, Wagner kept the ’stache heading into the season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, a trip he earned by winning the Mayakoba Classic last February.

Players such as Harrison Frazar hazed Wagner, 32, about the facial hair, but when Wagner scored a top 10 in Maui, the mustache earned credibility. Even so, the heckling intensified days later at the Sony Open in Hawaii. One fan on the first tee box proclaimed, “The 1960s called. They want their mustache back!”

Well, they can’t have it.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SHO and Tell: Mickelson's Putting Prowess

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HUMBLE, Texas—Headed into his Shell Houston Open title defense – and the Masters next week – Phil Mickelson feels confident about his game and optimistic about his chances for winning.

And why not?

Already this year the big left-hander has a win (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and a runner-up (Northern Trust Open at Riviera). A February fly-in visit from coach Butch Harmon at the Waste Management Phoenix Open helped Mickelson’s swing find a groove, and he won a week later. His short game looks as strong as it did a decade ago.

Mickelson spoke with the media Tuesday morning at Redstone Golf Club and told us that he feels his ball-striking is “starting to get as good as it’s been in a long time.”

But there’s another reason why Mickelson is a favorite not only to repeat here on Redstone’s Tournament Course, but to win his fourth career Masters title and third in the past three years.

It’s the flat stick.

So far this season, Mickelson has rolled the rock better than he has in at least eight years. He ranks third in the PGA Tour’s official putting statistic, called “Strokes Gained – Putting.”

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Playing Golf to Fight Cancer

This column appears in the March issues of Texas Links Magazines.

Take a look to your right. Now look left. Chances are you just saw someone who has been affected by cancer. One in three Americans will contract some form of the disease. Maybe that one in three is you. Maybe it’s someone you love.

The Walden 100 raised $55,000 last year.
My grandma turned 96 in January, and she’s a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and has been living cancer-free for five years. She’s my hero.

I lost an aunt and uncle to cancer when I was younger. My dad’s brother Melvin died from lung cancer in 1981. That same year, his sister Doris fell to pancreatic cancer.

My buddy Vince’s mom, Carol Sue, is a cancer survivor, too. But the deadly disease took down both of Vince’s grandparents on his father’s side. Dan McIntyre, the owner of Walden on Lake Conroe and a good friend of mine, is a survivor.

Just last year, another good friend (and a hell of a golfer) named Jeff Lam was diagnosed with colon cancer. He’s just 33 years old. As of mid-February, Jeff had endured eight of his necessary 12 chemotherapy treatments. He lost his hair, but not his will to fight or his optimistic attitude.

Since he was diagnosed, Jeff has only had the energy to play five holes of golf. The treatments are torturous, he said, and they leave him drained beyond belief. But he’s hanging tough. I believe him when he tells me he’s going to beat this disease and get back to living a healthy, active life.

You probably know someone with a similar story. We all know someone who has battled cancer. It accounts for one in every four U.S. deaths, second only to heart disease. This year alone, the National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be about 1.6 million new cancer victims. About 577,000 of them will die.

That’s more than 1,500 deaths a day.

But there is good news, too. Approximately 12 million Americans with a history of cancer are still alive today. Survivors like my grandma, Vince’s mom Carol Sue and Walden’s Dan McIntyre. These people stared down pure evil and endured treatments that take pain to levels we’ll never know.

And they beat cancer. They won.

Others like Jeff Lam are still fighting. All of these people are my heroes.

But they need our help.

On June 18, I’ll do my small part to help the cause. For the second straight year, I’ll take part in the “Walden 100,” an all-day charity event in conjunction with Golfers Against Cancer to raise money for cancer research. Along with about 50 other inspired golfers, we’ll tee off at the crack of dawn and play 100 holes before we stop.

Last year, we raised $55,000 in one day. We’re aiming to double that amount this year.

Golfers Against Cancer exists because there still isn’t a cure for the disease. GAC is about getting involved and helping however possible. Since its inception in 1997, GAC has raised more than $2.2 million for cancer research. The annual two-day tournament in November at the Clubs of Kingwood and Deerwood Golf Club brings in a lion’s share of the donations, but Walden on Lake Conroe has donated $625,000 from a decade of satellite events.    

Playing 100 holes in one day is grueling. It’s a grind. You get sunburned and blisters on your hands and feet. By the end of the day, you’re definitely worn out.
But however taxing it is to play in the Walden 100, it’s absolutely nothing compared to what cancer patients endure. It’s literally a walk in the park relative to what Jeff Lam, Dan McIntyre and millions of others have gone through.

I hope you’ll do your part to help find us a cure for cancer. More information on this worthy event is available on If someone you know is playing, please sponsor them and donate as much as you can.
Soon, I’ll start making calls to find sponsors and raise money. This year, I’ll play for everyone I know who has been affected, but I want to dedicate my efforts to Jeff Lam’s fight. He’s the type of guy who would be out there playing with us to raise money if he had the strength to do it.
I know all of my friends, family members and business contacts are going to pitch in and support me. Consider this a “thanks in advance” for your help. But this isn’t about me or you. It’s about those 12 million Americans still fighting against cancer. We owe it to them to help doctors and researchers find a cure.
I hope you’ll help.