News & Opinion

Looking for some Arch support on Tour

Adam Long, The WEB.com Tour Championship 2015:  Final Round
15 OCT 01 Adam Long during Sunday's Final Round of The WEB.com Tour Championship at The TPC Sawgrass Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.(photo credit : kenneth e. dennis/kendennisphoto.com)

Thank God for Adam Long. What’s that? Adam who? Forgotten already?

Not if you’re from St. Louis. Not if you witnessed the Rams in the Super Bowl; not if you saw Stan Kroenke’s mundane mug; not if you were forced to re-live the despicable details of the Rams’ departure. You felt cheated, nauseous, more deflated than a Tom Brady football.

So, you remember Adam Long, cling to him and celebrate him. Because you may never get another NFL franchise, but by gum, by golly, you’ve got yourself a bona fide PGA Tour champ. And that’s saying something.

67434da9-3c89-4989-9d26-2513505d8d2e_137x203.png
St. Louis' Adam Long

Long is 31 years old and has been bouncing around professional tours for almost a decade. His only previous professional victory was the 2011 Hooters Tour Woodcreek Classic in Elgin, S.C. Try saying that three times fast.

Since his victory last month in the PGA Tour’s Desert Classic, Long has missed the cut in three consecutive starts. In fact, he has MC’d in six of eight Tour starts this season. Let’s not kid ourselves: His Desert Classic victory was a long-shot – forgive me. He was in the final group with Phil Mickelson. It was Buster Douglas stopping Mike Tyson, and Douglas hasn’t been seen since.

It’s a familiar story in golf. On any given Sunday – one or two Sundays a year – it happens.

What makes it significant is that Long is from St. Louis, born and raised in the metropolitan area. He went to Francis Howell High, won the 2008 Metropolitan Amateur at Norwood Hills Country Club, or where Tom Watson first met Bruce Edwards.

You have to understand that before Long, St. Louis had won a Super Bowl more recently than it has raised a PGA Tour winner. Pre-Long, the most recent time when an authentic St. Louisan won a PGA Tour event was in 1976, when Larry Ziegler captured the First NBC New Orleans Open. By the way, Ziegler loved hockey. He served as a “stick boy” for the St. Louis Blues in their early years. The karma didn’t rub off. One of six NHL expansion teams in 1967-68, the Blues still are pursuing their first Stanley Cup championship – 52 years and counting. The drought that Long ended was only 43 years old.

“That’s actually pretty surprising to me,” Long said. “St. Louis has been a really strong golf city for a long time. It’s surprising that nobody has gone out and done it on Tour because of all the great players that have come through there.

“So, it’s an honor, it’s very humbling, but it’s really more surprising more than anything else, because of the long list of great players.”

True, there have been some great PGA Tour players associated with St. Louis. But associated is the operative word. The perception is not reality. It’s like the fortune cookie, associated with the Chinese, but reputed to have been invented in Japan. You can’t even find a fortune cookie in China.

But what about Hale Irwin, you might say. He certainly is one of the greats of the game. He won 20 PGA Tour championships, including three U.S. Opens, and more Champions Tour events than you can shake a stick of Absorbine Jr. at. And yes, for much of his career Irwin resided in St. Louis and was identified accordingly. But Irwin was born in Joplin, Mo., some 285 miles west, and he was raised in Baxter Springs, Kan. On the Champions Tour, he was introduced as being from Kapalua, Hawaii, and he now calls Paradise Valley, Ariz., home. Sorry, but Irwin doesn’t count.

Then there’s Bob Goalby, winner of the 1968 Masters, collector of 11 PGA Tour victories and one of the founding fathers of the senior circuit. Goalby was born, and continues to live, just 18 miles from downtown St. Louis, in the very shadow of the Arch that the Rams stomped on. But those 18 miles take you to Belleville, Ill., on the other side of the Mississippi River. Not in the city, not even in the state.

Jay Haas, Goalby’s nephew, is by definition a native St. Louisan, and he owns a terrific career in professional golf: nine PGA Tour victories and 18 Champions titles. True enough, he was born in a St. Louis hospital. Maybe a day or so later, he went home to Belleville, where he grew up. Later, he went to Wake Forest, then moved to South Carolina, where his PGA Tour-winning son, Bill Haas, was raised.

It’s odd, the relationship that St. Louis holds with golf. From an amateur slant, it looks quite different. St. Louisan Jim Holtgrieve was one of the country’s outstanding amateurs in the late 1970s and early ’80s, played on three winning Walker Cup teams, and more recently captained the U.S. Walker Cup squad in 2011 and 2013. The Walker Cup itself is named after George Herbert Walker, born in St. Louis and among those to establish Bellerive Country Club. Walker was president of the USGA in 1920, plus the maternal grandfather of President George H. Bush and great-grandfather of President George W. Bush. But now that’s just braggin’.

Speaking of USGA presidents, St. Louisans Hord Hardin (1968-69) and Tom O’Toole Jr. (2014-15) also have held the office, both from “The Lou.” Make no mistake, when it comes to amateur golf, St. Louis has chops.

But PGA Tour … different story.

If you saw the record-breaking crowds and energy at the 2018 PGA Championship, you might think otherwise. Last summer, Bellerive looked like a sold-out Michigan Stadium. Even Tiger Woods acknowledged the throng. And, yes, St. Louis proper has had PGA Tour players. Jay Delsing was out there from 1985 into the early 2000s. Jay Williamson was a regular from 1995 to 2010. Scott Langley plays the Tour now. Those native sons have combined to compete in more than 1,000 PGA Tour events and, as such, deserve tons of respect.

This isn’t Major League Baseball, where 750 reside at any given time. Heck, baseball even has designated hitters and closers. Imagine the PGA Tour with designated putters. Ben Crenshaw still would be out there. No, sir. The big leagues of golf is a table for 125 – that’s it. That said, neither Delsing nor Williamson nor Langley can put a PGA Tour title on his resume.

So, is Adam Long the breakthrough, the initial tap into a talent pipeline that will make St. Louis the Gateway to the PGA Tour? Of course not. Because there is a different reality at work here, one with more random values, one that suggests St. Louis is not unlike a number of big cities thin on PGA Tour winners, cities such as Washington, Detroit and Chicago.

Of course, they’ve all got NFL teams, and they’ve all won Stanley Cups … but we digress.

God bless Adam Long, and Godspeed, Scott Langley. The few, the proud, the St. Louisans.

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD