Slocum scorches Clear Creek in warmup for SFBC

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 1, 2001

Heath Slocum, left, talks with some old friends, from right, Don Biedenharn, Dale Tolbert, Bob Walsh and Randy Tupper, at Clear Creek’s driving range. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[11/1/01] Heath Slocum had it rough in his last couple of tournaments.

So Wednesday, he returned to Clear Creek to get back in the swing of things, preparing to try for his first PGA Tour win in the last tournament of the year.

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If his round at the Bovina course is any indication, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic could be it.

He will tee off today for Mississippi’s only PGA event, which is played at Annandale Golf Club in Madison.

“I’ve got a good feeling,” said the 27-year-old Slocum, whose father, Jack, was club pro at CC from 1981 to 1986. “I’ve got to get some putts to drop. The scores are going to be low.”

The putter has been the problem for Slocum the last two weeks, when he missed the cut at the PGA’s National Car Rental Classic, then shot 17-over in the Buy.Com Tour Championship.

Wednesday, the putter was smoking, especially on the back nine of the course he honed his skills on from the time he was 5 to 11. It was his first round at Clear Creek as a PGA pro.

“It was a good, relaxing day,” said Slocum, who moved to Florida and played at Milton High before going on to star at the University of South Alabama. “That’s a good thing before a big tournament,” he said.

Playing there brought back memories.

“This place was my life,” he said, sitting in a swing outside the clubhouse. “If I wasn’t golfing, I was fishing in the lake, playing in the creek or harassing folks. This place was my playground.”

He made it his playground again Wednesday.

Playing with eight old friends, Slocum fired a 65, finishing the final seven holes in just 22 strokes. That last run, which was 5-under par, included an eagle.

“It all comes down to putting, making those 10- to 15-footers,” said Clear Creek pro Randy Tupper, who watched Slocum’s round. “He’s consistent off the tee … He hit 14 of 18 greens.

“The mind is the biggest thing.”

That has grown stronger as Slocum’s body has during his meteoric rise from the Buy.Com Tour to the big leagues the PGA.

He had to overcome a long bout with ulcerative colinitis, a chronic colon disorder that set him back about two years. The recovery time was nearly as long as the illness after he dropped to 125 pounds.

“It looks like I came out of nowhere,” said Slocum, who is back to 150 pounds on a 5-foot-8 frame.

But the difference this year is simple, he said: “I’m healthy.”

He led the Buy.Com in driving accuracy while winning $339,670 since March. He’s added $36,310 in seven PGA tournaments, making the cut in five of those.

During one stretch this summer, he shot in the 60s in 12 straight bogey-free tournament rounds, winning the Greater Cleveland Open in June and the Knoxville Open in July.

His August victory in the Omaha Classic gave him a “battlefield promotion” to the PGA Tour.

He drove straight to Grand Blanc, Mich., to play in the Buick Open the next week, tying for 49th with a 10-under 278.

“I dreamed about it for so long, and I’m a PGA member now,” he recalled thinking on the trek there from Nebraska with caddy D.J. Nelson. “I’ll never forget teeing it up that very first event, hearing them call my name … It was a good feeling. It was gratifying after all that hard work to get back.”

Especially since there was a time when he thought it might not happen.

“I knew I’d give it a shot, but I wondered if I had missed my window,” he said, referring to his illness.

“You just lose so much strength. It took a while to build my stamina back up. It was a roller coaster ride.”

While he is starry-eyed about being on the PGA Tour, Slocum isn’t in awe of the players. Not even teeing up next to Tiger Woods, with whom he was paired in a 1996 tournament for college All-Americans.

“It is funny to see all of those guys,” he said. “Tiger could be the greatest golfer ever … he’s a living legend.

“But I honestly believe that I belong there.”

And to prove that in this tournament, with so many friends watching, would be “icing on the cake,” he said. “It’s always nice to have friends and family there.”