In 1996 the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXX. The New York Yankees won the World Series. Steve Jones (who?) won the U.S. Open. The quote of the year was "show me the money!", and Tickle Me Elmo was the hottes toy around. I think it's safe to say, at least by my standards, that 1996 was not a very good year. Except for one thing.
In 1996 the TRGA was formed.
The memory of my first TRGA tournament is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday. We were at Cedar Valley, and I was paired with two strangers. Things were awkward at first, but as we got to know one another that began to change. At any rate I finished second that day. I misjudged the wind on my second shot on 18, didn't hit enough club and found the water. Double bogey 6 put me in second place by one stroke.
I recall thinking as I drove home that day that it can't be too difficult to win out here. After all, I just finished runner-up in my first-ever TRGA event despite making a mental mistake. Winning should be a piece of cake, right? Well, as it turns out, it seems that I must not like cake all that much.
Flash forward to 2003. Eight years had now passed without that "piece of cake" victory. This in spite of playing almost every event on the schedule each and every season. After a while, I had developed the reputation of being not necessarily the BEST player, but perhaps the most PERSISTENT player on our "tour" to have never won. You see, by this time I had competed in so many events with so many different playing partners that I had come to know, and be known by a lot of people. It became routine to show up for a tournament and be greeted with well-wishing comments like "Hey Croges, is this the day?", or "Gonna make it happen today Stevie?" Well, that all changed on June 22nd at Drugan's Castle Mound, my home course.
I was in fifth flight. The field was full, 150 players or so. And the order that day had our flight as the last one out. I was in the first group and when my score was posted it put me in the early lead. Expecting that it wouldn't hold up, I sat down with friends and waited for lower scores to come in. Except none did! More and more players began to stick around, checking the board as each group finished, and then look my way with an encouraging wink or thumbs up as I remained the leader. Ultimately, my score held up and I had finally won that elusive championship. My long journey had ended...with one unexpected result.
As I accepted the merchandise cerfificate and plaque for winning, reality finally hit me. Looking around the room and seeing so many familiar faces brought it all home. My true reward was the gift of all the friendships that had been established along the way. My friends, all of them, had stayed to celebrate that moment with me. Sure the material prizes are nice, but there's no better feeling than the support of people close to you that are truly happy for your success.
And closest by my side at that ceremony? The two above mentioned "strangers" from my first event. Turns out that their names happen to be Tom Grapes and Joe Jacques, and I value both of them as treasured friends to this very day...friends that I would have never met if it were not for the Three Rivers Golf Association.
God bless the TRGA.